Dysgraphia falls into a sub-category of a larger disorder called dyspraxia. Dyspraxia is a motor skill disorder where the brain messages and the motor skill trying to be achieved are not connecting properly. Another sub-category of dsypraxia is dyslexia, which most people have heard of. Dyslexia is when the muscles of the eyes can’t interpret brain signals and letters get turned backwards and mixed up in the vision. Dysgraphia is a problem between the fine motor skill of handwriting and the messages from the brain to make that happen.
Signs of dysgraphia
There are a lot of signs and symptoms of dysgraphia. Every case is different and not all those with dysgraphia display all signs and/or symptoms:
Taken from LDOnline.org
In Early Writers
- Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position
- Avoiding writing or drawing tasks
- Trouble forming letter shapes
- Inconsistent spacing between letters or words
- Poor understanding of uppercase and lowercase letters
- Inability to write or draw in a line or within margins
- Tiring quickly while writing
In Young Students
- Illegible handwriting
- Mixture of cursive and print writing
- Saying words out loud while writing
- Concentrating so hard on writing that comprehension of what’s written is missed
- Trouble thinking of words to write
- Omitting or not finishing words in sentences
In Teenagers and Adults
- Trouble organizing thoughts on paper
- Trouble keeping track of thoughts already written down
- Difficulty with syntax structure and grammar
- Large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech
What dysgraphia is NOT
Dysgraphia is not just being lazy, or not trying or caring. Most students with dysgraphia, in fact, care and try very hard and know that they are not like others.
My child has dysgraphia… How can I help them be academically successful?
Most public schools are ill equipped to handle this particular disability. Most have a primary lack of knowledge about any disorder of written expression and current ways of testing knowledge almost always involve writing. Most schools systems will make IEP accommodations for dysgraphia. However, I have found that it is very difficult to get the diagnosis from a health professional, which makes getting it on an IEP nearly impossible. Usually, the accommodations are just to get them through the material, not to actually help them be more independent and cope with the disorder. Also, if you child has co-morbid conditions or is dual exceptional ,such as giftedness and dysgraphia, there is really no place for them in the majority of public school systems. So if you homeschool, you are already a step ahead.
“Real World” Homeschool Helps for Dysgraphia
Scribe for your dysgraphic child.
One of the main things used is scribing. (writing while your child dictates.) While I’m not opposed to scribing for long answers, I want my son to work independently as much as possible and not reject the act of writing completely.
Teach your child to type.
There are all sorts of wonderful inexpensive typing programs out there. The use of technology will be their best friend. Most dysgraphic children can learn to type without the same hinderances they have with the physical act of handwriting.
Get a label maker.
I find that worksheets go much smoother with a label maker. However, I try to limit worksheets in general.
Invest in pencil grips.
Get a bunch of colors, styles and sizes. Allow your child to switch them as needed for comfort. People with dysgraphia tend to hold their pencil very tightly causing pain and writing fatigue. There are many online sources for pencil grips and if you are in an occupational therapy program with your child, your OT can provide you with sources.
Don’t just use a pencil.
Also, some kids with dysgraphia prefer pens, markers and highlighters to pencils. The friction a pencil or crayons may create on the paper can be uncomfortable to them.
Teach them cursive writing.
Sometimes dysgraphic students find that the flowing nature of cursive writing easier and less painful than print. This is subjective though. Go with what feels better to your child.
Focus on handwriting as a separate class.
Do not have them combine writing a story with handwriting practice.
Use graphic organizers.
Some children with dysgraphia have trouble with organizing his/her thoughts because they get tied up in the writing process. A graphic organizer can help with organizing their writing into manageable chunks. Google “Graphic Organizers” and you’ll find many to choose from. A child can either write short answer or use a label maker or type on the computer and cut and paste the ideas in the spaces. This separates the sequencing of paragraph structure from the actual handwriting process. Many times the student will write below their cognitive ability to get the sentence done. But if the thought is organized, you as the teacher, can work on extending the sentence structure to include more use of vocabulary and colorful adjectives.
Try out annotation for answering questions.
One of my son’s favorite strategies is annotation. If he reads a passage and has to answer questions, he can highlight the answer in the book and put Q1 and on the answer blank of the question he will put the page number the answer is on. That way you know he knows the answer without having to write out the whole answer. He also retains information with this method very well.
One accommodation that works one day may not work the next. You want to avoid having your child “shut down” to the writing process. Remember, they aren’t not writing the paragraph because they don’t want to. It is really a struggle. I have to remind myself of that over and over again. This is especially difficult for parents if a child is gifted in other areas. You want to say “Why can’t you just do it?” The truth is though… they can’t” just do it.” They need a guide. They need you to understand most of all.