10 Homeschool Helps for Dysgraphia

by Kim Calhoun on March 31, 2011

Colored PencilsWhat is dysgraphia anyway?

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.
Notebook

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.

Be patient.

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.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This post is not intended to diagnose or treat dysgraphia. Please see your doctor for medical diagnosis. I am the mother of a child with dysgraphia. The techniques discussed here is what I use with my child. The success rate of these techniques are not guaranteed to work with your child. On a personal note: Isn’t it sad I even have to put this in here?
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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Deborah Lee March 31, 2011 at 1:48 pm

This is great post. I don’t think my son has disgraphia, but there are some things here I can use to help him overcome his resistance to handwriting.

I struggle with handwriting myself and got a little help when I had vision therapy for some developmental reading problems I’ve had all my life.

Kim Calhoun March 31, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Thanks so much for you comments, Deborah. I hope it is helpful for parents who have to deal with it.

Nonnie of 3 April 5, 2011 at 2:47 pm

This is a great site. My grandson has dysgraphia and was really struggling with multiplication and division (not to mention adding and subtracting). I found a DVD called TIMES TALES (google it) and by the 3rd time he went thru it was SHOUTING out the answers to the problems. I’m sure most people would not believe what I have to say about this program, all I know is I used to grieve over this little boy who was struggling and failing – and watching his self confidence go down the drain. Hope this helps you and your readers! From a Grandma in Spokane, WA

Kim Calhoun April 5, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Hi Nonnie!

Thanks so much for your kind words. There are not enough people that know about dysgraphia and I’m making it one of my missions in life to educate those who don’t know.

Nadene April 18, 2011 at 10:12 am

Thank you for such an informative and encouraging post. I love your practical tips and advice and I will link this to my Handwriting Pages as I have several readers who ask for help with their children’s handwriting.
Nadene recently posted..Loving Living Books

Kim Calhoun April 18, 2011 at 10:44 am

Hi Nadene,
Thanks for the kudos. I’m glad you liked it. And thanks for the link.

Sharon Jacksack April 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Thank you for the encouraging post. My daughter, now 11, has struggled with dysgraphia. It is so hard to be patient, sometimes, but it does pay off. She has quite nice handwriting now, and decent spelling, but is very, very slow in completing written work, and will often take the shorter, less specific word choice, when doing creative work. One thing that has helped is encouraging pen pals. She loves to get mail, and has friends in Hawaii, Florida, and a cousin in Virginia to whom she writes often. Without an agenda, she manages to get off several letters a week.

Kim Calhoun April 18, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Hi Sharon,
What a great idea with the pen pals. My son does the shorter, less specific word choice too. His handwriting has always been good because he also has OCD, but it is painfully slow and it frustrates him.

Lisa April 18, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Thank you for your suggestions. My son has Aspbergers along with the Dyspraxia (and all the sub-categories). Writing is such a struggle for us! I say the typical, “Just do what I ask!” and then he shuts down. Well, no more. I think we might try the markers. He hates the sound a pencil makes on the paper. Which is funny because I don’t think I could have told you it made a sound. Anyway, thank you!

Claire April 18, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Thanks so much for this article. My son suffers with this exact thing and yet is wildly gifted in math, verbal narration, etc. I realized this year that this wasn’t an issue of him just not wanting to participate when I finally stopped and listened to him tell me what it was like to write. He does love to express himself and make up poems, stories, etc. and he’s frustrated too that he can’t write more easily.

I love the ideas given in the article and just the general feel of – they’re fine, even gifted sometimes, this is not the end of the world. Thank God we home school and can work outside the confines of a system that frankly works wonders for only a few.

Again, many thanks.

Kim Calhoun April 19, 2011 at 8:31 am

Hi Lisa,
I hope the markers work for you. I have different kinds like fat ones and skinny ones. Some days my son likes to use one then the other. It’s all about what feels right to them that day. Hang in there.

Kim Calhoun April 19, 2011 at 8:38 am

My son is also dual exceptional, Claire. Extremely gifted in math and science and vocabulary. Because they are so smart they get frustrated with the fact they just can’t get it out. It sounds like your son’s dysgraphia doesn’t affect his sequencial though( i.e stories and poems) I think a typing program or Dragon Speak http://www.nuance.com/dragon/index.htm would really help him not be so frustrated. When kids have sequencing problems with dysgraphia, that’s where the graphic organizers and tool like them come in. Good luck to you.. Thanks for visiting!

Jennifer Daly April 26, 2011 at 10:25 am

My son also has dysgraphia and we chose to do Diane Craft’s (www.dianecraft.org) writing 8 exercise plan along with her brain training. Both of which have improved my son’s handwriting greatly. We have also been using the Handwriting Without Tears cursive program which he really does enjoy. We will continue with the next book next year. He is also learning to type with Typing Instructor Platinum. He really loves this program too. All of these have changed our school days to something way more pleasant. Thanks for posting! It’s not talked about enough and I fear highly underdiagnosed.

Kim Calhoun April 26, 2011 at 10:58 am

Hi Jennifer,

Yes, I’ve heard of Dianne Craft. I just gave her website to another mom the other day. It’s diannecraft.org though. Two N’s. :)
She is going to be a speaker at NCHE this year and I can’t wait to take her classes. Thanks for posting that. I’m sure it will be useful to a lot of us.

marge September 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm

We absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content for you personally? I wouldn’t mind creating a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you write regarding here. Again, awesome website!

Inez October 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm

hi

Kristine October 19, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Good day! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!
Kristine recently posted..WASHING A REAL DIRTY HOUSE

Em January 31, 2012 at 1:18 pm

I am just now learning about dysgraphia. My son, now 9, has been struggling with his handwriting since kindergarten. In fact, I would say his writing is no better now than it was then. I am finally realizing it isn’t that he’s lazy. He does very well in all other subject areas but anything that requires writing is an enormous, time-consuming struggle. Thanks for the post and giving me some tips on how to deal with this, I feel guilty for berating him about something that is obviously much more than messy writing.

Honey @ Sunflower Schoolhouse March 2, 2012 at 2:17 am

I absolutely loved this post. It was so inspiring for me. It gave me some ideas to use with my own kids. I even blogged about your post.

http://sunflowerschoolhouse.com/2012/special-needs-at-our-house/

Blessings
Honey
Honey @ Sunflower Schoolhouse recently posted..Special Needs At Our House

Sonya April 12, 2012 at 9:12 pm

My son struggles with writing. It’s not the fine motor control, it’s the how do you get the word out of your brain and onto the paper struggle. Dysgraphia by any other name. It’s been an interesting learning curve for us. One program I have found to be so helpful is All about spelling by Marie Rippel. Her breakdown of spelling rules has made such a difference in our lives. She has done a truly excellent job of building this program and while we are still working hard (my son harder than I am, though some days are tougher than others!) we have come a long way. Thanks for these ideas and tips, I especially like the annotation tip, I think we just found a way to get to independent work :)

Jamie October 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Thanks for the info on dysgraphia, which my 8 year old son is really struggling with. However, your information on dyslexia is extremely inaccurate. It has absolutely nothing to do with your eyes. That was an assumption made by educators years ago because of the reversals sometimes made with letters or numbers. It is actually a neurological processing difference. Reversals are caused by issues with brain interpretation and recall. Actual eye issues are not considered dyslexia. Read The Dyslexic Advantage by Brock and Fernette Eide for additional info. Also, The Mislabled Child by the same authors has a great deal of info on MANY different learning issues. A tremendous amount of progress has been made in understanding dyslexia in the last couple of years in the scientific community. The educational community is way, way behind in understanding this issue.

Dee January 22, 2013 at 11:38 am

not yet sure if my son has dysgraphia….but this is very helpful,he has difficulty only in putting his thoughts on paper and untidy hand writing,he tops his reading,spelling,maths and sciences(things that interest him) but just cant get the writing lark :(

Jeannie March 29, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Today my son (6th grade) finished his psychoeducational testing and it confirmed what I already knew. He is dysgraphic. I do not have any other information yet, but the psychologist said that he was. It is very hard for his teachers to understand and accomodate him even when he has an IEP and he takes his computer to school. He uses Dragon to dictate and it works great when he is allowed to use it. I wish I could find other families dealing with this around when I live (Maryland). Thank you for writing about your techniques. It really helps to connect with people and validate what we already do as parents.

Karen May 17, 2013 at 10:13 am

We received the results for my 8 year old son yesterday. He has dysgraphia. We were pretty sure that is what was going on and I had already researched and read as much as there was to find about dysgraphia. I agree with you that most people (teachers and school districts) do not know much about dysgraphia. There is also not much about it. However, I do not give up easily and I will continue to find out everything that I need to know. When I read the article, I realized the reason that my son loves to use pens instead of pencils. Thank you for sharing this. It is very helpful to read what is working for others in the same situation.

Mary June 16, 2013 at 8:10 pm

I am wondering what your perception of speech to text programs for composition is. We are working on both typing and cursive but I would like to enable my son to be independent with his writing and thought that one of the available programs out there might fit the bill. I’d love your thoughts on this issue. Thanks

Kim Calhoun June 18, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Hi Mary,

This past year we worked with the Dragon software and it is a good program if you put in the time to let it adapt to your child’s speech. At first, it was difficult for us because Dragon couldn’t understand my son but in working with it, the program got better. It is helpful with written expression because many dysgraphic children get behind in things like sentence structure due to the effort it takes to write. I would give it a shot and see how it works for your child.

Denean July 2, 2013 at 8:58 am

This website had been tremendously helpful to me. Thank you so much! I took my daughter out public school in first grade because her teacher wanted to hold her back another year. I didn’t think that would help. She often broke many pencils in her frustration to write. She can write very neat but it will take a long time. I have a question, do you have any recommendations for homeschooling curriculum for someone who doesn’t like to write, but needs a lot of repetition? I have tried quite a bit if things . What about classical homeschooling? No matter what we try we BOTH end in tears.

Denean July 2, 2013 at 9:01 am

This website had been tremendously helpful to me. Thank you so much! I took my daughter out public school in first grade because her teacher wanted to hold her back another year. I didn’t think that would help. She often broke many pencils in her frustration to write. She can write very neat but it will take a long time. I have a question, do you have any recommendations for homeschooling curriculum for someone who doesn’t like to write, but needs a lot of repetition? I have tried quite a bit if things . What about classical homeschooling? No matter what we try we BOTH end in tears.

Kim Calhoun July 2, 2013 at 10:50 am

Hi Denean,
I totally understand. My son has beautiful handwriting but it takes him a long time to accomplish it. This year we are doing Classical Conversations. In the grammar stage there is a lot of repetition that does not require writing. It’s one of the main reasons I like it so much. There are a ton of other reasons too. I have a post on my other blog http://www.hoppinhomeschoolers.com about Classical Conversations. For other non-writing curriculum I do like Switched on Schoolhouse for younger grades.

Denean July 4, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Thanks! I will look at your blog. Since you are doing CC what is your opinion on Essentials? The first year was absolutely terrible. Everyone keep telling me after two more years she will have it down, but I just can’t see that happening right now. Thanks again for your website.

Kim Calhoun July 5, 2013 at 7:20 pm

This is our first year with CC and Essentials. I expect it to be very challenging for my 6th grade son. I’m not looking for him to be good at it, I’m just looking for improvement. I’d give it another year. I do think that a good experience depends on the CC community and the tutors you have. We are very lucky that most of the children in our community have some type of learning issue and their parents are tutors. So they get it. In the end remember, you are the teacher, CC models the method. Take what works and leave the rest. As homeschooling parents, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and our kids a lot of times. I just try to remember that God is in control, and in the end my son will get what he needs. Even on the days when I’m ready to pull my hair out. :) I wish you and your daughter the very best.

Denean July 10, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Thank you! You are absolutely right! God is definitely in control. Right now I am blessed to have ran across your site. You have helped me greatly. God bless!

gary lee July 15, 2013 at 12:52 pm

what home schooling curriculum should i use for me second grade grandaughter

Kim Calhoun July 16, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Wow Gary! That’s a loaded question. I would first try to decide what way she learns best. Is she a visual, audio, or tactile learner? There’s a great site called The Curriculum Choice and she has many reviews on curriculum for every level and learning style. Some really good full curriculums in my opinion are Switched on Schoolhouse, Classical Conversations, and Konos Unit Studies. These are 3 entirely different methods to give you a small look at what is out there.

Wendy July 17, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I have come to realize that my son may very well be dysgraphic. We removed him from public school during first grade because he struggled with completing worksheets that the teacher assigned even though he tested above grade level in all subjects. As I read how to help children still accompish educational goals despite dysgraphia, I am pleased to find some of the techniques I have used over the years common. Now we are heading into our highschool years and I wanted some possible suggestions on how to help him achieve better writing on his own. We have done dictation for years and he is a very good writer in this way, but I would like to see him become more independent for sure.

Kim Calhoun July 17, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Hi Wendy,
I feel your pain about having them be more independent. We are using IEW through Classical Conversations this year, because if your son is like mine, sentence and paragraph structure fell behind. IEW uses a method where students find the keywords and builds the rest of the sentence around it. I also believe that the Dragon software for a high school student would be valuable to get through the writing.

Wendy July 18, 2013 at 9:31 am

I have heard a lot about IEW all for the good. Thank you so much Kim. I will have to look into both IEW a little more strongly and this Dragon software. This is the first place I have seen with the Dragon software talked about and I am glad I stopped by.

Monique December 6, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Thank you so much for this website. I finally pulled my son out of school in 5th grade to homeschool (he’s in 7th now) and was completely frustrated by the end of the year because he couldn’t seem to remember “simple” grammar rules. I spent the summer researching and stumbled upon dysgraphia, which explains him to a T (and by the way it also explains my late father who was told all his school life how stupid and lazy he was).

For my son, typing has been his life saver. We just started working on poetry in his language arts course and he typed the most beautiful poem that I actually started crying. It was amazing to see the difference between his written work and what he can do when he types.

One thing I have found, and I’m not sure if it’s like this with all dysgraphics, but my son has the most amazing memory. He only has to read or hear something once or twice and then he’s got it.

Do you have any advice for math? He struggles so much when he has to write out a problem. He can do a lot in his head but there are some problems that just have to be written out and that’s when he stalls.

Shelley Huckins February 1, 2014 at 4:48 pm

My son struggles with dysgraphia. He is also highly gifted. He has been in public school for many years and has survived (barely) with the accommodations. Since he entered middle school last fall, we have watched him become more and more stressed. The “help” from the school was just not cutting it. We decided to bring him home at the beginning of the year, and we have already seen a huge change in his demeanor. Some of these tips, we have already tried–but I am looking forward to trying out more of your ideas. Thank you, for sharing!

Karen Vile February 7, 2014 at 3:46 pm

We have just discovered that my 9 year old daughter suffers with dysgraphia. Well, I should say “officially” discovered. I have been homeschooling her for the last 4 years and have known something was different. She is a bright child ( I now have an intelligence test to back that up) however, she cannot write a simple sentence on her own. Math had been tough until we found Teaching Textbooks. It is done on the computer with graphics and sound effects. It presents one problem at a time and she can key in the answer. She has gone from hating math to loving it. Thankfully, this curriculum goes all the way thru Calculus so as long as it works I will keep using. As for grammar and spelling – taking it slow. Not sure if I have found a program yet that really works. Thanks for your ideas and thoughts here. I will be trying some of them.

Deanna Stafford February 17, 2014 at 2:04 am

I really believe my son and myself has this. I want to get him some of those y shaped pens to write with, but have not been able to find any sites with them except in the UK. I know there must be a resource available here, but have yet to find one. If you are anyone knows of one please let me know. I will check back in a week or less. Thanks & blessings!

Kim Calhoun February 19, 2014 at 11:15 am

Hi Deanna,

Thanks for stopping by. I found this shop online and they seem to have a lot of good stuff. https://www.therapyshoppe.com/category/1081-handwriting-pencil-grips-ot-writing-tools-slant-boards They are in Michigan. If you look for occupational therapy supplies in a search engine you will be able to find a few more online shops. Hope that helps.

Jennifer Loss March 26, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Hello Kim, I am so glad I found this post! My 14-year-old son, Aidan, has been homeschooled from the beginning. He still writes like he is a beginner, with great struggle and frustration, yet he has the vocabulary of a college professor. For some reason the word “dyslexia” popped into my head yesterday, thankfully, and I started reading about it and found out about dysgraphia. Describes my son to a T! Would you recommend he actually be tested for dysgraphia, is it important? And how would a parent go about finding out how to do that? Thank you!

Kim Calhoun March 27, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Hi Jennifer! Thanks for stopping by. If your insurance needs the diagnosis to cover occupational therapy, I would say try to get the diagnosis. Also, if he ever goes back to public school you will want the diagnosis for an IEP, so he can receive accommodations and services through the school. The diagnosis will also help to have for accommodations for taking the SAT and the ACT. Dysgraphia diagnoses are hard to get. We got ours from Duke University from a developmental pediatrician there. My son had to endure a battery of tests to get it. Many parents of special needs children who suspect dysgraphia in their child are not given the diagnosis as easily as a doctor will give a dyslexia one. The simple reason is that there is not as much research done on the other dyspraxic disorders. Most of the research is done in the UK for some reason. Good luck to you.

Jennifer Loss March 31, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Thank you so much, Kim! Your site has been the most helpful information I have found so far. I appreciate your quick reply, even though your original post is three years old. I feel more comfortable moving forward with this. Thanks!

saude Abubakar July 18, 2014 at 7:10 am

Please help me with counselling technique for dysgraphia, I will use it for my thesis tnx.

saude Abubakar July 18, 2014 at 7:16 am

Please help me with counselling research topic with children having dysgraphia.

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