Most parents have heard of dyslexia before, but how many know what dysgraphia is? The word “dysgraphia” is composed of two Greek words: “dys,” meaning difficult, and “graphia,” meaning writing. From that, we get difficult writing, messy writing, or incomprehensible writing. Dysgraphia is becoming a common diagnosis among students, so it helps to understand the basics behind the condition, the diagnosis, and what can be done to help students.
What is Dysgraphia?
First, let’s make clear what it isn’t. Dysgraphia is not the difficulty of expressing something in writing. Instead, it refers more to the physical mechanics of writing. Students with dysgraphia have problems with handwriting, typing, and spelling. It is a learning disability that affects the fine motor skills students use when writing. When learning how to write, all students struggle somewhat with their handwriting, but this is a consistent problem that results in a lot of messy writing assignments.
How Do You Know if Your Student Has Dysgraphia?
The first thing to do is watch for these symptoms:
- Cramped pencil grip
- Awkward positioning of the wrist and/or paper during the writing process
- Inconsistent spacing between letters and words
- Poor spelling
- Unfinished words
- Sloppy or illegible handwriting
- Avoidance of writing projects
- Written ideas are much less complex than verbal ideas
If you suspect your student may have dysgraphia, you can begin seeking a diagnosis. Check with a pediatrician to make sure there are no other reasons for writing difficulties. Then, check with a licensed psychologist who specializes in learning disorders. Your student may be asked to take tests for writing, spelling, and fine motor skills. These evaluations will help parents and teachers understand what exactly the child is struggling with.
Help for Students
Although there is no cure for dysgraphia, there are accommodations that can be made to help the student succeed in school.
In the classroom, students with dysgraphia may be provided with typed notes instead of being expected to write the notes themselves. When writing is necessary in the classroom, they can be given extra time to complete the task. Some students with may find it easier to use a laptop in class or make an audio recording. For math time, students may find it easier to line up numbers using graph paper.
When possible, students may be offered the option to respond orally instead of writing an answer down. Teachers can help a student through the writing process by breaking the assignment into steps that are easy to follow. Also, teachers who know about the student’s writing challenges may grade assignments based on what the student knows rather than handwriting or spelling. Students with dysgraphia may be given the option to use either print or cursive, depending on which they are most comfortable using.
There could be some high-tech assists to help your student, such as speech-to-text dictation and word prediction tools that can help a student come up with the words they need to finish typing their sentences. However, many of the assistance tools you will find are low-tech, such as simple pencil grips to help your student grip a pencil properly.
A student with dysgraphia can benefit from occupational therapy. Therapy will help improve fine motor skills, posture, and arm position.
At home, parents can help their child with dysgraphia by working on pencil grip, writing down things for your child, encouraging typing skills, practicing handwriting with a great program called Handwriting Without Tears, and practicing making letters in all sorts of different ways (such as in sand, or in the air). Be your child’s cheerleader as he or she struggles through a writing project. Being positive goes a long way to help your student enjoy a task that used to be unbearable.
If you believe your student has dysgraphia, and you want to know what The Tenney School can do to help, please contact us. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and work together to make your child’s education more meaningful.