Dysgraphia - Difficulty With Writing
Does your child have spider writing with letters of all shapes and sizes, appearing above and below the line, some joined-up, some printed with a random mixture of CApitAl and loWer-caSE letters?
Do they avoid writing or tire easily when writing? Are they unwilling or unable to copy from the board? Do they exhibit an awkward or tense pencil grip? Is their work littered with spelling mistakes?
If you recognise some, or all, of these symptoms in your otherwise fairly bright, articulate child they may well suffer from dysgraphia.
What is dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia describes a difficulty with the physical aspect of handwriting, resulting in poor, variable or illegible copy. Neat work will only be produced at a snails pace and even then, writing will quickly deteriorate. Students with dysgraphia invariably have to write very slowly if they are to produce legible copy. They will find writing extremely tiring and frequently experience hand cramps. Children with dysgraphia have trouble with writing or copying, especially from the board, and may have an unusual or awkward pencil grip. They are frequently articulate and lively contributors to discussion but will avoid putting pen to paper.
How to spot a dysgraphic child
The dysgraphic child is possibly:
- Clumsy and uncoordinated
- Poor at ball or team sports.
- Has difficulties with fine and/or gross motor skills
- Prone to motion-sickness.
- Directionally challenged, may confuse left/right, over/under etc.
There may be a substantial over-lap with dyspraxia and associated difficulties with directions, spatial awareness and sequencing are common-place.
Practical help for young people with dysgraphia
To qualify for help in examinations it is imperative that your child is assessed by an Educational Psychologist (EP). The EP can determine the exam concessions necessary to put your child on a level playing field with others who do not have a disability. It is usually necessary to demonstrate a pattern of extra-time and concessions to qualify for them in public examinations and a recent EP report will usually be requested.
Exam concessions include:
- Extra time
- Use of a lap-top
- Use of a scribe
- Use of a transcribe
At home and in school
Voice recognition software such as Dragon is increasingly popular and although it won't improve your child's handwriting it will help them to get their thoughts on paper.
Practise letter formation. It doesn't always have to be pen and paper; use a steamed up mirror or trace letters in sand or sugar.
Improve coordination by colouring in and trying to stay between the lines. Use tracing paper to trace pictures and letters (you can buy sheets of letters).
Keep a pencil sharpener to hand, always ensure pencils are sharp.
Try out different pencil grips (such as a triangular, air or stubbi pencil grip) and pencil widths till you find one that is comfortable for your child.
Use a heavyweight pen or ErgoSof pen with older children.
Don't over-do it, give your child rest breaks.
If homework is tricky suggest to the teacher that you and your child alternate the writing - your child writes a sentence or answers a question, you write down their answer to the next question, they write the next one and so on.
Build in rewards. Younger children love to be rewarded for their efforts, so have plenty of gold stars and 'good-work' stickers;
Use a computer. Older children may find the use of a laptop beneficial. They will be able to get their thoughts down and think about how work should appear, readily changing order and sequence - rather than be frustrated by the physical challenges of hand writing.
Don't avoid hand-writing, grandparents love 'thank-you letters' no matter how legible, but do use notelets, stickers, pictures or photos to make the task simpler and inject fun.
Cursive (joined-up writing) is often easier for the dysgraphic child - speak to your child's teacher if this strategy hasn't been suggested.
Use paper with guide-lines.
A sloping desk is often recommended by Occupational Therapists and is especially helpful for children with poor muscle tone.
How an Occupational Therapist (OT) may work with your child.
OT's work with dysgraphic children to improve posture, muscle tone and strength. Writing is a physical task so don't be surprised if your child is given hand strengthening exercises. Specialist equipment is available -wonderful soft-squidgy balls, bands et al but a tennis ball will often suffice. Even if your child isn't referred for therapy there is no reason why you can't try-out simple exercises such as squeeze the ball - count to 5, release, repeat ten times or squeeze thumb and index finger together. Exercises needn't be a chore, make a necklace (threading beads), do a jigsaw, go swimming, throw and catch a ball, play piggy-in-the middle or tennis - all can help.
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