Dysgraphia is a common name given to Developmental Co-ordination Difficulties affecting writing. Unlike dyspraxia which can affect either gross motor or fine motor skills, it affects fine motor skills.
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 have 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 developmental co-ordination difficulties.
These children struggle with handwriting, holding a pencil, organising letters on a line, spelling, processing their thoughts and writing them down. It frequently co-occurs with other SpLDs such as dyslexia. Developmental co-ordination difficulties are common at all ages in children and adolescents with ADHD and autism.
The child is quite possibly:
- Clumsy and uncoordinated
- Poor at ball or team sports
- Has difficulties with using a pencil or scissors
- Prone to motion-sickness
- Directionally challenged: may confuse left/right, over/under, etc..
Many also have associated difficulties with directions, spatial awareness and arranging letters or numbers in order.
Providing alternatives to handwriting can help. This could include touch-typing and using voice recognition software such as Dragon Modification – making tasks easier. 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. Sometimes a sloping desk is helpful, particularly for a child with poor muscle tone.
- Try out different pencil grips and widths
- Use paper with guide lines
- Remediation – additional help to learn the skill
- Practise letter formation, using a steamed up mirror or sand as well as a pen and paper
- Practice colouring in letters
- Try cursive handwriting
- Write short thank you letters, using notelets, pictures and photos to make the task simpler and more fun.
Help from an occupational therapist (OT)
OTs work with children with DCD 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 includes 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 five, release, repeat 10 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.
To qualify for help in examinations your child must be assessed by an educational psychologist (EP). The EP report may qualify them for extra time and other concessions in public examinations, such as using a laptop, having a scribe or use of a transcriber.