About Dysgraphia: Dysgraphia is a brain-related condition that manifests itself - often in children who are learning to write - as a challenge with written expression. Writing difficulties experienced by children can be caused by a variety of learning and attention (or inattentiveness) considerations. While no known cure for Dysgraphia exists, strategies and therapies to help a child improve her/his handwriting are accessible to parents. Knowing what behaviors or characteristics are important to be on the lookout for, can help the parent make a decision about what path is best to take to help a child.
This web page provides a summary of specific information associated with the condition referred to as 'Dysgraphia'. Information presented here has been excerpted from 'Understood - Understanding Dysgraphia'.
A note of tempered caution about the information presented below. In my tenure as an educator, I've observed that some students develop - intellectually and academically - at different ages and at different rates. There are a variety of reasons - not associated with a diagnose-able condition - that could impact on why a particular child takes a longer time to learn to write ... as an example, or has difficulty with articulated written expression. Tangible (or Intangible) factors - such as natural creativity or imagination, and the opportunity to learn and practice in an environment that is conducive to learning - play more than a significant role.
What Is Dysgraphia? Dysgraphia is a brain-related condition that manifests itself - often in children who are learning to write - as a challenge with written expression. Dysgraphia, sometimes referred to as 'an impairment in written expression' under the category of 'specific learning disorder', is a short-formed reference to a disorder in written expression. It includes difficulties with understanding or using language (spoken or written) that make it harder - for the student affected - to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. Because writing encompasses a complex set of fine motor and language processing skills, children with Dysgraphia write more slowly and encounter greater difficulty doing so.
What 'causes' Dysgraphia? While there is no current consensus of expert opinion about what 'causes' dysgraphia and other issues of written expression, there is widespread belief that one or more of the following causes the writing process to go off track:
1. Organizing information that is stored in memory.
2. 'Scribing' words onto paper by hand (writing) or typing them.
3. 'Working memory'; a child may experience difficulty remembering how to print a letter or word.
The Signs/Symptoms of Dysgraphia: The symptoms of Dysgraphia also vary depending on a child’s age. Signs generally appear when children are first learning to write. A condition of Dysgraphia may be categorized by one of the following:
1. Visual-Spatial difficulties (experienced by child)
2. Fine Motor Difficulties
3. Language Processing Issues
4. Spelling Issues/Handwriting Issues
5. Grammar and Usage Problems
6. Organization of Written Language
Preschool children may hesitate to write and draw, and claim to dislike coloring.
School-age children may have illegible handwriting that can appear to be a mixture of cursive and printed letters. They may have trouble writing on a line, and may print letters that are uneven in size and height. Some children might also need to say words out loud when writing, or have trouble 'scribing' their thoughts onto paper.
Teenagers may write in simple sentences. Their writing may have many more grammatical mistakes than the writing of other kids in their peer group.
Other (Learning) Impacts That Can Accompany Dysgraphia
The impact of Dysgraphia on a child’s development varies, depending on the symptoms and severity of the condition. Many children with Dysgraphia have other learning issues.
Academic: Since Dysgraphia affects written expression, children with Dysgraphia can fall behind in schoolwork because it takes them so much longer to write. Taking notes is a challenge, and the child may become discouraged and avoid writing assignments.
Basic life skills: Some children’s fine motor skills are weak. They find it hard to do everyday tasks, such as buttoning shirts and making a simple list.
Social-emotional: Children with dysgraphia may feel frustrated or anxious about their academic and life challenges. If a condition of dysgraphia has not been identified, teachers may criticize the student for being “lazy” or “sloppy.” This may add to their stress. Low self-esteem, frustration and communication problems can also make it hard to socialize with other children.
Dyslexia: This learning issue makes it harder to read. Dyslexia can also make writing and spelling a challenge. Learn more about the difference between dysgraphia and dyslexia.
Language disorders: Language disorders can cause a variety of problems with written and spoken language. Children may have trouble learning new words, using correct grammar and putting their thoughts into words.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): ADHD causes problems with attention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity.
Dyspraxia: Dyspraxia is a condition that causes poor physical coordination and motor skills. It can cause trouble with fine motor skills, which can affect physical task of writing and printing. Learn about the differences between Dysgraphia and Dyspraxia.
While Dysgraphia is a lifelong condition, many proven strategies and tools that can help children with Dysgraphia improve their writing skills do exist.
How Is Dysgraphia Diagnosed?
Signs of dysgraphia often appear in early elementary school. However, the signs may not become apparent until middle school or later. Sometimes the signs go unnoticed entirely. As with all learning and attention issues, the earlier signs of dysgraphia are recognized and addressed, the better.
Dysgraphia is typically identified by licensed psychologists (including school psychologists) who specialize in learning disabilities. They administer academic assessments and writing tests. These tests measure fine motor skills and written expression production.
During testing, the professional may ask your child to write sentences and copy text. They’ll assess not only the child’s finished product, but also her/his writing process. This includes posture, position, pencil grip, fatigue and whether there signs of cramping are evident. The test administrator may also test fine motor speed with finger tapping and wrist turning.
Special education teachers and school psychologists can help determine the emotional or academic impact the condition may be having on the child.
How are Professionals Able to Help With Dysgraphia?
If a child is diagnosed to have Dysgraphia, and qualifies for special education services, it is possible for a team of teachers and specialists at the school to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This could include intensive instruction in handwriting as well as personalized accommodations and modifications.
There are many ways to help a child with Dysgraphia. Generally, support falls into the following categories:
Accommodations - are changes to how your child learns. Accommodations include typing on a keyboard or other electronic device instead of writing by hand. Apps can help some children stay organized through voice-recorded notes.
Modifications - are changes to what a child learns. Examples of modifications include allowing a student to write shorter papers or answer fewer or different test questions than his classmates.
Remediation - is an approach that targets foundational skills the child needs to master. Some children may practice copying letters, using paper with raised lines to help them write in straight lines. An occupational therapist may provide exercises to build muscle strength and dexterity and increase hand-eye coordination.
There is no medication for treating Dysgraphia. However, children who also have ADHD sometimes find that the prescribed ADHD medication alleviates the Dysgraphia symptoms.
How a Parent Can Help a Child With Dysgraphia at Home
There are many things that can be done at home to help a child with Dysgraphia. The following are some strategies to consider.
Observe and take notes. Taking notes about your child’s writing difficulties (including when they occur) will help you find patterns and triggers. Then you can develop strategies to work around them. Your notes will also be useful when you talk to your child’s doctor, teachers, and anyone else engaged with helping your child.
Teach your child writing warm-up exercises ... akin to a musician or vocalist going through a pre-performance warm-up. Before writing (or even as a break when writing), your child can do a stress-reliever exercise. S/he could shake his hands quickly or rub them together to relieve tension.
Play games that strengthen motor skills. Playing with clay can strengthen hand muscles. A squeeze ball can improve hand and wrist muscles and coordination.
It’s best to not try multiple strategies at the same time. Instead, introduce one strategy at a time so you can determine what is (or isn’t) working. Praise the child for effort and genuine achievement. This can motivate him/her to keep building skills. Many kids overcome and work around their writing difficulties. With the right support, your child can as well.