Dysgraphia is an unfamiliar term but the symptoms are not, especially in young children who are learning to write. The symptoms of dysgraphia fall into six categories:
- visual-spatial, fine motor,
- language processing,
- spelling/handwriting, grammar, and organization of language.
A child may have dysgraphia if his writing skills lag behind those of his peers and he has at least some of these symptoms:
- Has trouble with shape-discrimination and letter spacing
- Has trouble organizing words on the page from left to right
- Writes letters that go in all directions, and letters and words that run together on the page
- Has a hard time writing in a line and inside margins
- Has trouble reading maps, drawing or reproducing a shape
- Copies text slowly
- Has trouble understanding material presented on classroom boards or in presentation
- Has trouble copying designs and pictures
Fine Motor Difficulties
- Has trouble holding a pencil correctly, tracing, cutting food, tying shoes, doing puzzles, texting and keyboarding
- Is unable to use scissors well or to color inside the lines
- Holds his wrist, arm, body or paper in an awkward position when writing
Language Processing Issues
- Has trouble getting ideas down on paper quickly
- Has trouble understanding the rules of games
- Has a hard time following directions
- Loses his chain of thought
Spelling Issues/Handwriting Issues
- Has a hard time understanding spelling rules
- Has trouble telling if a word is misspelled
- Can spell correctly orally, but makes spelling errors in writing
- Spells words incorrectly and in many different ways
- Omits words in sentences or leaves them unfinished
- Has trouble using spell-check—and when he does, he doesn’t recognize the correct word
- Mixes upper- and lowercase letters
- Blends printing and cursive writing
- Has trouble reading his own writing
- Avoids writing
- Gets tired or cramped handed when he writes
- Erases a lot
Grammar and Usage Problems
- Doesn’t know how to use punctuation
- Overuses commas and mixes up verb tenses
- Doesn’t start sentences with a capital letter
- Doesn’t write in complete sentences, but writes in a list format
- Writes sentences that “run on forever”
Organization of Written Language
- Has trouble telling a story and may start in the middle
- Leaves out important facts and details, or provides too much information
- Assumes others know what he is talking about
- Uses vague descriptions
- Writes jumbled sentences
- Never gets to the point, or makes the same point over and over
- Is better at conveying ideas when speaking
The symptoms of dysgraphia also vary depending on a child’s age. Signs generally appear when children are first learning to write.
- Preschool children may be hesitant to write and draw and say that they hate coloring.
- School-age children may have illegible handwriting that can be a mix of cursive and print. They may have trouble writing in a line and may print letters that are uneven in size and height. Some children also may need to say words out loud when writing or have trouble putting their thoughts on paper.
- Teenagers may write in simple sentences. Their writing may have many more grammatical mistakes than the writing of other kids their age
Source: UNESCO MGIEP, www.understood.org
Dysgraphia cannot be simply diagnosed using writing samples alone. The history of a child and the child’s family can provide important clues in diagnosis. However, a clinical psychologist can diagnose a child only after a series of tests. These tests may include an assessment of IQ, academic assessments of language and arithmetic skills, testing of fine motor skills related to writing, tests involving the replication of simple to complicated designs by the child.
Once a child has been diagnosed with dysgraphia, it is important to understand the precise cause of the condition to implement a treatment that tackles dysgraphia at its core. It is also important to test the child for any associated LDs or similar condition. It is only with a thorough diagnosis can a treatment plan be realized that is specific to the child’s needs.
There is no medication for dysgraphia although the child may receive medical treatment for ADHD and associated conditions. Once a child has been diagnosed, the child’s psychologists and teachers may discuss effective treatment options. Depending in the specific condition motor skills, visual spatial recognition, sequencing and formation of words and sentences can be tackled. This can include Occupational therapy, multi-sensory treatment, speech and language therapy etc.
The general structure of treatment falls into the following three categories:
- Accommodations are changes to how the 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 the child learns. Examples of modifications include allowing a student to write shorter papers or answer fewer or different test questions than their classmates. This does not mean the child will be taught less, it just means that the child will be taught at a pace comfortable to them.
- 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.
Source: UNESCO MGIEP, www.understood.org
There are several things a parent can do for their child with dysgraphia. The following is a list of things that a parent can provide support in - from diagnosis to treatment:
- Observe and take notes. Watching your child more closely and taking notes on her behavior may reveal patterns and triggers that you can begin to work around. Your notes will also come in handy if you want to talk to teachers, doctors or anyone else you enlist to help your child.
- Focus on effort, not outcome. Praise your child for trying hard, and emphasize that everyone makes mistakes—you included! Help your child understand how important it is to keep practicing. Your encouragement will help your child stay motivated.
- Boost confidence. Use hobbies and afterschool activities to help improve your child’s self-esteem and increase resilience. Try different ways to identify and build on your child’s strengths.
- Use thick chalks, color sticks and pencils to ease the tension on the child’s grip.
- Gradually move to pencils with pencil grips. You can make your own using clay or other material. This will allow the child to balance the pencil/pen while writing. Here’s a link for DIY pencil grip. http://www.instructables.com/id/Duct-Tape-Pencil-Grip/
- Take pencils out of the picture! You can even let your child practice their writing skills using finger-paint, writing in sand/flour and any other such material.
- Use a combination of dark and light lines and margins (or create them using sketch-pens and highlighters) on a child’s writing sheet to allow them to stick to the lines within which they are writing.
- If the child is struggling in spacing the words then give them a tab or flat cut-out that they can place at the end of the word and start at the next one. You can even use sticky color note-flags and make the process more fun!
- If your child is old enough, you can improve their writing by asking them to write on subjects that truly affect them, like the hour of bed-time or gaining permission to go for a sleep-over, or to convince you to buy them a new pair of shoes.
- When your child is old enough, allow them to participate in the development of their portfolio that includes their academic, cultural and sports achievements. This will keep them confident and motivated.
- Work on stress-relieving exercises like flexing hand-muscles or using stress-balls to exercise. This is best suggested by a therapist.
- Help your child break down writing assignments into chunks that they can deal with. Let them take short breaks while dealing with these assignments whether it is class work or otherwise.
- Allow the child to tackle with the content of the assignment and organize their thoughts. Place them in a short pointer-based summary or in charts and diagrams that the child is comfortable with and then let them write using the summary.
Sources: UNESCO MGIEP, www.understood.org