Dysgraphia in Kids

10 Homeschool Helps for Dysgraphia

It has had so many comments and questions about dysgraphia there, that I thought it would be good to post it here as well.

What is dysgraphia anyway?

Dysgraphia falls into a sub-category of a larger disorder called dyspraxia. Dyspraxia is a motor skill disorder where the brain messages and the motor skill trying to be achieved are not connecting properly. Another sub-category of dsypraxia is dyslexia, which most people have heard of. Dyslexia is when the muscles of the eyes can’t interpret brain signals and letters get turned backwards and mixed up in the vision. Dysgraphia is a problem between the fine motor skill of handwriting and the messages from the brain to make that happen.

Signs of dysgraphia

There are a lot of signs and symptoms of dysgraphia. Every case is different and not all and/or symptoms:those with dysgraphia display all signs

Taken from LDOnline.org

In Early Writers

  • Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position
  • Avoiding writing or drawing tasks
  • Trouble forming letter shapes
  • Inconsistent spacing between letters or words
  • Poor understanding of uppercase and lowercase letters
  • Inability to write or draw in a line or within margins
  • Tiring quickly while writing

In Young Students

  • Illegible handwriting
  • Mixture of cursive and print writing
  • Saying words out loud while writing
  • Concentrating so hard on writing that comprehension of what’s written is missed
  • Trouble thinking of words to write
  • Omitting or not finishing words in sentences

In Teenagers and Adults

  • Trouble organizing thoughts on paper
  • Trouble keeping track of thoughts already written
  • Difficulty with syntax structure and grammar
  • Large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech

What dysgraphia is NOT

Dysgraphia is not just being lazy,not trying or caring. Most students with dysgraphia, in fact, care and try very hard. They know that they are not like others.

My child has dysgraphia… How can I help them be academically successful?

Most  public schools are ill-equipped to handle this particular disability. Most have a primary lack of knowledge about any disorder of written expression and current ways of testing knowledge in regular school settings almost always involve writing.  Most schools systems will make IEP accommodations for dysgraphia. However,  I have found that it is very difficult to get the diagnosis from a health professional, which makes getting it on an IEP nearly impossible. Usually, the accommodations are just to get them through the material, not to actually help them be more independent and cope with the disorder.  Also, if you child has co-morbid conditions or is dual exceptional, there is really no place for them in the majority of public or even private school systems. So if you homeschool, you are already a step ahead.

Curriculum for Children with Dysgraphia

The crux of the matter is that you have to separate the writing from the learning. Computer-based curriculums, or classical model education for younger children are two very good ways to go.  Videos, books on CD, building dioramas, and oral quizzing are also good for children for dysgraphia, but knowing your child’s learning style will help you know which of  these avenues will be successful in your homeschool. Lastly, you may have to try anything and everything to see what helps your child the most. However, what works well this week may not work the next, so be ready for a new approach. Our children like to keep us on our toes.

“Real World” Homeschool Helps for Dysgraphia

Scribe for your dysgraphic child.

One of the main things used  is scribing. (writing while your child dictates.) While I’m not opposed to scribing for long answers, I want my son to work independently as much as possible and not reject the act of writing completely. I think this is better for younger children.

Teach your child to type.

There are all sorts of wonderful inexpensive typing programs out there. The use of technology will be their best friend. Most dysgraphic children can learn to type without the same hinderances they have with the physical act of handwriting. My son types about 15 wpm. There is no way he could write 15 words in a minute. So, I urge you to get a typing program that your child likes.

Get a label maker.

I find that worksheets go much smoother with a label maker. However, I try to limit worksheets in general.

Invest in pencil grips.

Get a bunch of colors, styles and sizes. Allow your child to switch them as needed for comfort. People with dysgraphia tend to hold their pencil very tightly causing pain and writing fatigue. There are many online sources for pencil grips and if you are in an occupational therapy program with your child, your OT can give you sources.

Don’t just use a pencil.

Also, some kids with dysgraphia prefer pens, markers and highlighters to pencils. The friction a pencil or crayons may create on the paper can be uncomfortable to them.

Teach them cursive writing.

Sometimes dysgraphic students find that the flowing nature of cursive writing easier and less painful than print. This is subjective though. Go with what feels better to your child.

Focus on handwriting as a separate class.

Do not have them combine writing a story with handwriting practice.

Use graphic organizers.

Some children with dysgraphia have trouble with organizing his/her thoughts because they get tied up in the writing process.  A graphic organizer can help with organizing their writing into manageable chunks. Google “Graphic Organizers”  and you’ll find many to choose from. A child can either write short answer or use a label maker or type on the computer and cut and paste the ideas in the spaces. This separates the sequencing of  paragraph structure from the actual handwriting process.  Many times the student will write below their cognitive ability to get the sentence done. But if the thought is organized, you as the teacher, can work on extending the sentence structure to include more use of vocabulary and colorful adjectives.

Try out annotation for answering questions.

One of my son’s favorite strategies is annotation. If he reads a passage and has to answer questions, he can highlight the answer in the book and put Q1 and on the answer blank of the question he will put the page number the answer is on. That way you know he knows the answer without having to write out the whole answer. He also retains information with this method very well.

Speech-To-Text Software

Speech-to-text software is a good way for an older child to be able to write paragraph and work on sentence structure that they normally could not do. The latest version of Dragon is fairly good at picking up what a child is saying.  However, you will have to work with it. It has to be able to recognize the speech of the one speaking and it learns as it goes. I do not recommend this tool for young children or those with any type of speech issue. At times, it can be frustrating for even the clearest of speakers, but if nothing else is really working for your child, it’s worth a shot.

Be patient.

One accommodation that works one day may not work the next. You want to avoid having your child “shut down” to the writing process. Remember, they aren’t not writing the paragraph because they don’t want to. It is really a struggle. I have to remind myself of that over and over again. This is especially difficult for parents if a child is gifted in other areas. You want to say “Why can’t you just do it?” The truth is though… they can’t” just do it.”  They need a guide. They need you to understand most of all.

NOTE: This article was contributed by a Parent who is homeschooling her son

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This post is not intended to diagnose or treat dysgraphia. Please see your doctor for medical diagnosis. The success rate of these techniques are not guaranteed to work with your child.