Dysgraphia is a learning difference that affects a child’s writing ability. It often results in unusual handwriting, poor spelling, and problems selecting the correct words to use. If your child has been diagnosed with dysgraphia, you may be wondering what you can do to help them reach their full academic potential. From occupational therapy, to assistive technology, multi-sensory learning, and more, these are the top dysgraphia tips and tools for parents and teachers.
What Is Dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder in which a person (it’s often diagnosed as a child) is unable to write coherently for their age level. Kids may have difficulty expressing their ideas in written form and it may result in messy written work that’s full of mistakes. Dysgraphia can affect their ability to form letters, words, and numbers by hand, spell correctly, and organize and express their thoughts on paper.
The child will probably be much better able to communicate their thoughts and ideas through speech rather than through writing. Children with dysgraphia often suffer emotional stress. They’re likely to feel frustrated that they’re unable to do what their classmates can do and may be unfairly criticized for being “sloppy” or “lazy”. They may fall behind with schoolwork, which can lead to poor grades, as well as anxiety and depression.
Dysgraphia vs Dyslexia: What’s the Difference?
Dysgraphia and dyslexia are both neurological conditions that are considered learning differences. They’re often connected but they don’t mean the same thing. Dyslexia is characterized by poor spelling, reading, and writing, while dysgraphia means that you have difficulty writing. To put it more simply, dyslexia primarily affects reading, whereas dysgraphia mainly affects writing.
Here are a couple of examples:
- A child with dysgraphia will have trouble writing things down, while someone with dyslexia has trouble reading aloud.
- A child with dysgraphia may have poor spelling or write run-on sentences without proper spacing, while a child with dyslexia might confuse the order of letters to form words or have trouble following directions.
10 Symptoms of Dysgraphia
- Illegible handwriting
- Incorrect spelling and capitalization
- Slow, laboured writing
- Mixing print and cursive letters
- Difficulty copying words
- Odd spacing of words and letters
- Poor spelling and grammar
- Difficulty gripping a pencil
- Incorrect punctuation
- Run-on sentences
How Is Dysgraphia Diagnosed?
Dysgraphia can be difficult to diagnose as it doesn’t have specific criteria for diagnosis. An assessment for dysgraphia is similar to one for dyslexia, and is typically made in an educational setting by professionals, which can include occupational therapists, physical therapists, special education teachers, education psychologists, speech therapists, and neuropsychologists. The diagnosis involves careful consideration of your child’s:
- Learning strengths and weaknesses
- Educational history
- Type of writing difficulties they’re having
- Extent of their writing challenges
- Measures of fine motor skills related to writing
- Writing samples evaluated for spelling, grammar, and punctuation
- Academic assessment including reading, arithmetic, writing, and language tests
7 Dysgraphia Tips and Tools for Parents and Teachers
1. Occupational Therapy
Consider enrolling your child in occupational therapy to build their fine motor skills and dexterity. It’s one of the best things you can do for dysgraphia. Occupational therapy for dysgraphia will focus on movements and activities that you encounter in everyday life, including handwriting and fine motor skill treatment. The therapist will work closely with you and your child’s teachers to streamline the process within the home or school environment.
2. Work With Your Child at Home
There are a number of ways you can help your child with dysgraphia at home. Work with your occupational therapist on approaches such as typing exercises, encouraging dictating sentences before writing them down, letter formation drills, practicing writing on paper with raised lines, and building finger muscle memory.
3. Create a Supportive Environment at School
In school, teachers should offer a supportive environment for children with dysgraphia. Consider allowing additional time on tests, reduction in the length of written assignments, not requiring complete sentences as answers to questions, physical accommodations like pencil grips, providing notes instead of requiring note-taking, and a focus on typing over handwriting.
4. Offer Flexible Assignments
Another helpful thing you can do as a teacher is to offer a variety of assignments that accommodate different learning styles. For example, consider allowing students to present their knowledge through oral presentations or multimedia projects. This will allow all students to use their strengths and feel confident with the work they’re handing in.
5. Encourage Typing
Both parents and teachers should encourage typing for children with dysgraphia. Typing is an excellent alternative to handwriting. It’s easier for children with dysgraphia and can help facilitate a better expression of their ideas. It can have a positive impact on their academic performance and make them feel more confident in their writing abilities. Learning to type is essential because it supports their learning challenges and helps them engage in written communication more effectively.
6. Consider Assistive Technology
If a child has done handwriting therapy for 12 to 18 months with little to no improvement, you should consider a switch to assistive technology (AT). This can include speech-to-text software, word prediction tools, and spell checkers. These tools can support your child’s writing and boost their confidence. Keep in mind, the switch to using AT for schoolwork completion is not about abandoning their handwriting skills altogether. These should continue to be worked on.
7. Incorporate Multi-Sensory Learning
For students that have been diagnosed with dysgraphia, a multi-sensory learning method is the most effective way for them to learn. Incorporate visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic elements into your lessons to engage all children. Examples of this are teaching proper letter formation using tactile materials like sand trays or shaving cream; practicing sky writing; and writing letters or words in highlighter and having the child trace over them in dark pen or marker.
If you’ve noticed your child or student is having difficulty writing for their age level, it may be time to get them assessed for dysgraphia. If a diagnosis is made, be sure to use these tips and tools to accommodate them and create the best learning environment to help them thrive!
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