Dysgraphia is a form of learning disorder which affects how kids write—more accurately, don’t write. These kids avoid writing like the plague. When forced, it’s a struggle. Often gifted students, they are labeled lazy or messy because of the extreme amount of time it takes them to produce next to nothing—and that’s not even talking about legibility. When reasonable kids are given reasonable training and still don’t want to write, dysgraphia may be the reason!
For a long time, dysgraphia wasn’t a recognized learning issue. Just read a few of the comments on any of the websites listed at the bottom and you’ll quickly see what I mean. You’ll hear from adults who struggled through school and only later in life discovered they weren’t stupid or lazy. Good-hearted parents who have tried to decode the mystery of their smart non-writer lament and rejoice in the helpful diagnosis. Guilt-smothered parents who berated their kids for not doing what they couldn’t are out there too, guaranteed. It’s time for dysgraphia to come into the light.
The diagnosis for dysgraphia is, as with many learning disabilities, somewhat inexact. A “cluster of symptoms” identifies it. Here is a sampling of the list from Wikipedia: Dysgraphia: Signs and Symptoms:
- Cramping of fingers while writing short entries
- Odd wrist, arm, body, or paper orientations such as creating an L shape with your arm
- Excessive erasures
- Mixed upper case and lower case letters
- Inconsistent form and size of letters, or unfinished letters
- Misuse of lines and margins
- Inefficient speed of copying
- Inattentiveness over details when writing
- Frequent need of verbal cues
- Referring heavily on vision to write
- Poor legibility
- Handwriting abilities that may interfere with spelling and written composition
- Having a hard time translating ideas to writing, sometimes using the wrong words altogether
- May feel pain while writing
Writing is a complex set of motor and information processing skills. Breakdowns can occur on several levels. Three identified subtypes are: Dyslexic & Spatial which are brain-based issues. Motor which is caused by fine motor problems.
Dyslexic: Children’s spontaneous writing is illegible. Copy work is fairly good, but spelling is bad. Not thought to be fine motor based problem.
Spatial: Illegible spontaneous writing and copy work, but normal spelling. Not thought to be fine motor based.
Motor: Fine motor skills are deficient. They have poor dexterity, weak muscle tone or clumsiness. Writing requires extreme effort and an unreasonable amount of time to accomplish. Writing is poor, often illegible. They have difficulty drawing. Their oral spelling is normal. Often they hold their pencil in an awkward manner.
The bright side of a diagnosis of dysgraphia may well be the emotional relief and redirection of correction in a positive direction. Stress was listed as a main negative side effect of the disorder. Can you imagine the frustration of not being able move a thought from head to hand to paper? Assigning correct meaning helps the patient and parent know how to proceed.
Intervention for dysgraphia is better when started younger. Dianne Craft, an expert in treating “learning glitches” as she calls them, has a website and treatment program for a variety of learning disabilities affecting children, including dysgraphia. Exercises include retraining the brain through copy work and gross motor activities. She identifies dysgraphia as the most common learning block of gifted children and offers many resources for helping children move beyond the disability.
When therapy is given the college try and is clearly not helping, “accommodation” is recommended. Helping children live with dysgraphia often includes teaching cursive as it can be easier letter formation than printing. Early keyboard training can help diminish frustration, however giving up on handwriting is not recommended. Public schools are able or sometime required to offer diagnosed children therapy or appropriate classroom help, such as a keyboard, or note-taker or alternate testing methods.
Check out these websites for more information:
ncld.org: National Center for Learning Disabilities
Nototherwisespecified.typepad.com: Sara Gardner’s blog (mother of a child with dysgraphia)
Diannecraft.org: Expert in treating childhood learning “glitches.”
-posted by Donna Detweiler, who hopes that this blog will get some frustrated children the help they need to succeed.