Dysgraphia affects writing, especially handwriting. The word comes from Greek – dys meaning ‘impaired’ and graphia meaning ‘writing by hand’ and also how the letters formed.
There are problems forming the letters and arranging them in the correct order, with proper spacing between. Some of the problems probably stem from working memory – the person doesn’t automatically remember how to form the letters and the word, and must concentrate harder to retrieve the information from long-term memory. The symptoms range in severity from person to person.
Problems with writing can affect self-confidence and teachers may assume the pupil isn’t trying hard enough, especially if the pupil is also intelligent. Whilst pupils can learn to type, and can even use speech to typing software, it is hard to completely avoid handwriting. Also writing notes by hand is supposed to help you remember what you wrote….
Common characateristics of Dysgraphia
- A mix of cursive and print letters – letters pointing in different directions (reverse letters).
- Inappropriate sizing and spacing of letters.
- Incorrect spelling and capitalization – may misspell the same word in different ways.
- Spellchecker can be unhelpful if the person cannot recognise which is the correct word.
- Slow or laboured writing is tiring.
- Omitting letters and words from sentences, also unfinished words.
- Difficulty organising thoughts on paper – this is often better verbally.
- May start a story in the middle – or add too many details – or omit necessary details.
- Problems when drawing.
- Difficulty reading maps.
- Difficulty copying words / shapes.
- Difficulty with grammar and sentence structure, also punctuation.
- Sentences may look unfinished – or be written in a list format.
- May use different verb tenses in the same sentence.
- May use incorrect pronouns.
- Difficulty visualizing words before writing them.
- Tight awkward hold on pen or pencil resulting in hand cramps, and an unusual body or hand position.
- Watching their hand while they write.
- Saying words out loud while writing.
- Difficulty following directions and understanding the rules of games.
- Writing in a straight line and respecting margins.
There can be a problem of choosing the wrong word, another problem is concentrating so much on writing, that the pupil doesn’t pay attention to what is being said.
Dysgraphia often coexists with something else – e.g. ADHD, Dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome, Autism, Dyspraxia (developmental coordination disorder), and also problems with written or verbal language. There is often a big difference between spoken language ability and written language. The ideas that the student wants to convey are not usually impaired, which means that Dysgraphia is often not seen as a big problem – but if hand-writing is slow this causes daily problems with schoolwork – especially if the pupil needs to copy from the board.
Both Dyslexia and Dysgraphia cause problems with spelling. But Dyslexia doesn’t cause problems with fine motor skills and handwriting and Dysgraphia doesn’t cause problems with reading comprehension.
3 types of Dysgraphia (these are the ones identified so far….)
- Dyslexic-Dysgraphia (linguistic Dysgraphia) – usually poor written spelling. Poor writing with extra letters, letters missed out, spaces within words, and unnecessary capital letters. Can write better when copying, and can draw. Despite the name, the person may not have a Dyslexia diagnosis.
- Motor Dysgraphia – poor muscle tone, poor dexterity, poor fine motor skills, and clumsiness. Letter formation may be OK, but takes a great deal of time and concentration. Copying and drawing are both badly affected, but oral spelling is normal. Motor-dysgraphic often has problems holding the pen correctly and this can indicate developmental coordination disorder. Writing speed is poor and this is a common type of Dysgraphia.
- Spatial Dysgraphia – abnormal spacing between letters and words, and trouble staying on the lines and in the margins – causes problems with spontaneously written work, copied work, and drawing. Normal spelling skills.
How can children be helped to form letters?
Anything which develops fine motor skills can help:
- Keeping within the lines of mazes or colouring within the lines or tracing.
- Connecting dots or dashes to create the forms of the letter.
- Use different mediums – encourage your child to finger-write in paint, sand, salt, foam – alternate with using a stylus (or the body of a pen) to ‘write’.
- Fill a closed bag with some coloured hair gel and use a finger to make letter shapes.
- Check out different apps and see what is available.
- Playing with clay or playdoh develops finger strength.
- Playing games like Tic Tac Toe and Connect Four to teach diagonals – which are often tricky for children with Dysgraphia to perceive and reproduce.
- Try rubber grips to help with pen and pencil holding – a fat pencil may be easier to hold.
- Holding a pencil or pen in a new way to make writing easier.
- Try different pens and pencils – one brand may be easier to hold.
Specialists who can help
There are many ways to help with Dysgraphia at home, at school, and at work. Two common treatments are occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT).
- Occupational therapists help improve fine motor skills and motor planning. May be able to teach a person a different way to hold a pen or pencil to make writing easier.
- Physical therapists work on gross motor skills.
- An Eye test with an Ophthalmologist may help.
- Speech therapists can help with listening to and identifying individual sounds – which helps children process and reproduce words and sentences. These professionals can also work on conceptualization – identifying what to write about – and thought organisation. Mind Maps can be a useful way of organising thoughts.
- The earlier therapy starts, the better. Pupils may get these services for free at school. They may also get accommodations to keep Dysgraphia from getting in the way of learning.
- OT can be helpful for some adults. But they’ll need to find therapists who work privately, outside of schools. Adults may get accommodations that can help at work.
Things to help with homework
Parents should take note of when their children find writing easier – at the beginning of the homework session or at the end?
- Does playing music help with writing?
- Is it easier sitting at a desk?
- Does it help to do some finger exercises first to warm the hands up?
- Taking regular breaks?
- Teach young pupils keyboarding skills and allow typed homework/classwork.
Things to help in the Classroom these can be the same for all pupils
- Handouts of the essential facts instead of asking the pupils to copy from the board – leave plenty of white space and encourage pupils to draw or note words which will help them remember the details – allow time for this.
- Encourage pupils to highlight the main words in the typed notes.
- Have a clear title, and date at the top of the page – if the lesson is part of a series, say so.
- Paper with different coloured or raised lines for free writing.
- Graph paper for maths problems.
- Teach different types of writing – note-taking, precis, essay writing, poetry, newspaper-style writing, a letter, daily diary.
- Discuss with students and help the class recognise the main points of each lesson – maybe have 3 or 4 blank lines near the top of the page for the main points – keywords.
- Help students break written assignments down into steps (with a timetable for projects).
- Maybe writing a shorter assignment than classmates (half the length).
- Try and have a time gap before proofreading, people are more likely to spot errors.
- Offer alternatives to writing – a Mind Map or a podcast?
- Tests – multiple-choice or filling in the gaps saves written work. Use a scribe or speech-to-text in a separate room for essay questions. Extra time to complete work.