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Dysgraphia: How can I help my child?

Is your child struggling with handwriting? The cause may be more than just laziness or lack of motivation; it could be a neurologically-based learning issue called dysgraphia. This post explains the signs and symptoms of dysgraphia and the steps you can take to help your child succeed in reading and spelling.

What Is Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia: How can I help my child? - All About Learning Press

A child with dysgraphia has handwriting that is worse than you would normally see in a child of his age, intelligence, and education level.

But dysgraphia isn’t just about messy papers. A child with dysgraphia may also appear to be unmotivated or lazy, or what we sometimes refer to as a “reluctant writer.” Because he has trouble expressing his thoughts and ideas in writing, he may avoid writing altogether.

Dysgraphia can also make your child avoid seemingly normal situations. For example, does your child avoid Scouts or clubs because he may be asked to fill out forms? Is he hesitant to participate in any activity that involves writing, even something as simple as signing his own name? Has he been teased because of childish penmanship?

If so, you have probably experienced firsthand the frustration, anger, and anxiety that dysgraphia can cause.

Symptoms of Dysgraphia

As with most learning challenges, the symptoms of dysgraphia can range from mild to severe, and the symptoms may vary in the way they show up in children of different ages.

In general, a child with dysgraphia may have trouble with the following:

  • Forming letters, numbers, and words
  • Spelling words correctly
  • Organizing thoughts and ideas into written expression

Simply put, dysgraphia makes the process of writing quite difficult, so a child with dysgraphia often has a much easier time expressing ideas verbally than in writing.

Symptoms of Dysgraphia Download

Here are some additional signs of dysgraphia:

  • A tight or awkward pencil grip
  • Tires quickly while writing
  • Writing is illegible, inconsistent, and has poorly formed letters and numbers
  • Incorrect spacing and positioning of letters, words, and lines of written text
  • Writing is slow and labored
  • Complete avoidance of writing
  • Difficulty following spelling and grammar rules
  • Trouble aligning columns of numbers in math problems
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts on paper
  • Trouble with tasks that require concurrent thinking and writing

If you recognize some of these symptoms in your child, read on!

Compensation is the First Step

Compensation means helping your child “work around” his handwriting issues so he can still continue to learn.

You may be surprised to hear me say that. After all, dysgraphia is a serious issue, and surely we don’t want to just “work around” the problem, right?

Well, at first we do want to work around the penmanship issue.

This doesn’t mean that you aren’t eventually going to tackle the problem—that step will come next—but it does mean that you are going to reduce the stress that your child is likely experiencing, and at the same time make sure your student can continue to learn.

But exactly how you compensate will depend upon your child’s age and the subject areas being studied.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Work on keyboarding skills. Using a keyboard instead of paper and pencil can be a great way to motivate a reluctant writer to express his thoughts and ideas.
  2. Do work orally. Many assignments can be completed orally with a parent.
  3. Use speech-to-text tools. Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Sound Note are good examples of speech recognition software. These tools allow your child’s work to be dictated orally and automatically translated to text.
  4. Use alternatives to written assignments. Until your student has stronger handwriting skills, consider using some of the interesting ideas below.
dysgraphia-alternatives-to-written-assignments-700x400

Once the pressure is off and your child is learning in other subject areas without pen and paper, it’s time to work on penmanship skills.

Check for Proper Handwriting Position

Since so many kids with dysgraphia have incorrect writing posture and pencil grip, it’s important to establish proper handwriting position before attempting to address specific penmanship concerns. The graphic below is a handy guide for evaluating your child’s handwriting position.

dysgraphia-handwritingposition-1200x540

Tackle Handwriting Remediation

Once you have checked and corrected your child’s posture and pencil grip, it’s time to actually put pencil to paper and start writing.

Please keep in mind that it’s important to allow your child to acquire writing skills at his own pace. Don’t get caught up in the comparison trap. Your child has a special need, so let him progress naturally and not at the pace recommended for his age, his grade level, or his curriculum.

Also, as you work to improve your child’s ability to write, continue to reduce the amount of writing that is required to complete his schoolwork. Allow learning to happen without pen and paper.

Try these tips to help make penmanship lessons more productive and enjoyable for you and your child.

  • If your child reverses letters, my free report on “How to Solve Letter Reversals” will be a huge help to you.
  • Use a research-based handwriting program. Handwriting Without Tears has been effective for many children with handwriting problems.
  • Provide short bursts of handwriting exercise instead of long, drawn-out sessions. Many kids with dysgraphia need to work on fine motor skills. Activities such as coloring, cutting, painting, model-building, working with clay, working pencil mazes, and threading beads will increase dexterity and build fine motor skills.
  • Schedule penmanship practice time for 5-10 minutes a day.
  • If your child can’t remember how to form letters consistently—writing them correctly at times, but incorrectly at other times—it could be a sign that he has problems with his working memory.
  • Work on correct letter formation by using multisensory methods and techniques that don’t require writing. Finger-writing in the air, in sand, in shaving cream, or on sandpaper are all great exercises that can encourage improvement in proper letter formation.
ig-teachingthroughspecialneeds

Dysgraphia Also Affects Reading and Spelling

For a child with dysgraphia, the very act of writing takes so much energy that it actually interferes with the process of learning, which can then negatively impact his ability to learn.

Because your child’s dysgraphia affects the way he learns to read and spell, it’s important to remove the handwriting barrier from both of these subject areas. All About Reading and All About Spelling are designed to do just that! In fact, both programs can be completed without requiring any handwriting at all.

Here are some features that will help your child learn more quickly:

  • AAR and AAS are multisensory. With a multisensory approach, children take in and interact with information in various ways. Learning happens through multiple senses, primarily through sight, sound, and touch (kinesthetic). The kinesthetic approach can be very helpful to a child who has expressive language struggles.
  • AAR and AAS are incremental and mastery-based. In both programs, students master one concept before moving on to a new concept. This helps reduce frustration and confusion and allows children to move at their own pace through the curriculum.
  • AAR and AAS use color-coded letter tiles. Working with the letter tiles can make the difference between understanding a concept and not understanding it. The letter tiles provide a kinesthetic method for practicing spelling words without the need for paper and pencil.
  • AAR and AAS have built-in review in every lesson. Children with learning difficulties benefit from lots of review. Customized review allows you to target the areas in which your child is struggling.
  • AAR and AAS are highly motivational. Both programs use a wide variety of fun, hands-on activities that minimize the need for writing. Short, engaging lessons and the ability to track their own progress keep kids motivated from the very first lesson.

But what do moms who are in the trenches with their struggling learners say about overcoming dysgraphia?

Some Hope and Encouragement for You

Helping a child who is struggling with dysgraphia takes patience. Change may not come quickly, but trust that it will come! And to encourage you during this process, I’d like to share a few success stories from our community.

Here’s Tanya’s story:

dysgraphia-letter-tiles-200x200

“My daughter has dysgraphia and she is thriving with AAS! We just finished level 4 (starting 4th grade). The tiles are great for spelling when writing is just too much.

I like that the lessons are at our own pace, and that she can master the material in a way that works best for her! Thanks!”

This is from Rebekah, another mom who is finding success with AAS:

“Although we haven’t pursued an official diagnosis, our eight-year-old son has all the characteristics of dysgraphia. The best thing we ever did was back off from writing for a while. He still struggles, but it’s getting easier. He loves his AAR, and we will be starting AAS soon. Things are finally clicking, and I am so thankful that spelling, reading, and writing no longer involve tears!”

And Sharon shared what a difference All About Spelling is making for her son:

dysgraphia-erasing-words-200x200

“My son used to feel defeated, but now he has so much more enthusiasm for reading since he doesn’t have to write. He doesn’t dread school when his hands don’t hurt and get tired. He also doesn’t waste erasers from erasing so often!

“He uses his magnetic letter tiles to build his words now, and he’ll often ask to handwrite the words he has built. The tiles help him tell his b, d, p, and q apart, which make writing and spelling easier. Being able to look at the letters while writing has helped his handwriting improve, too!”

The Bottom Line: Don’t Let Dysgraphia Rob Your Child

Handwriting may seem like a small part of education, but it affects your child’s ability to express ideas. It’s important to address dysgraphia, and to prevent it from stealing your child’s motivation, his joy of learning, and his self-esteem.

Starting today, you can help make learning easier for your child with dysgraphia by implementing three simple ideas.

  1. Compensation: Minimize the distractions and frustrations of the writing process by using alternatives to handwritten assignments.
  2. Evaluate: Establishing proper handwriting position is critical to handwriting success. Begin the process by checking your child’s handwriting position.
  3. Remediation: Work on improving your child’s penmanship skills by using the ideas in this post.

If you have any questions about your child’s dysgraphia and how it affects reading and spelling instruction, please feel free to call or email us. With All About Reading and All About Spelling, your child can continue to learn without frustration, and we’re here to help!

Does your child struggle with dysgraphia? What has helped? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Solve Letter Reversals

Photo credit: @teachingthroughspecialneeds via Instagram

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Manuel Gonzalez

says:

Hi my son is 8 years old he is at 3rd grade at the elementary school. His reading skills are ok but he doesn’t write more than one sentence. He misspell words. What can I do to help him improve his writing skills.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Manuel,
I would recommend working with your son with All About Spelling, starting with Level 1. All About Spelling has a gradual progression for increasing a student’s stamina and fluency in writing that’s very helpful for those that struggle. It starts with just words and then moves to short two- to three-word phrases in Level 1. It bumps up to phrases and short sentences in Level 2 and then progresses to 12 dictation sentences per step in Level 3.

Partway through Level 5, the Writing Station is introduced. In this exercise, students write sentences of their own that they make up using some of their spelling words. In this way, students have begun to use words in a more real-world context through dictation and writing, to help them transition to longer writing assignments outside of spelling time.

By the end of Level 3, students have mastered about 1000 words from the regular and reinforcement lists, and they have developed stamina and beginning editing skills that will help them with more extensive writing.

The tips and suggestions in this blog post will also be helpful for a student that struggles with writing.

I hope this helps as you consider how to proceed! Please let me know if you have additional questions.

Linda

says:

I tried everything to help my son read and write he’s 15 now and still don’t know how to took him to the doctor and they said he have adhd but I feel there got to be something wrong for a child to go to school and not learning how to read and write

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your son is having such troubles, Linda. Have you spoken with your son’s school about your concerns?

Sometimes the issue is that students have gaps in foundational knowledge in skills that are necessary for success in reading and writing. You may consider look into The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling. Please let me know if you have specific concerns that I can help with.

Rukayat Akorede

says:

My boy is 6 years old and suffering from dysgraphia….I felt bad when I toke him to a new school and he couldn’t write anything I felt so bad and started crying….pls help me

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Rukayat,
I’m so sorry your boy is having such struggles. I hope you find the types and suggestions outlined in this blog post helpful. Also, his school should be able to provide evaluation and help.

Cici Coco

says:

Dysgraphia can be very complex. Each kid’s profile is different. From language expression, to handwriting, to spelling, to quantity…I think consistent support is essential. That may come from multiple professionals, like an OT, speech therapist, Orton Gillingham trained dyslexia therapist. It may also involve a pediatrician to treat ADHD, as well know these things often co-occur. A village of support, but gains can be made.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing this, Cici.

Samantha

says:

How do you get checked for this sounds little like my 9 Yr old

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Samantha. Often occupational therapists can help diagnose dysgraphia, although some children are diagnosed when they are generally tested for learning disabilities. You can start by speaking with your child’s doctor or requesting evaluation through the local school.

Jennifer

says:

Thank you for the alternatives to written assignments. We use narration quite a bit, but excited to try some fresh new ideas such as audio recordings and cartoon captions. We are starting AAS this year in hopes of improving his spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Jennifer!

Dema Godwill fibikah

says:

Hi,my boy is eight years old, fine it difficult to read and write when, don’t know what to do, need help for him,

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is having such difficulties, Dema. You may find our Signs of a Reading Problem and 10 Tips for Reaching Your Struggling Learner blog posts helpful. In addition, The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling may be just what he needs.

Let me know if you have specific questions.

Whunmie

says:

I seriously need help with my son of 4years. Maybe lazy or not I am not sure but he often hesitates to study, he processes his educational works slowly. Ha still finds it difficult to write 1-20 most times whereas he can write 1-100. I am very confuse.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Whunmie,
Am I understanding that your child is 4-years-old? If that is the case, it sounds like your son is doing very well indeed! Most 4-year-old children cannot write at all, so him being able to write 1 through 20 even with difficulty means he is doing better than expected.

Keep learning with him light-hearted and play-based at this age. We have lots of printable games and activities for Preschool learning that you can use.

Sellina Sithole

says:

Hi I need help
I’m 22 years old I passed my martic I’m currently working but I can’t spell out most words and it’s embarrassing for me 😌 help

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sellina,
If you have a tutor or friend who can help you, the All About Spelling program might be a good option. We do have adults who are helped by the program, and a friend would be able to help you through each of the lessons. It isn’t designed for going through it on your own.

Pam McConnell

says:

I never realized how dysgraphia could affect my child’s education. Thank you so much for this blog. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know AAR had a blog. As I read through some of them I am thanking God for leading me to this blog. My dyslexic struggles in so much. It is such a relief to find such a helpful site. I have yet to use AAR but this year I am getting it.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased that you are finding our blog helpful, Pam! We also have a Dyslexia Resources page (with some overlapping articles from the blog) that you will also find helpful.

Let me know if you have any questions, need help with placement, or anything else.

LaToya

says:

This is so helpful!! I know my 12 year old has dysgraphia. He’s left handed which made it harder for me to teach him good handwriting skills. Now he has good handwriting as long as he tries hard, but it takes him a long time to write. His spelling is terrible. In school he doesn’t take notes which causes him to miss out on learning. Especially when he needs his notes for homework. I’m going to take your advice on having him write at his pace everyday and have him color, paint, or do pencil mazes. I always wondered why he never used any of his coloring books as a little child. His dysgraphia was why! I’m also having him work on his typing skills now that he’s in Junior High School.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful for you, LaToya. You may be able to work with his teachers and school for accommodations for his dysgraphia as well, such as allowing him to record lectures or having teachers provide written notes for him since he is unable to take notes.

Edna

says:

Thanks for the guidance and relief

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Edna.

Meghan Hunt

says:

My oldest son (17) probably has dysgraphia and now my youngest daughter (10) seems to struggle with the same issues. I have tried helping her with spelling, she avoids writing assignments and only uses easy words that she can spell. handwriting and cursive which all lead to frustration. We are planning to start the Touch Type Read Spell program this fall.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thanks for mentioning Touch Type Read Spelling, Meghan. It is an Orton-Gillingham based approach to teaching typing. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it after a semester or so.

Oluwatosin

says:

Good evening ma,
please I don’t know what to do, I have this 2+ son who knows I how recite 1 to 40 correctly but can’t even write 1to 3 there is not you say to his hearing that he won’t know immediately this is really give me headache. Each time you ask him to go and bring his book he begins to cry

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oluwatosin,
Am I understanding correctly that your son is not yet 3 years old? If he is 2 years old, then it is his age that is the cause of his difficulties. Children are usually 5 years old or so before they are ready to write anything. At this point, I would limit any teaching to helping him to recognize the number when he sees it and not ask him to write it at all.

Also, it is very important for very young learners like this that they associate learning with fun. If he shows he is not excited and interested, learning should stop for the day. If learning is not fun at this age, he may try to avoid learning for years to come.

Sarah

says:

Thank you for the resources for kids struggling with dysgraphia!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Sarah!

Lindsey

says:

These are great tips and awareness ques to look for!

Gloria

says:

Thank you for the free resources. I often print your one pagers to share with parents when having a discussion about possible underlying issues that may impact a students. progress.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Gloria! I’m pleased to hear you find the resources helpful for your students’ parents.

Jeanne M.

says:

I am homeschooling with my granddaughter. A year ago in March, as a second grader, she couldn’t read or spell. Her parents took her out of school because she didn’t click well with common core and sight reading. Also, she had a solid case of undiagnosed dysgraphia. She had immense anxiety regarding academic work, but loved the social side of school. We started with AAR Level 1, Math-U-See, and other subjects using many multi-modal curricula. We tried keyboarding, but it created stress for her. At first we did most of the work with little handwriting. She did write for math, often reversing numbers, but now recognizes her errors and corrects them on her own. Finally, in March of this year, when starting Level 4 and reading quite well, we embarked on a journey with Rhythm in Writing, Cursive. What an amazing revelation. She began thinking and writing at the same time. We are taking it slowly, only comfortable with 20 letters to this point. She is able to write words neatly without picking up her pencil. We practice every day for ten to fifteen minutes. We use all kinds of ways to learn the letters, including writing with our hands and feet in the air. She is learning to write the AAR phonograms with cursive by taking dictation. She writes the letters from hearing the phonograms and connects them very well. AAR was the beginning of finding her confidence. Thank you for AAR, for the blogs on dysgraphia, and for AAS. Your material changes lives.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, Jeanne! This was so wonderful to hear! Thank you for sharing your granddaughter’s success here. Keep up the amazing work!

Kami M

says:

This is well-written with fantastic doable steps to help struggling students. It will be a great post to share with those who have students struggling with dysgraphia. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Kami!

Kelvin

says:

Hi.
I just started to read about dysgraphia.
My sister is in grade two…she knows how to count numbers and letters yet she can’t write them down. she is good in communication (verbally); forming meaningful conversations with others …but when it comes to writing -it is a skill she has not mastered..so is she suffering from dysgraphia? Help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kelvin,
It is possible your sister may have the learning disability of dysgraphia, but it is also possible she may have some other issue. The only way to be sure what the cause of her difficulty is would be to have her evaluated by a professional.

However, the tips and suggestions in this blog post can be helpful for those that struggle with the physical act of writing regardless of the cause.

Elaina

says:

Such good info! Thank you!

Kathryn H

says:

I’ve only just started researching dysgraphia as a possibility for my son. These suggestions are very helpful! I can’t wait to see if implementing them helps us in our homeschooling journey.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will be helpful for you and your son, Kathryn. If you have questions or need anything, just ask.

Christa Strader

says:

Great and valuable information as I hopefully teach my child to read before Kinder! Thank You!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Christa!

Steph

says:

Thanks for this helpful article! I plan to implement some strategies in our homeschool.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Steph! I’m glad this what helpful for you.

Julie

says:

This is a great overview of dysgraphia! Super helpful. Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Julie.

Baylee Ward

says:

I really appreciate your list of alternatives. It gives action-able advice for a tricky situation!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Baylee. I’m pleased you find this actionable!

Ina van Aarde

says:

Thank you for the article. I feel much more confident that I can assist my son with his writing and spelling anxiety.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Ina. However, if you have questions or need help, just ask.

Karen

says:

Thank you for this informative article!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Karen!

Codi

says:

Thank you! Such useful information!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Codi! I’m glad to hear this is useful for you.

Julie Johnston

says:

This is so helpful!!