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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? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

dysgraphia facebook graphic

How to Solve Letter Reversals

Photo credit: @teachingthroughspecialneeds via Instagram

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Leave a Comment

Rochelle Morais

says:

Many of my students find it useful to use dictation software and to help with note taking they use audio note

Yahiliz

says:

My son is seven and doesn’t love writing but can do a nice job at copy work when he is concentrating. He’s still young so I am watching closely to see if this is something that I need to worry about. Thanks for all the information and tips!

kristi thomas

says:

This is a concern of mine. My son has struggled with reading only just now beginning to get it at almost 8.5 years old. He has started OT to help with his handwriting and we do a large portion of his work orally. Thanks for more suggestions and help.

K

says:

Helpful & easy information! Thank you!

Kathryn

says:

I have two dyslexic children (and one non-dyslexic). We used Handwriting without Tears style for the past several years. And practiced. Lots of practice. My two dyslexic boys have penmanship much better than their non-dyslexic peers (did I mention the practice??). Nevertheless, I do not think either boys (nor my non-dyslexic son) have the stamina for writing that I used to have for handwriting. And they will occasionally get stuck on a letter and trace over it again and again in stead of going onto the next letter or even finishing the word. I actually had to tell my oldest boy to stop doing his homework toward the end of the academic year last year because his hand was starting to hurt.

Laura L

says:

My ten-year-old son has dysgraphia and has been in OT for years. I can’t wait to look more into this program. Thank you!

Heather S

says:

I just want to pass along that some insurance companies will pay for occupational therapy with a primary care provider referral. The PCM would refer child to OT for testing, then if needed, treatment plan. This allows the parents to be in control without assistance from public schools or other public sources.

Ann

says:

I appreciate all the information and tips you share with us! It feels so good to have help in a subject that is bringing struggle sometimes.

Katie

says:

Thank you so much for this article. I will try some of these tips.

ann mcelhaney

says:

Initially we tried many things. . more practice forming letters, more writing, less writing. . . 1st thru 6th grade. By 7th grade it was essential that my 14 year old not have to take notes for new learning and needed lots of extra time or reduced writing assignments. . .both hard to acquire in a private school setting. Officially diagnosed with ADHD and memory processing and auditory issues as well as dysgraphia at age 7, we settled for whatever his writing looked like and typed papers at home. Always an ‘A’ student with good memory skills, and early acquisition of reading at a high level, writing the math was always a problem until he started using graph paper with the problems boxed into a pre-designed set of spaces. Writing in general was all over the place: slanting down the page regardless of guide lines, size changes even in the middle of a word and most often illegible. The things I think were most effective: Practice memory techniques, play piano(now in 7th year). He’s 14 now. Still he has awful positioning when he writes, but the writing is clear and well formed though still slower than regular and the intense pressure on the writing instrument has altered somewhat but remains heavy. Looking forward to continued improvement.

Tyra

says:

My 8-year-old daughter has a very difficult time with spelling. She also still writes some letters backwards. I don’t really know how to help it click!! We correct and correct, but spelling is super difficult for her.

Phyllis

says:

Thanks for the helpful suggestions. My son is 10, and this has always been a struggle. We use AAS (and AAR for my other son) and love them!

Carrie

says:

We are on lesson 11 of AAR level 1 and I am loving it! My son is almost 8 and we have come to realize he is very dyslexic. And, he is also dysgraphic. After ALOT of research AAR was one of the most recommended reading programs. It had been something that I had been thinking about getting for about a year. A gift certificate would be such a blessing to us!

Sandra

says:

The tiles make it so much more manageable than writing everything.

Linda

says:

Thanks for the information. I wonder if my oldest son had a touch of dysgraphia. He would cry and break pencils, so I let him answer orally for a long time.

Keri

says:

This is my 9 year old son! I’ve been slowly making changes to how I teach, including letting him use notebook paper turned sideways to keep track of numbers while doing math problems, and using a white board instead of paper/pencil for spelling. He never picks up a book to read it on his own (gets frustrated when the fun library books do not have the controlled text that gives him success at reading), so we make time to still read those fun books together. Then I am there to help with all the “exception to the rule” words. AAS & AAR have helped so much, and I love that we can speed up and slow down as his needs dictate.

Mindy Sims

says:

Thank you so much for all the information!

Patricia

says:

Thank you so much! We have been struggling with my son’s writing for some time now. He is in the 6th grade. My question is what
are some good writing exercises? And does he have to write and hold his pen just like the booksong say or should I just let him hold and write the way that is comfortable for him? Again thank you

Merry

says:

Hi Patricia,

As someone else mentioned, the writing 8 exercise (which Dianne Craft and some others promote) can be helpful. Exercises that help with core strength and also overall strength are important. We tend to think of writing as fine-motor, but actually, arm, shoulder, and trunk strength are all integral, and lots of time for running, climbing, playing etc… is important for kids who struggle with handwriting.

I found that Handwriting Without Tears helped my kids as well–the method of forming the letters is clearly taught. With a 6th grader, if he’s forming some of his letters incorrectly, it may take longer to retrain. (I worked with a 4th grader, and it took consistent daily practice for a year to *mostly* retrain her grip–so don’t necessarily expect quick results for an older student. But let him know the end result is to make writing easier for him, and maybe you can get him to work with you.) Pencil hold and sitting position do have a big impact on how quickly the body tires, so I would take a look at that. You may find that a pencil grip helps him with having a better grip. If he’s far off and really struggles with it, you may even want to do an evaluation with an Occupational Therapist to help you decide how to proceed.

Lyssandra Silver

says:

I adopted a child with Dysgraphia. Honestly, I have the first two levels of “All about Spelling” program. My child is 15 years old. He has always struggled. I homeschool him and I don’t know if there are any services in Public School for him. I need him to have help or he will continue to fall behind. Please let me know what things I can do with the school board also if you know what sort of classes/help is available for this. Thank you.

Merry

says:

Hi Lyssandra,

I’m sorry your child is struggling. Have you talked with any of his teachers about your concerns? I would start there, as they’ll be able to tell you what resources are available in your school–this can vary so much from school to school, but they should be able to suggest things for you. Sometimes the testing process through a school can be long (they wait until so many weeks into school, then it takes time to schedule–for some schools it seems to take all year just to diagnose issues). I would push to see when testing could be done. If their timeline is one that takes a long time, you may want to look into outside testing.

Since you have All About Spelling 1 and 2, I would start those with him if you haven’t already, assuming that he struggles with spelling. You may have to be willing to adjust the first level or two to his needs because the words are very easy to start. Marie encourages parents and teachers to “fast track” if the student knows how to spell most of the words but does not understand the underlying basic spelling concepts. In this case, very quickly skim the parts that he already knows and slow down on the parts that he needs to learn. Pull out several words as examples. Make sure he understands the concept being taught, and then move on. Here is an example of how you might fast track: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/using-all-about-spelling-with-older-students/

Deanna

says:

Good post! If I make my son write all the spelling words, it would take over a hour each day. But let him spell them out loud? He gets it instantly! Thanks for the info!

Merry

says:

Hi Deanna,

For a student like this, work on writing gradually. You might start with just one or two words of the 10 written and the rest oral or with tiles (or using tactile methods to re-enforce letter formation), and gradually work up to more words. You also don’t have to do all of the words in one day. Work for about 20 minutes and stop–you can pick up there again the next day. The ultimate goal is for kids to be able to write fluently (or, for a student who may be severely dysgraphic, you might make your goal for him to be able to type words fluently). We don’t want spelling to hold students back from communicating in writing. Adapt as needed for a child’s special needs though.

Jaime

says:

My son was diagnosed with dysgraphia last year (he was in 4th grade). Before we even received the diagnosis, I had started looking for ways to help out with his spelling. I needed to find something that I could do with him at home, required little planning on my part, and was affordable. I purchased your All About Spelling curriculum – and it has been very helpful! I would highly recommend it!

SarahW

says:

I have wondered if this is an issue with my daughter. Hoping to have some testing done to know how to move forward.
Thanks for the info!!

Gretchen

says:

My son is 6 and already struggling with disgraphia. This article had been very helpful. Thank you.

JF

says:

Good suggestions. AAS has been a lifesaver in negotiating dyslexia and dysgraphia.

CW

says:

Thanks for the good suggestions. It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones facing this issue.

Nina Hoppe

says:

My second child has always had problems with shaping her letters and numbers and penmanship has been one of the worst things to work on. I am beginning to wonder if it is more than her laziness that is causing these problems. I will be looking into having her tested.

Rhonda HH

says:

My son was diagnosed with dysgraphia about 2 years ago. We were able to attend occupational therapy for about 9 months, which helped, but I know this will be a long road. He’ll probably always have challenges writing traditionally and spelling. After trying two other spelling programs, resulting is tears and meltdowns, All About Spelling was a relief! He is getting it! I proclaim AAS to anyone who even hints their child is having trouble spelling. One thing I’d say, is don’t be put-off by needing to start at the beginning of AAS. It builds upon itself.

Lowrie

says:

Thank you for your interesting post

Amy Peden

says:

Both of my sons have this. They are now 20 and 18. My older son is struggling through college, reading at a 4th grade level, and my 18 year old may not graduate high school. I wish I knew about this disorder sooner. Thank you for posting about this, I am going to take it to the high school and get more help on my son’s IEP!

Paul Vallatt Francis

says:

Dear Madam
I used to refer to your mails very often. I was working in a Indian CBSE school for the last 6 years as a teacher cum Principal. Now i moved to Leuven, Belgium to Complete my Master’s degree in Educational Sciences.
I have a course ” Children with Special Educational Needs in Europe” . I was planning to take my assignment as
A Comparative study on Learning disabilities in Children in INdia and Europe. I found your today’s article very useful to me and worthy. I wanted to thank you for the mail. Would you please share few more things about this disability if possible.
I will be so grateful
Fr. Paul Vallatt Francis
Abdij Van Park
Leuven, Belgium
jimmyopraem@yahoo.com, pjimmyopraem@gmail.com

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