How to help a child with Dysgraphia

What is Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia comes from a Greek term which literally means difficulty (dys) writing (graphia).

Dysgraphia is a neurological language or non-language based disorder, that first appears when children are learning to write. It can cause problems with handwriting, spelling and sentence formation.

Many children have difficulties with handwriting, but dysgraphia is more serious. It is not just a case of ‘messy’ handwriting.

Dysgraphia that is caused by a language disorder may be characterised by a child having difficulty converting the sounds of language into written form or knowing which spelling to use for each sound. They might write their letters in reverse or have trouble working out how letters should be written. They may struggle with knowing when to use upper or lower case letters.

Dyslexia and dysgraphia are different but often present together and share some symptoms. Research has shown that both conditions cause processing delays in the left hemisphere of the brain compared to ‘typical’ readers and writers.

Dyslexia results from a difference in the way the brain processes language and affects reading and comprehension whereas dysgraphia manifests in a child’s ability to form letters when writing.

Although children with dysgraphia can handwrite, the process of writing is difficult for them, requiring a higher degree of concentration and working memory. Handwriting requires a complex set of fine motor skills which have to be co-ordinated with information processing. This situation can be made worse for a child with dysgraphia when time to complete a task is limited, such as notetaking in class or when feeling under pressure during an exam.

A child with dysgraphia may verbally be very confident; where they find speaking easier and more fluent compared to how they write. Because of this, children with dysgraphia can often get labelled by teachers as being ‘lazy’ or not trying hard enough.

At Type IT! we have worked with many parents who describe their child’s difficulty as “their hands can’t quite keep up with their brain.”

Common symptoms of Dysgraphia

  • Holding a pencil and organising letters on a line are difficult
  • May struggle with spelling
  • May find processing their thoughts difficult and getting them down on paper
  • Often very articulate but avoid putting pen to paper
  • Write or copy things very slowly
  • It affects their ability to write effortlessly
  • Difficulty writing and thinking at the same time
  • Difficulty spacing things out on paper or within margins (poor spacial awareness on paper)
  • Frequent erasing and/or rubbing out
  • Writing difficult to read
  • Use a mix of upper and lower case letters, sometimes randomly used
  • Writing not on the line
  • Using letters of varying sizes
  • Words and letters may not be evenly spaced
  • Writing may not be justified to the left
  • Physical pain when writing
  • Problems using sentence punctuation
  • Insufficient speed of copying
  • Unusual wrist, body or paper position while writing
  • Tight or awkward grip on a pencil which can lead to a sore hand or fingers
  • Trouble with sentence structure or following rules of grammar but not when speaking
  • Gets tired handwriting
  • Saying words out loud when writing

How can Dysgraphia affect a child at school

Quite often a child with dysgraphia might be told that they haven’t put enough effort into their work or given it enough attention or thought. Especially if that child generally has a good understanding and thinks fast verbally. Teachers often cannot equate how this child can produce such untidy and poorly structured work compared to how confident they are with their verbal communication skills. This can severely affect a young person’s confidence and self esteem. Quite often a diagnosis isn’t made because that child compensates well in other areas.

Generally, the younger the child, dysgraphia symptoms will be where they find the mechanics of handwriting difficult as well as other fine motor skill problems.

Whereas in adolescents and adults, dysgraphia tends to manifest as difficulties with grammar and comprehension and generally getting their thoughts down onto paper.

Is Dysgraphia the same as Dyslexia?

Whilst there are similarities between the two conditions, Dyslexia and Dysgraphia are not connected. 

Dysgraphia is associated with writing difficulties which impairs fine motor skills. Dysgraphia affects most aspects of the writing process including spelling, legibility, word spacing, sizing and expression, whereas dyslexia is associated with reading difficulties.

Children with dyslexia typically read at levels lower than expected for their age range, despite having normal to above average intelligence. The most common characteristics include phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds) and spelling.

Both share some symptoms such as difficulty with spelling. Some children can have both dyslexia and dyspraxia as well as other neurological differences such as ADHD.

Top tips to help a child with Dysgraphia

Being told to improve their handwriting and practice more can be quite torturous for a child with dysgraphia. There are some helpful adaptive tools that a child with dysgraphia can use at school to help with their handwriting and these include:

1. Use a Pencil Grip

A pencil grip fits over the pencil to help position the thumb, index and middle finger. This helps children to hold the pencil correctly so they can write neater and quicker without their hand muscles tiring. There are lots of pencil grips available to try.

2. Slant Board

Writing on a slant board surface helps by allowing the wrist to extend while fingers flex into a better writing position thereby alleviating fatigue.

3. Raised Paper

This special paper has a rough surface along the lines to help children stay within the lines and to guide letter size.

4. Highlighted Paper

With highlighted paper, the lower half of the writing area has been emphasised with yellow to show where the lowercase letters should be placed. The solid lines have been separated to help the child locate the writing area. The writing line is capped at the beginning and the end to show the student where to start and stop writing.

5. Improve fine motor skills

Another way to help a child with dysgraphia is to build up their fine motor skills. Here are some suggestions of ways to help with this…

  • Rub hands together
  • Squeeze tennis balls
  • Play with small lego bricks
  • String small beads
  • Roll clay between fingers
  • ‘Walk’ fingers up and down a pencil
  • Practice letter formation, using a steamed up mirror or sand as well as a pen and paper

6. Learn to Touch Type

If a child has been diagnosed with dysgraphia, they are more likely to suffer with writing fatigue, and therefore can become extremely frustrated with the task of writing and spelling and may refuse to complete work.

They may also struggle with note taking in class. They have difficulty writing and thinking at the same time.

Given the cognitive strain writing activities cause for children with dysgraphia, typing can help enormously.

The earlier they learn this skill the better; so that it becomes embedded in their everyday way of learning.

There are many advantages of touch typing for a child with dysgraphia:

  1. Typed text is clear, neat and and easy to read
  2. Typing allows a child to use the computer’s built in spelling and grammar tools
  3. Typed work can be edited more easily, allowing a child to think and organise their thoughts more easily
  4. Touch typing allows a child to think and type at the same time, so the flow of thought is not interrupted.
  5. Touch typing enables a child to express their ideas more easily
  6. They can work faster, completing their assignments on time which in turn helps to improve their self esteem and confidence.
  7. No painful ‘writing’ from using a keyboard instead of a pen

The best way for a child with Dysgraphia to learn touch typing

Generally, students with dysgraphia have difficulties with fine motor skills and for this reason some touch typing programmes can often be difficult for them. So it’s very important to find a method that works for them.

Personalised lessons, delivered by a specialist teacher is the best way for a child with dysgraphia to learn touch typing, rather than using a free ‘learn on your own’ programme. 

Lessons need to be set at an appropriate level with small sequential steps which will help the child progress slowly and logically.

It’s important that lessons are regularly reviewed and assessed as well as ensuring that the learning is enjoyable. Students should feel motivated throughout the learning process so that they carry on progressing well and don’t give up.

While dysgraphia is a lifelong condition with no “cure,” it doesn’t mean the prognosis is bad. With the correct diagnosis and treatment, a child can learn to manage their learning difference and work around any ongoing difficulties they have.

Dysgraphia shouldn’t hold a child back from expressing themselves and achieving their true potential.

How do I find out if my child has Dysgraphia?

The diagnosis of dysgraphia can be difficult to make as many children have handwriting difficulties. Diagnosis has to be made via an educational psychologist or a SpLD Assessor in the UK. Your child’s SENDCo should be able to help you make the first steps to getting an assessment.

How can a school help a child with Dysgraphia?

In class, children can be given extra support, such as someone to take notes for them. They can also use a laptop in class to make writing and note taking easier. A Dictaphone, which is a device used for recording voices and sounds, can be beneficial.

To qualify for help in examinations your child must be assessed by an educational psychologist (EP). The EP report may qualify them for extra time and other concessions in public examinations, such as using a laptop or having a scribe.

Check out our range of touch typing courses to see which would suit your needs and enable you to learn how to type faster and enroll online. Alternatively, give us a call on 020 3962 2059  to have a friendly chat about how we can help your child with dysgraphia!

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