Does your child avoid homework or become distressed when homework involves printing or writing? Does he have an awkward pencil grasp? Is his printing or handwriting difficult to decipher? Can he communicate his ideas verbally but struggles to organize thoughts on paper? If any of this sounds familiar, your child may have a learning disability called dysgraphia.
Students with learning disabilities have normal intelligence but have difficulty with their brain’s ability to receive, process, store or analyze information. These disabilities are usually diagnosed after children enter school. This is when parents and teachers are more likely to see the gap between affected children and their peers. If not addressed, this gap increases as learning becomes more complex. The sooner children are identified and receive help, the better they do in school and socially.
There are three distinct types of dysgraphia: motor, spatial and processing. Children can have one or more type of dysgraphia. Helen Painter, occupational therapist and author of Dysgraphia: Your Essential Guide, says that it is crucial to determine which form of dysgraphia your child has so you can choose the appropriate treatment and accommodations.
Motor dysgraphia is the easiest to recognize as it is when a child struggles due to poor motor skills such as a poor pencil grasp. Often a child will be screened and begin working on those fine motor skills with an occupational therapist. Painter suggests that the motor issue (if it occurs as the sole form of the disability) can be almost fixed in a month or two. If issues continue, she says parents should have their child seen by a medical doctor or a psychologist, the professionals who are qualified to assess spatial dysgraphia and processing dysgraphia.
In processing dysgraphia there is a missing link between working memory and the muscle movements required to print or write. People with this form of dysgraphia say they can’t see the letters or words in their “mind’s eye.” Spatial dysgraphia occurs when a person has difficulty understanding what the eyes are seeing. They struggle to see how objects are positioned relative to each other and how things are similar or different.
Unfortunately, both spatial and processing dysgraphia remain with children throughout their lifetime, so parents must work with educators to provide modifications and accommodations. “It will help your child develop sound study habits and realize this is a condition that can be worked with,” says Painter. “It is not something that needs to be disabling. Today’s children are fortunate to be able to benefit from technology compared to kids in the past who could only have dreamed of such help.”
Despite the availability of a wide array of technology, Painter has noticed that parents and educators are hesitant to use the technology because they fear that children will not learn the skills if they use this “crutch.” Her practical experience disproves this. “Anybody can succeed if they are given the right tools; lifelong tools. There is no excuse for not helping these kids today,” says Painter.
If you suspect your child may have issues with dysgraphia have a physician or psychologist perform testing so your child can get the appropriate support and counseling.
Top 10 Signs of Dysgraphia (ages 4-6)
1. Difficulty learning the alphabet and identifying letter sounds to the letter.
2. Difficulty learning the letters in their own name.
3. Avoiding drawing and writing.
4. Avoiding fine motor centers or stations.
5. Poor ability to cut with scissors.
6. Awkward pencil grasp.
7. Poor pencil control for curved letters.
8. Good at copying, but cannot compose own words.
9. Frustration and shutting down behaviors.
10. Self-esteem slipping, feelings of being stupid.
Top 10 Signs of Dysgraphia (ages 7-12)
1. Poor overall legibility.
2. Mixing upper and lower case letters.
3. Poor spelling.
4. Poor spacing between words.
5. Poor placement of letters and words on the line.
6. Tiring when writing due to awkward pencil grasp.
7. Saying letters and words out loud while writing.
8. Difficulty thinking of words to write.
9. Poor comprehension of what is written.
10. Self-esteem slipping further.
Top 10 Signs of Dysgraphia (teens and adults)
1. Mixing print and cursive styles of writing.
2. Difficulty brainstorming main idea, supporting sentences.
3. Poor organization of writing ideas in general.
4. Difficulty organizing what has already been written down.
5. Widening gap between speech and written work.
6. Work avoidance.
7. Taking huge amount of time for work completion.
8. Decreased comprehension when writing requirement increases.
9. Difficulty with grammar and spelling.
10. Lowered self-esteem.
Sue LeBreton’ s son was finally diagnosed with dysgraphia after many years spent focusing on motor skills. He has both motor and processing dysgraphia and has become a happier, more engaged student with the help of technology. “Top 10 Signs” are from Dysgraphia: Your Essential Guide by Helen Painter.