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Dysgraphia

Dysgraphia is one of the new kids on the block, just recently being accepted as a real learning disability.  In effect, it is a dyslexia of writing.  A student with dyslexia, might and often does, also have dysgraphia.

To be more specific, dysgraphia is the inability to coordinate writing with thinking, often caused by poor gross motor skills, delayed or poor fine motor skills, spatial problems, and the inability to organize and process thoughts and ideas in a fashion so that coherent thoughts are displayed in writing form.

A Common Learning Problem

 

Dysgraphia is one of the most common problems that we see at Harp Learning Institute.  We have found that students today are having an extremely difficult time thinking and writing at the same time.  Usually, these kids are bright, verbal, have many stories to tell, but can’t seem to get them written down on paper.  They avoid writing like the plague, often at all costs.  Many would rather miss a recess, get a poor grade, suffer at the hands of harsh teachers and administrators rather than construct an easy sentence. 

In some ways, this is mind boggling.  Yet, if you look at what is on a dysgraphic student’s plate, it all comes together and makes sense.

To start with, these students usually have brains that are working faster than their hands, so of course it is difficult for the hand to keep up with the brain.  These kids usually process information extremely fast, are quite verbal and intelligent, then when the teacher or parent asks them to do a writing assignment, it is as if they were asked an assignment, it is as if they were asked to climb Mt. Everest. 

 

Or worse.

They stall, delay, need to go to the bathroom, remember something that just has to be done right now, or will sit quietly, telling you they are “thinking”.  Twenty minutes later, as if blood were being drawn, the student is still locked into that “thinking” mode.

Ricky's Writing Before Using Our Copyrighted Magic Eights Activity:

Ricky's Writing After Using Our Copyrighted Magic Eights Activity:

You can push, prod, threaten, cajole, beg, set down guidelines, lay down the law…it doesn’t matter.  It is almost impossible for this child to write a sentence, or depending on the age, a word or paragraph.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Let’s go back to that first part.  They are bright and verbal, process information quickly, are probably gifted. 

The teacher sure doesn’t know this, because writing affects almost every subject, just like reading does.  The student who has dysgraphia finds it just as difficult to write out a math problem as a paragraph, to perform a spelling test as to write an original thought.  Like dyslexia, there is such a crossover between subject matter that the dysgraphic student is often failing subjects he is actually good at, such as science or history, just because he fails to get the written response correct.  Give him a multiple choice test, and he soars.  Give her an essay test, and he fails.

The Definition of Dysgraphia

By definition, dysgraphia is a processing disorder that causes writing fatigue that interferes with communication of ideas in writing.  Students with dysgraphia, as previously mentioned, struggle to put down information that is legible and coherent on paper, especially when they have to think of their own ideas.  These kids fail to keep up with the rapid demands of school assignments and writing expectations, which result in poor grades, poor test taking, low self-esteem and numerous other complications.

The popular remedy for these kids is to have the student work on a keyboard or computer, typing out the answers instead of writing them.  This usually fails, because typing is a process in itself.  If these kids can’t communicate their hands with their brains, then how can they communicate any differently with a keyboard.  Sure, some kids have had enough typing lessons that they can do this, actually feel more comfortable typing than writing, but keep in mind that the premise is the same…sending messages from the brain to the hands and making thoughts either come to life on paper or computer screen.

There are three types of dysgraphia, which most people are not aware of.  They are:

  •  Motor dysgraphia

  • Spatial dysgraphia

  • Processing dysgraphia

 Motor dysgraphia is the first type of dysgraphia, the most basic level of all three types.  If a student can’t use his muscles correctly in conjunction with his brain to form letters or to type, then it will be difficult to get even the most basic thoughts down on paper or on a computer screen.

This type of dysgraphia is due to fine motor skills problems and the inability to move fingers and the hand /wrist with dexterity.  These kids usually have a poor or incorrect pencil grip due to inadequate muscle control.  They have a difficult time cutting with scissors.  Writing is beyond difficult for them, and they especially struggle with writing curved letter, like o, a, b, c, d, g, p, q, s, and u.  

 

Once they are able to write, they somehow mix together cursive and print letters.  Spacing between letters is either non-existent or the letters are all bunched together.  Writing is usually illegible or at the very best, difficult to read.  Words are misspelled and grammar is incorrect or missing.

It is important that these students are exposed to activities that strengthen muscle control.  Occupational therapists deal primarily with this issue, but there is more to dysgraphia than poor or weak muscle control.  

At Harp, we know and understand that writing and muscle control start with gross motor skills. People learn from the outside in.  That means that large muscle movements must be in place before small, fine motor skills can be mastered.  The body/brain connection is primary for building the foundation for this and other learning skills.  Like building a house, the foundation is the most important part and this starts with the above mentioned skills.

The second type of dysgraphia is spatial dysgraphia.  This is the ability a student or person has with interpreting what the eyes seeing.   Spatial skills are paramount for writing, especially when working on a computer screen. 

 

All too often, educators include iPads and computer use for students with dysgraphia, not even realizing that these technological tools end up being used as toys.  Think about it.  If you don’t know where to put a letter on a blank piece of paper, if the letters, words, or numbers in your mind are jumbled, if you can’t tell the difference between one shape or another, then wouldn’t writing in itself, be difficult.  (As a side note, so would reading, spelling, and math, especially math today with all of the word problems and extra writing).

Spatial skills deal with how objects are positioned relative to each other in space.  Tied closely to this skill is visual discrimination, which is the ability to tell the difference between different symbols, letters, numbers, or words.

 

 

The third type of dysgraphia is processing dysgraphia.  This, we have found is the most difficult of all three types to put into place.  This is where students would rather “die on a hill” as opposed to writing a simple paragraph or sentence.

Processing dysgraphia is caused by issues with the orthographic loop – that part of the brain, which has to do with working memory and the permanent memory of letters, numbers, words, and sentences.  There is a missing component between working memory and sequencing of muscle movements of the fingers and hands.  Also, this plays into the part of the brain that makes writing automatic, flowing, and an easy process where thoughts and ideas are easily sent from the brain to the hands and then to the fingers, whether to write or to type. 

In essence, there is a glitch in the system.  The ideas don’t get to the hands.  How do we start fixing a student with processing dysgraphia?  Easy.  We go all the way back to large muscle movement, visual motor integration, spatial skills, perceptual skills, fine motor skills, and building up the muscles of the fingers and hands before we even attempt the processing component of dysgraphia.

In addition, that memory piece needs some attention.  It is important to strengthen both visual and auditory memory skills for this type of dysgraphia.  Students must be able to “see” and “hear” sounds, sounds of letters, words, sentences, and remember the meaning involved with those sentences, especially when they are joined together to form one or more paragraph.  In addition, there is a huge crossover with visual processing disorders as well.

Once those components are in place, then we can do the unimaginable.  At first, its difficult, which may cause grumbling or fussing, as these skills are new and different for the student, but by sticking with a program that steadily puts these pieces together, a student can learn to write and write well.

 

Here is the tricky part.  A student might have one, two, or all three types of dysgraphia, and it is difficult to figure out what to treat.  We have found it is best to treat all three, starting with motor, moving to spatial, and ending up with processing.  This makes the most sense.

To make it trickier, the student might also have dyslexia or dyscalculia, as they all are similar learning differences.  It doesn’t matter; our program treats them all.

Symptoms of Dysgraphia

  • difficult time learning/writing the alphabet

  • avoiding or having poor fine motor skills

  • poor ability to cut with scissors

  • awkward or incorrect pencil grip

  • poor letter control, especially with curved letters

  • shutting down when asked to write – avoiding it at all costs

  • fisting a pencil or pen instead of gripping the pencil correctly

  • illegible writing

  • mixing upper and lower case letters

  • little or no spacing between words

  • running words off of given lines

  • difficulty composing words on own

  • poor spelling and grammar

  • words that blend together

  • fatigue and tiredness from writing for short periods of time

  • writing rambles with no organization of thoughts

  • mixing print and cursive

  • odd wrist, arm, body, or paper orientations such as bending an arm into an L shape while writing

  • poor posture when writing

  • inconsistent form and size of letters, or unfinished letters

  • inefficient speed of copying

  • inattentiveness over details when writing

  • frequent need of verbal cues or visual stimulation when writing

  • gets extremely close to paper when writing

  • feeling of finger, hand, or wrist pain when writing

 

Outside activities that can strengthen the core to help build up muscles for writing (gross motor skills)

  • horseback riding

  • martial arts

  • yoga and or pilates for core development

  • exercise with a large workout ball

  • balance board activities

  • jumping rope

  • jumping jacks

  • catching a ball

  • marching

  • balance beam activitie

  • rolling down hills

  • crossing the invisible mid-line of the body

 

Helping the dysgraphic student in regard to holding a pencil/correctly:

  • use fat pencils

  • use fat markers

  • use dot dabbers or bingo markers for most activities until fine motor skills are strengthened

  • use pencil grippers

  • use cursive writing if possible; cursive flows with the students’ ideas and it is difficult to make reversals with cursive

  • use our letter number formation book with dot dabbers to help form letters in a multi-disciplinary fashion

  • go from the outside in – work gross motor skills first then advance to fine motor skills

  • table circles and other cross lateral movement activities are beneficial

 

 

The Process of Writing:

  • sitting properly with a straight back

  • fine motor skills

  • flowing thoughts

  • correct pencil grip

  • the ability to organize thoughts into writing

  • dictation

  • using a picture to use as a visual cue and the student writes about just what he sees

  • organizing the paragraph with visual markers so the student knows where to put topic sentence, details, and concluding sentence

  • is sequential – a student must be able to write letters, then words, then sentences, then paragraphs.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Myths About Dysgraphia

  • a student can just type on a computer to compensate for writing with a pen or pencil

  • dysgraphia will go away on its own

  • illegible handwriting is common for boys; they don’t need to learn to write

  • we have so much technology now that writing isn’t important

  • writing more will make my child or student a better writer

  • if I correct my child’s writing enough, he will understand what to

  • if I have my child copy sentences or words five or more times, it will fix the dysgraphia just through repetition alone

  • a correct pencil grip is not important as long as my child’s writing is legible

  • my child has wonderful ideas; he can just tell them to a tape recorder and then he won’t have to write

  • writing is no longer an important skill; with technology students don’t need to write

  • you can outgrow poor writing once you are older

  • it is a sign of intelligence to have poor writing, like a doctor

 

Truths About Dysgraphia

  • students can be taught to write and to write well

  • practicing handwriting skills is not enough to help a student overcome most types of dysgraphia

  • writing is a process and needs to be dealt with as such

  • writing is sequential – you must have a to get to b; b to get to c; and so forth

  • a student who is holding a pencil incorrectly will fatigue faster than one who is holding it correctly

  • dysgraphia can be overcome

  • the best way to help a student with dysgraphia is to treat all three types

  • typing is just as difficult for most dysgraphic students as writing

  • we need to learn to write in our society still, by using a pen or pencil; although much has turned over to technology, schools and workplaces still demand the ability to write with a pen or pencil

  • once a student is out of school and into the workforce, employers will expect a student to write; there aren’t many accommodations or modifications for employees who can’t do their assigned jobs.  By not being able to write, it limits a person’s ability to get and hold down a job

  • writing can be physically painful for students, and this is often why they avoid it

 

Harp Learning Institute:

Lodi, Stockton, and Surrounding Areas

Private School for Students with Learning Disabilities

Tutoring, Sensory Therapy, and Brain Integration for Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Autism, ADD/and other Learning Disabilities

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Lodi: (209)365-0950

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