Dysgraphia is a multi-faceted learning disability. Most people think that dysgraphia only pertains to writing and writing-related skills, but that isn’t true. All subjects can be affected by this learning disability. Moreover, it can often be difficult to find proper help for dysgraphia.
This writing “dyslexia” is defined as the inability to coordinate writing with thinking. It is caused by poor gross motor skills, delayed or poor fine motor skills, spatial problems. In addition, dysgraphia is affected by the child’s inability to organize and process thoughts and ideas in a fashion so that coherent thoughts are displayed in writing form.
Moreover, it is common for a student who has dyslexia to have dysgraphia, as both deal with the processing our language.
Dysgraphia is one of the most common learning 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 dysgraphia 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.
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.
One of our students, Ricky, showed massive improvement after using the exercises we use to help kids overcome dysgraphia and other learning disabilities.
Following are samples from Ricky’s writing portfolio:
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 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.
Dysgraphia is a processing disorder that causes writing fatigue. It’s difficult to get help for dysgraphia, because writing is such a complex process. 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.
The Three Types of Dysgraphia
If you’re trying to get help for dysgraphia, you should know that there are three types of dysgraphia, which most people are not aware of. They are:
1. Motor dysgraphia
2. Spatial dysgraphia
3. 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. Moreover, 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 children with dysgraphia 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. Getting help for spatial dysgraphia is the easiest of all three times of dysgraphia. Spatial dysgraphia 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.
Processing Dysgraphia is the Hardest to Fix!
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, which makes it hard to get help for dysgraphia!
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.
Let them do the unimaginable…
Once those components are in place, then we can do the unimaginable. At first, it’s 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 about getting help for dysgraphia…
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.
Symptoms of Dysgraphia:
Outside activities that can strengthen the core to strengthen muscles for writing (gross motor skills):
Helping students hold their pencils correctly:
Help for Dysgraphia:
Myths about Dysgraphia:
Truths About Dysgraphia: