What is Dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is a clinical term used to describe difficulty with the writing process. Typically students that struggle with dysgraphia struggle with the fine motor process of holding a pen or pencil, the ability to copy words from the board to their paper in an intelligible format, letter formation and handwriting, and the ability to get their thoughts from their brain to the paper.
There are several processes involved in writing ranging from the ability to hold the pencil to the ability to adequately organize thoughts in a sequential and meaningful format. Typically students with dysgraphia struggle in several of these areas. Not all students that struggle with handwriting have dysgraphia nor do all students that struggle with conceptualizing paragraph level writing have dysgraphia. Rather dysgraphia describes a pattern of performance across all writing domains than would typically be expected for the child's developmental level.
How is Dysgraphia (Specific Writing Difficulty) Treated?
Dysgraphia is treated with a structured approach to fine motor control, handwriting instruction (often a switch to cursive is suggested if the child is over 8 years of age), systematic spelling instruction, and explicit paragraph/essay organization strategies. These students struggle with all of the demands of the writing process and making these routines more automatic allows them to use less of their cognitive capacity (i.e., brain space) on each task thereby allowing them to focus more on the content of their writing.
Recommendations for Dysgraphia
There are a number of difficulties that can be consumed under the umbrella of "dysgraphia" ranging from extreme difficulty with handwriting and the motor processes of writing to the difficulty with producing or coming up with a topic and details to write about.
- Programs like Handwriting without Tears are fantastic programs for teaching proper letter formation, which is a key component to developing strong written work production.
- Work with an Occupational Therapist (if necessary) to develop proper grip and hand strength if the actual process of holding a pencil is difficult or frustrating for the student.
- Allow students to use a keyboard and learn appropriate typing strategies for assignments.
- Consider the use of Dragon Dictation or other speech to text software.
- Consider the use of a LiveScribe pen so handwritten notes can be limited and audio recordings are available for the student.
Written Work Production
- Teach the student to use graphic organizers and other visuals for developing written work. Programs like Kidspiration do a very nice job of making this process fun and engaging.
- Teach the student how to prepare for writing utilizing strategies such as brainstorming with use of a web or other organizer.
- Give the student appropriate background on the topic and don't assume all children have the necessary background experiences to write about every topic. BrainPop is a great app/program to give background knowledge where necessary.