Teaching a child with dysgraphia can be complicated, especially because so few resources exist and educators are not supported or trained to know what strategies and teaching modalities are required to teach a dysgraphic child.
You can see the signs of a dysgraphic child from a mile away. Once a writing demand is placed upon a dysgraphic child, avoidance behaviors will begin to escalate. Even practicing writing their name can be too much for a student with dysgraphia. A handful of worksheets would never be beneficial as a modality for learning. In fact, most of the time, it would be counterproductive.
In the IEP world, Dysgraphia falls under Occupational Therapy, however, unless a parent requests an OT Assessment and their child receives a diagnosis, the child will continue to struggle and the school will continue to fail to meet their needs.
Red flags for Dysgraphia:
- A learning disability that affects handwriting and fine motor skills.
- It interferes with spelling, word spacing, and the general ability to put thoughts on paper.
- It makes the process of writing laboriously slow with the end results often being impossible to read.
When the act of forming letters requires so much effort that a child forgets what they wanted to say in the first place, it’s not surprising that children with dysgraphia often hate to write and present with avoidance and maladaptive behaviors.
In real life, this translates into very specific and ongoing issues with writing, including basic handwriting and spacing as well as the actual ability to compose phrases and sentences in a coherent fashion.
Although this list is not inclusive, here are some of the signs of dysgraphia in school-aged children.
- Illegible writing (even without a time limit)
- Inconsistencies between print and cursive, upper and lowercase, or size, shape, and slant of letters
- Inability to form letters and numbers correctly and remain on the line
- Unfinished words or letters
- Cramped, unusual grip
- Holding the writing instrument very close to the paper
- Holding the thumb over two fingers
- Using the wrist for movement
- Expression which does not reflect the child’s other abilities in language and vocabulary
When you stop to think about it, you will realize how complex writing really is. The act of writing requires many things to happen simultaneously in order for students to effectively express themselves in written form.
They need to think of the words they want to say, recall the letters to spell them, and use their hands and fingers to write them, all the while maintaining the overall thought process and memory of what they are trying to express.
Accommodations For Dysgraphia for Learning
Because of the complexity of the processes involved in writing, there are multiple accommodations that can be employed to help a child with dysgraphia, all focused on targeting a different element of the writing process.
An Occupational Therapist should be the IEP team member to recommend the appropriate accommodations, however, once again, parents are taxed with the responsibility to ensure the accommodations their child needs are correctly written in the IEP.
A qualified Occupational Therapist who holds a credential in Sensory Integration would assess for Dysgraphia in the areas of Graphomotor and Fine Motor Skills by testing size, shape, and spacing while writing, as well as, speed, fluency, ease and automaticity of handwriting. An OT would also test in the area of Somatosensory Integration evaluating poor body awareness and irregular tactile responses including reduced pain sensation, decreased tactile spatial discrimination, poor perceptual awareness through touch, which will diminish fine motor abilities and also awareness of body boundaries with objects and other people, and decreased ability to manage the force of movements.
Accommodations may include:
- A scribe to write what the student wants to express to eliminate the need to write.
- The option to type vs. hand write.
- Extra time to complete the assignment.
- Different pencils, pens, and paper (thicker writing utensils or pencil grips can make it easier to hold).
- Using hands-on, interactive learning activities that require more action than writing help so the student can not only learn the concepts but retain them as well.
- While at school, breaks are a critical part of the day and must not be taken away due to missed work or other consequence. The evidence is conclusive that taking away breaks has no positive outcome for children, but rather has clear detrimental effects. See Pellegrini et al., 1993; 2013; and Jarrett et al., 1998; 2013.
- Ergonomically appropriate seating with good lighting when doing seatwork.
- Alternative/flexible seating and option to stand rather than sit as needed.
- Provide opportunities for exposure to a variety of tactile media to help improve tactile discrimination.
- Provide movement breaks as much as possible including whole-class dynamic exercise, walking breaks, extra time on the playground, and swinging.
- Break down information into manageable chunks to help complete assignments more independently.
- Consistent and unlimited access to sensory regulatory strategies.
- Handwriting Without Tears and the Size Matters protocol can assist with letter formation, sizing, and placement on the line.
As students grow older, the need to move past the constant handwriting practice and pen grips will require the implementation of typing as an accommodation. This can foster independence in learning and in life. There are many options for technology that students with dysgraphia can benefit from. This includes speech-to-text (and text-to-speech) software.
If you suspect your child has dysgraphia or your child has received a dysgraphia diagnosis from an Occupational Therapist, I highly recommend you request an Assistive Technology Assessment conducted by an AT specialist to determine what device and technology programs and apps would benefit your child.
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