Dysgraphia is a specific learning difficulty that impacts on writing skills. While no two individuals will experience the same set of symptoms, it is a brain-based disorder that can cause difficulty with forming letters, spacing words and even organizing text into complete sentences.
Students with dysgraphia may struggle with taking notes in class, completing homework and long-term assignments, and performing well on traditional assessment measures. For these individuals writing is often both difficult and painful, causing everything from cramping in the muscles of the hand to excessive sweating and high anxiety.
Over time, this can lead to poor performance and falling behind in lessons due to an inability to take notes. It may also result in avoidance of school and extra-curricular activities that involve producing written work. Fortunately, there are strategies and classroom accommodations for dysgraphia that can help, including allowing the use of audio-recorders and learning touch-typing so computers are used as an alternative to handwriting:
Stretch out your hands.
Before you begin an activity such as typing or handwriting, it’s a good idea to shake your hands out, rotate your wrists, wiggle your fingers and maybe even squeeze a stress ball. Some people press their fingers into putty, anything to get the blood flowing and prepare the muscles.
Learn to touch-type.
Computers are recommended for people with dysgraphia because they reduce the amount of variables that need to be controlled including letter formation, letter and word spacing and even writing text left to right along a straight line. Moreover, they allow for ease of correction without the stigma of erasure marks and they provide access to spell-checkers. An individual who learns how to touch-type is even better off because they can use muscle memory in the hands to help with spelling and enhance literacy skills, such as decoding and sight-reading.
Use cursive vs. print.
If you must write by hand, many experts see cursive as an easier medium than print because there is more connectivity between letters. This reduces the distraction caused by spacing. Cursive script also has fewer reversible letters and requires a steady movement and flow, which can be beneficial to individuals who struggle with fine motor skills.
Students who struggle with dysgraphia should request accommodations in the classroom including being able to record classroom discussion and their teacher’s instructions with an audio recorder, or use a computer to take notes and complete written assignments. Keep in mind dysgraphia can get in the way of performance therefore assessment measures might also need to be adjusted. For example, a short answer section could be replaced by multiple-choice questions that don’t require a text-based answer.
Try different paper and pens.
It can sometimes make a difference to write by hand on paper that has thick or raised lines. Paper of different colours may also be beneficial. Fine motor skills impact on the way an individual grips a writing utensil, thus consider using a thicker pen or a pencil with a rubber grip.
Writing is a cognitively taxing activity for individuals that is made even more difficult when they have to both receive information during a lecture and write it down. Even copying text from the board is hard for someone who struggles with dysgraphia. That’s why it is recommended that individuals bring an audio recording device or be provided with handouts that cover what was discussed. It can also be useful to pair a dysgraphic student up with a note-taking buddy.
Recite word spelling out loud.
Spelling can sometimes be challenging because dysgraphia impacts on orthographic encoding or translating words into their component letters. Spelling out loud is not impacted therefore individuals should complete spelling quizzes verbally and recite a word’s spelling quietly to themselves before attempting to write it down. It also helps to learn touch-typing as repeat drilling of a word means spelling is learned via muscle memory in the hands.
Brainstorm ideas before writing.
When composition is impacted on the phrase, sentence and paragraph level, it is often because there is difficulty in translating information and organizing it on paper. It can help to access prior knowledge of a topic and brainstorm ideas before you begin as this activates them in the brain and helps you prepare for writing. Learn more about improving writing skills in this post.
Use outlines and multiple drafts.
When organization and expression are still difficult, a student with dysgraphia may wish to make an outline that organizes ideas in a clear manner. Working in multiple drafts means there is less pressure or stress for getting something right on the first try. It’s also a more natural approach to writing. Reviewing previous information and re-writing and adapting to ensure a reader can follow a train of thought are habits found in good writers.
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