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Write On! Strategies for Kids with an Impairment in Writing

Writing activities and assignments are part of school curriculum. Many students find it difficult to form and space letters, get their thoughts on paper, have an unusual writing grip and suffer discomfort in the arm or wrist while writing. This is due to a specific learning disability in writing known as dysgraphia. It is a disorder in which the ability to express oneself through written language is impaired. Kids with dysgraphia are smart and creative, but they struggle with spelling, organizing words on a page, writing their thoughts on paper and activities like tying the laces on a pair of shoes.

Dysgraphia affects a student’s ability to write, organize their thoughts and express their ideas in a sentence or paragraph.

Types identified include:

Language-based dysgraphia involves impairment in the ability to change phonetic sounds into written communication.

Dyslexic dysgraphia causes a child to have difficulty forming letters and sentences and his or her written work will be illegible, and spelling will be poor. Children with dyslexic dysgraphia will not necessarily have dyslexia. Dyslexia and dysgraphia appear to be unrelated, but both can be present.

Motor dysgraphia is due to a deficiency with fine motor skills or poor dexterity. Written work will be illegible, requires extreme effort and time to accomplish and writing can’t be sustained for a significant length of time. Writing is often slanted due to holding a pen or pencil incorrectly.

Spatial dysgraphia is due to a defect in the understanding of space. A student will have illegible written work but normal spelling. Students with spatial dysgraphia often have trouble keeping their writing on the lines and difficulty with spacing between words.

Language skills are essential to a child’s ability to communicate and include listening, speaking, reading and writing. These skills allow children to engage with others, learn from their surroundings and in the classroom. A child must learn certain skills before they can master the act of writing by hand which includes the following elementary functions: memory, focus, spatial and sequential ordering and graphomotor coordination skills.

Memory – is the process by which information is encoded, stored and retrieved when needed. Memory is linked to learning. For learning to occur a student must pay attention and encode newly acquired information into long-term memory for future use. If a child cannot remember past events, they cannot learn or develop language, relationships or personal identity.

Focus – or attention refers to how a child actively processes specific information in their environment and selectively concentrates on one aspect of the environment or learning while ignoring other sights, sounds and sensations around them.

Spatial and sequencing ordering – is to arrange according to location, or by tracking progressive movement. Certain kinds of directional process analysis, as well as descriptive writing, benefit from spatial arrangement of steps and details.

Graphomotor coordination skills – are muscular movements used or required in writing.

If difficulty in any of these elementary functions are present, he or she may develop signs of a specific learning disorder in writing. Following a diagnosis of dysgraphia many children are referred to a therapist for intervention. An occupational therapist will have the child engage in drawing, coloring, assembling puzzles and pegboards to strengthen their hand muscles. Special pencils with grippers will improve hand positioning while writing words and sentences. Academic therapists work with a child on an individual basis helping to build their overall confidence and self-esteem. An educational plan will be implemented, and strategies will be taught to improve writing skills and organization. Academic therapists can also provide additional support for parents during meetings with their child’s school support team.

Listed below are six tips to help kids with dysgraphia.

1. Before beginning a writing activity have the child them stretch out their hands, rotate their wrists and wiggle their fingers.

2. Kids with dysgraphia will do better typing their papers and assignments on a computer. This reduces the number of variables that need to be controlled like letter spacing, formation and writing text from left to right and in a straight line.

3. When a student must write by hand it’s best that they use cursive vs print. Cursive writing is easier because the letters are connected and there are fewer reversible letters. This reduces the distraction caused by spacing and lifting the pencil while writing.

4. Spelling can be challenging for students with dysgraphia because of its impact on orthographic encoding or translating words into letter components. Spelling out loud is easier and students with dysgraphia will have greater success if they complete spelling quizzes verbally.

5. Encourage students to brainstorm before they begin the writing process. Accessing prior knowledge of a topic and verbally brainstorming the content before writing will help to activate the brain and prepare the student to express themselves on paper.

6. The use of outlines and multiple drafts will also help students organize a paper.

Children with an impairment in writing will require classroom accommodations. The following may be helpful:

● Use of laptop for note taking and submitting written homework ● No penalties for spelling or mechanical errors – grade on content, not mechanics ● Provide extra time to take notes and copy material from the board or a textbook ● Additional time on writing assignments ● Allow spelling tests to be taken orally ● Provide lesson outlines ● Modify test format and/or types of questions ● Additional time on tests – fill in the blank or essay questions ● Provide a scribe so student can dictate answers on exams ● Allow student to use cursive or a laptop for written assignments and essays.

Dysgraphia is a brain-based disorder and no two students may experience the same symptoms. Difficulty forming letter, spacing words and organizing thoughts into complete sentences can be frustrating for students. Strategies and classroom accommodations will help build writing skills and comprehension techniques. Alternatives to traditional writing and classroom accommodations will help a child with dysgraphia achieve their academic goals and succeed in school.

About the author

Vikki Carrel

Academic Language Therapist, Multi-book Author, National Speaker

Vikki empowers people! She is an Academic Language Therapist, multi-book author and a national speaker. Vikki grew up in Salt Lake City, met her husband at the University of Utah, and has owned several companies across the United States. In 2010, Vikki and her husband moved back to Utah from Doylestown, Pennsylvania and she founded Vikki Carrel & Company, a speaking and training organization. Read more about the Author

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