+ Dysgraphia: Strategies

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From James O’Keefe’s Student Year blog, here are tips for dealing with dysgraphia.

Dysgraphia is a learning disability affecting writing skills.  It may manifest in difficulties with spelling, poor handwriting and trouble putting thoughts on paper.

Writing requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills.  To say a student has “dysgraphia” is not sufficient.  A student with these disorders will benefit from specific accommodations in the learning environment, as well as additional practice learning the skills required to be an accomplished writer.

Warning Signs

If a person has trouble in any of the following areas, additional help may be beneficial:

  • Grips pencil tightly, positions body awkwardly
  • Writes illegibly
  • Avoids writing or drawing tasks
  • Tires quickly while writing
  • Says words out loud while writing
  • Omits words, leaves out words in sentences
  • Has difficulty organizing thoughts on paper 
  • Demonstrates large gap between  thoughts and understanding expressed orally and written ideas

Generally, strategies fall into two categories.  First, providing alternatives to written expression.  Or , second, remediating: providing instruction and practice  for improving handwriting and writing skills. 

Both types of strategy should be considered when planning instruction and support.  In addition to specialists, don’t hesitate to involve family or friends.

To find the most beneficial type of support, you will engage in a process, trying different ideas and openly exchanging thoughts about what works best in each situation.

Following are some examples of how to teach individuals with dysgraphia.

Early Writers

  • Use paper with raised lines for a sensory guide to assist staying within lines.
  • Try different pens and pencils to find one that is most comfortable.
  • Practice writing letters and numbers in the air with big arm movements to improve motor memory of these important shapes.
  • Also practice letters and numbers with smaller hand or finger motions.
  • Encourage proper grip, posture and paper positioning for writing.  Reinforce this early (it’s hard to unlearn habits)!
  • Use multi-sensory techniques for learning letters, shapes and numbers.  For example, speak through a motor sequence (“b is big stick down, circle away from my body”).
  • Introduce computers for word processing early.  But don’t eliminate handwriting — while typing can alleviate the frustration of forming letters, handwriting is part of a person’s ability to function in the world.
  • Be patient and positive; encourage practice and praise effort — becoming a good writer takes time and practice.

Young Students

  • Allow use of print or cursive, whichever is more comfortable.
  • Use large graph paper for math calculation to keep columns and rows organized.
  • Allow extra time for writing assignments.
  • Begin writing assignments creatively, with drawing, outlining or speaking ideas into a tape recorder.
  • Alternate focus of writing assignments: put the emphasis on some for neatness and spelling, others for grammar or organization.
  • Explicitly teach different types of writing — expository, personal essays, short stories, poems, etc.
  • Don’t judge timed assignments on neatness and spelling.
  • Have students proofread work after a delay; it’s easier to see mistakes after a break.
  • Help students create a checklist for editing work: spelling, neatness, grammar, syntax, clear progression of ideas, etc.
  • Encourage use of a spell checker (speaking spell checkers are available).
  • Reduce amount of copying —  instead focus on writing original answers and ideas.
  • Have student complete tasks in small steps, instead of all at once.
  • Find alternative means of assessing knowledge — such as oral reports or visual projects.
  • Encourage practice through low-stress opportunities for writing, such as letters, a diary, household lists, tracking of sports teams.

Teenagers and Adults

  • Provide tape recorders to supplement note taking and to prepare for writing assignments.
  • Create a step-by-step plan that breaks writing assignments into small tasks (see below).
  • When organizing writing projects, create a list of key words that will be useful.
  • Provide clear, constructive feedback on the quality of the work; explain both the strengths and weaknesses of the project.  Comment on the structure as well as the information that is included.
  • If the mechanical aspects of writing remain a major hurdle, use assistive technology, such as voice-activated software.

Note: many of these tips can be used by all age groups.  It’s never too early or too late to reinforce the skills needed to be a good writer.

Although teachers and employers are required by law to make “reasonable accommodations” for individuals with learning disabilities, they may not be aware of how to help.  Speak to them about dysgraphia.  Explain the challenges you face as a result of this difficulty.

How to Approach Writing Assignments

  1. Plan your paper.  Pull together your ideas and consider how you want them in your writing.
  2. Organize your thoughts and ideas.
  3. Create an outline or graphic organizer to be sure you’ve included all your ideas.
  4. Make a list of key thoughts and words you will want to use in your paper.
  5. Write a draft.  Focus this first draft on getting your words on paper only — don’t worry about spelling or grammar.  (Using a computer makes later editing easy.)
  6. Edit your work for spelling, grammar and syntax; use a spell checker if necessary.
  7. Revise your work for producing the final draft.
  8. Rewrite your work into the final draft.
  9. Be sure to read it one last time.

sole source: James O’Keefe’s blog at http://www.studentyear.com/

James O’Keefe is the owner of About Rad, offering FREE articles, and advice on health issues.  He’s also the owner of  The Parental Advocate,  to help parents become better advocates for their LD children.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

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