Dyslexia and Dysgraphia are both neurological based learning disabilities. Both are often diagnosed in early elementary school but can be missed and not diagnosed until middle school, high school, adulthood or sometimes may never be diagnosed. Both are considered to be hereditary and are diagnosed through an evaluation which includes gathering information on developmental milestones, school performance and input from both parents and teachers.
Symptoms of Dysgraphia
Dyslexia creates problems in reading where dysgraphia, also known as written expression disorder, creates problems in writing. Although poor or illegible handwriting is one of the hallmark signs of dysgraphia, there is more to this learning disability than simply having bad handwriting. The National Center for Learning Disabilities indicates that writing difficulties can arise from visual-spatial difficulties and language processing difficulties, in other words how a child processes information through the eyes and ears.
Some of the main symptoms of dysgraphia include:
- Difficulty holding or gripping a pen and pencil
- Inconsistent spacing between letters, words and sentences
- Using a mix of upper case and lower case letters and a mix of cursive and print writing
- Sloppy, illegible writing
- Tires easily when completing writing assignments
- Omitting letters or not finishing words when writing
- Inconsistent or non-existant use of grammar
Besides problems when writing, students with dysgraphia may have trouble organizing their thoughts or keeping track of the information they have already written down. They may work so hard on writing each letter that they miss the meaning of the words.
Types of Dysgraphia
Dysgraphia is a general term that encompasses several different types:
Dyslexic dysgraphia - Normal fine-motor speed and students are able to draw or copy material but spontaneous writing is often illegible and spelling is poor.
Motor dysgraphia - Impaired fine motor speed, problems with both spontaneous and copied writing, oral spelling is not impaired but spelling when writing can be poor.
Spatial dysgraphia - Fine motor speed is normal but handwriting is illegible, whether copied or spontaneous. Students can spell when asked to do so orally but spelling is poor when writing.
As with all learning disabilities, early recognition, diagnosis and remediation helps students overcome some of the difficulties associated with dysgraphia and is based on the specific difficulties of the individual student. While dyslexia is treated mainly through accommodations, modifications and specific instruction on phonemic awareness and phonics, treatment for dysgraphia may include occupational therapy to help build muscle strength and dexterity and to increase hand-eye coordination. This type of therapy can help improve handwriting, or at least prevent it from continuing to worsen.
In the younger grades, children benefit from intense instruction on the formation of letters and in learning the alphabet. Writing letters with eyes closed has also been found to be helpful. As with dyslexia, multisensory approaches to learning have been shown to help students, especially young students with letter formation. As children learn cursive writing, some find it easier to write in cursive because it solves the problem of inconsistent spaces between letters. Because cursive writing has fewer letters that can be reversed, such as /b/ and /d/, it is harder to mix up letters.
Some suggestions for teachers include:
- Using paper with raised lines to help students write more evenly and stay within the lines.
- Having the student use different pens/pencils with a variety of grips to find the one that is most comfortable for the student
- Allow students to either print or use cursive, whichever is more comfortable for him.
- Provide your student with topics that are interesting and will emotionally engage him.
- Have your student write a first draft, without worrying about grammar or spelling. This lets the student focus on creating and storytelling. Teach spelling and grammar separately from writing.
- Help the student create an outline before beginning the actual writing. Work together with your student on the outline as he may have a hard time organizing his thoughts.
- Break large writing projects into shorter tasks. For example, if you have written an outline of the project, have the student focus on writing only one section of the outline at a time.
- If you must use timed assignments, do not count off for spelling or neatness, as long as you understand what your student means.
- Create fun activities for writing, such as finding pen-pals in another school and writing letters, creating a post-office in your class and having students send each other post cards, or keeping a journal about a favorite topic or sports team.
Dysgraphia Fact Sheet, 2000, Author Unknown, The International Dyslexia Association
Dyslexia and Dysgraphia: More than Written Language Difficulties in Common, 2003, David S. Mather, Journal of Learning Disabilities, Vol. 36, No. 4, pp. 307-317