Tuesday, March 26, 2019

BEST Tips and Resources for Dysgraphia

When a child or teen consistently struggles with the physical act of handwriting or conveying thoughts in written form, it may be a strong indication of what is called dysgraphia. This challenge can effect individuals of all ages, not just children or teens, and can not only impact a student's academic achievement but also his self-esteem---and not in a positive way.

How Will I Know If a Child Has Dysgraphia?

For years, dysgraphia was the diagnosis used for issues with writing. Now, dysgraphia is no longer a diagnosis. However, there is currently a diagnosis called specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression. This diagnosis refers to trouble conveying thoughts in writing, rather than transcription issues.

Evaluators still have ways to identify the transcription challenges, however. Some of the tests for broader writing issues include sub-tests for spelling. There are also tests for fine motor skills (the ability to make movements using the small muscles in our hands, wrists and fingers). And there are tests for motor planning skills (the ability to remember and perform steps to make a movement happen).

Several types of professionals can evaluate kids with writing issues. Psychologists test for learning issues. Occupational therapists and physical therapists test fine and gross motor skills. There are also other specialists who help kids with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) able to do this.

Trouble with writing can be caused by other learning challenges. For example, poor spelling can be the result of reading issues like dyslexia. Poor handwriting might be caused by DCD (sometimes referred to as dyspraxia).

To get the appropriate help and support for your child, it’s important to know the cause of the child’s difficulties. A full evaluation would be a good first step and can help you understand these challenges, along with your child’s strengths.

What Can Help Manage the Symptoms of Dysgraphia?

There are a number of things that can help your child with dysgraphia challenges. These include supports and services at school, therapies outside of school, and strategies you can try at home.

Types of Support and Accommodations for Dysgraphia

Appropriate Therapies: The main treatment for handwriting issues is occupational therapy (OT). Therapists can work with kids to improve fine motor skills and motor planning. Physical therapy can help with arm position and posture.

These therapies may be available free at a public school via an IEP. Some parents may also pay privately for therapy outside of school, depending on resources available.

School Supports: Kids with dysgraphia may get supports at school through an IEP or a 504 plan. There are a number of accommodations for writing issues. Kids may also get assistive technology and other tools. These can range from simple pencil grips to dictation software. As much as possible, create a classroom that is dysgraphia-friendly with accommodations like the following:

1. Yes, DO Teach Cursive Writing: Cursive writing has fewer starting points than disconnected print letters, which translates to improved writing speed, more consistent letter sizing, and neater overall appearance of writing. Watch a free webinar on the importance of cursive writing instruction for students and use cursive writing books from Handwriting Without Tears to teach cursive writing as early as first grade. Remember that cursive writing helps promote more connectivity between the two hemispheres of the human brain.

2. DO Teach Typing: Typing can be easier than writing once students are fluent with keyboards. Teach typing skills starting as early as kindergarten and allow for ample typing practice in the classroom. Many schools and districts have typing programs to support their students’ budding typing skills. Great online typing programs include Nessy Fingers Touch Typing (which costs money), TypingClub and the games at Typing.com.

3. DO Provide Access to Speech-to-Text Tools: Assistive technology accommodations can support students with dysgraphia in their classroom writing tasks in all grades. There are several free, easy-to-use speech-to-text dictation tools. Students can use Google’s Voice Typing tool, Dragon Dictation, or Apple’s Speak Screen functions.

4. DO Use Graph Paper for Math Assignments and Tests: Graph paper helps students with dysgraphia stay in the lines, which becomes increasingly important in the later grades when they’re faced with more complex math tasks. Reduce unintended errors by providing graph paper for student tests or as a background for homework assignments. Consider using the free printable math grids like those available at Do2Learn (please see Dysgraphia Resources below here).

5. DO Allow for Note-Taking Accommodations: Copying notes from a whiteboard can be a particular challenge for students with dysgraphia. Allow students to take pictures of lecture notes to review later. Students can use a free optical character reader (OCR) like Prizmo Go (for iOS) or Google Keep (for Android) to automatically read text from the photos to review those notes.

6. DO Be Deliberate about Hanging Students’ Written Work: Classroom writing is difficult for students with dysgraphia. Written assignments may take two or three times as long to complete, and often they will look sloppy even if the student has tried to produce their best work. When displaying student work, consider waiting to hang assignments until everyone has finished so students with dysgraphia don’t feel shame at having everyone else’s work on display while theirs is still in progress. Another option is to hang typed work so students with dysgraphia can be proud of the finished product that hangs alongside the work of their peers.

These are just a few things that may help a student with dysgraphia in the classroom. But mainly it’s important to be creative about accommodations and to communicate with students about their individual needs.

Help at Home: There are many ways you can help your child with writing issues. Here are just a handful:

1. Locate a good drawing exercise for improving handwriting.
2. View an expert explaining how to use dictation software on a mobile device.
3. Discover tools that can help with writing difficulties.
4. Watch a video on how different pencil grips might help your child.
5. Try a variety of multi-sensory techniques for teaching handwriting.
6. Download tools, apps and other resources to help with handwriting. (See Dysgraphia Resources below here.)

Dysgraphia Resources

Dysgraphia: What You Need to Know - by Understood

10 Tips to Help Children with Dysgraphia

BEST Websites for Dyslexia & Dysgraphia

Creating a Dysgraphia-Friendly Classroom - by Jessica Hamman, edutopia
Here are 6 ways to support students with dysgraphia—a learning difference that affects a person’s ability to produce written work.

8 Tools for Kids with Dysgraphia - by Understood
These tools and apps can make writing easier. She may already use some of them at school, but it can help to have them at home, too. Most tools are sold in online catalogs for occupational therapists.

Dysgraphia-I Created an App for That - by Amberlynn Gifford Slavin, ADDitude
It’s called SnapType, and it helps kids keep up with their peers in class when their penmanship holds them back.

FREE Printable Math Grids - from Do2Learn

For information about customizable tools for readers and learners of all ages, please visit: FocusandRead.com ---Tools for challenged readers of all ages!

Image courtesy of: Brennan Innovators, LLC and Pixabay

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