There is a little known learning disability called Dysgraphia. This learning disability affects the motor and information processing skills for writing. People with dysgraphia diagnosis have a difficult time when trying to write, it is troublesome to organize numbers, letters and words. Dysgraphia symptoms could result from vision difficulties, such as a difficult time processing what the individual sees; or from a language difficulty, such as when an individual has a difficult time understanding what is being said out loud. Dysgraphia, in simple terms, means difficulty expressing oneself in writing.
With dysgraphia, this neurological disorder is characterized by difficulties in writing. Even with thorough instruction, the disability is prone to traumatic issues. Dysgraphia is usually associated with damage to the parietal lobe in the brain. For many individuals, there is improvement made in their writing ability, for other individuals, the disability will remain throughout life. Adults, teenagers and children can all be affected by dysgraphia. Dysgraphia is a biological disorder with genetic and brain bases. There are also some issues that tend to develop due to dysgraphia. Stress is the main issue, causing frustration and anxiety when attempting to complete a writing task. The individual with the disability of dysgraphia does not usually exhibit any signs of social or other academic issues, other than the writing.
Schools use writing assignments as a way of teaching curriculum and helping the student to learn. A student with dysgraphia struggles with the writing aspect of the assignment, however, this does not mean that they do not comprehend what they are being taught. Those who suffer with dysgraphia struggle trying to produce nicely written and expressive assignments. Remediation is sometimes necessary, along with accommodations to prevent a student from giving up. The teacher, student and the guardians should meet routinely to discuss progress as it is made, and any need for further accommodations. Sometimes, adjusting the complexity or the volume of the work is all that is needed. Having previously printed templates for outlines or notes will aid the individual with dysgraphia and other students as well. Dysgraphia can cause low classroom activity, disinterest, incomplete assignments or even emotional issues. When a student is asked to remain inside to finish an assignment, rather than participate in recess or another fun period in school, they will tend to feel frustrated or embarrassed and try to rush through the work, thus causing even more frustration with both the student and the teacher. This leads to impressions of carelessness or laziness, when that is truly not the case.
There is no specific way to test for dysgraphia. There are two types of dysgraphia; specific and non-specific. The disability involves the fine motor and muscle control. At times, occupational therapy is helpful for those who experience this disability. When occupational therapy does not work, the use of a computer, typewriting or allowing the individual to give an oral report or essay will be a good remediation. Some testing will include that the student produce their own sentences about a topic, copying sentences off of another copy; when finished the person testing the individual will then consider the writing, the words and the amount of time it had taken to produce the work. There are experts who believe that dysgraphia involves the two main brain systems that translate the read work into the printed form. Other research shows that split memory, familiarity and memory load affect the writing ability.
Some assessment tools used by psychologists:
»Processing Speed Index scores from the WISC-III
»Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration
»Jordan Left-Right Reversal Test
»Trails tests from the Halstead-Reitan Neuropsychological battery
Psychologists must determine what kind of writing instruction the student has received in order to diagnose the presence of dysgraphia. They can then make the suggestions for remediation and alternative plans for writing assignments based on the total picture, rather than strict guidelines set forth, since all individuals are not likely to benefit from the same methods.
There are seven causes for difficulty in handwriting:
•Intentionally poor penmanship
•Inadequate or no instruction
•Multiple mental images
•Inadequate natural orientation
Not all of these are causes of dysgraphia; however, the individual may exhibit some of these to cover their inadequacies in writing or their disability. With a careful monitoring system in place, any form of remediation and occupational therapy may be helpful and minimize the chance of the individual giving up on the efforts.
With every learning disability, there are warning signs that show the difficulties the person with dysgraphia experiences. The earlier that these signs are noticed, the sooner help and therapy can be given.
In the youngest, preschool age children, you may notice the following:
üAvoidance of writing or drawing
üAn awkward and tight grip when holding a pencil, pen or crayon
üAn awkward body position
üDifficulty in forming letters and shapes
üSpacing is inconsistent between letters or words, or both
üDifficulty in understanding the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters
üDifficulty staying in the lines or margins of the paper
üYoungster may give up easily when writing, or tiring quickly
For school-aged children, the difficulties can be seen as:
üWriting that is illegible
üThe student combines printing and cursive writing together, and does not notice the difference
üSpeaking out loud each word that is written, talking out loud when reading to self
üThey cannot concentrate on the words that they need to write
üNot finishing words or sentences
Teenagers and adults will experience the following:
üDifficulty organizing their thoughts on paper
üThere is a gap between ideas and understanding when speaking
üThey have trouble with the way words are put together and grammar
Often times, these difficulties will overlap for the individual. There are suggested ways to assist the person with dysgraphia. The treatments suggested may aid the individual with their writing or other neurological disorders. Many doctors or therapists will recommend that the individual use a computer when doing any form of writing. We can categorize the assistance into three basic categories:
•We can provide alternate methods rather than written expression
•We can change the task or expectations to avoid the areas of weaknesses
•We can provide the instruction for improving writing skills and the handwriting
There are also strategies that can be employed to assist individuals of all ages, with dysgraphia. In the earliest of stages begin with finding the pens or pencils that are the most comfortable for the person to use. Find and utilize, or make paper with raised lines and margins. The raised lines will act as a sensory guide, so that the writing remains inside the lines and margins. Have the student use their hand and arm to ‘write’ the letters in the air. Over time, and with practice, these letters and sizes can be decreased in size. Encourage proper posture, instrument grip and also position of the paper. Teach the student about using a word processor as early as possible. Remember to stay positive and continue the encouragement; do not lecture about mistakes made. This will help to ease the frustration the student experiences.
In the young school aged child, you should encourage whichever form of writing that the student is more comfortable using, whether that is cursive or printing. You want the student to feel confident and at ease with their writing. Using graph paper will aid the student in lining up numbers correctly in mathematical problems. Allow the student plenty of time when completing any writing assignment. At times, using a voice recorder will make it easier for the student to understand their ideas and focus on one idea at a time. They will then be able to use the recorder to write down their ideas. Purposely teach and expound on each form of writing; Poetry, essays or short stories, to name just a few. If the assignment is times, do not judge the work based on spelling or the quality of the printing. Utilize a checklist when possible, this will aid in the organization of the paper and the editing necessary to ensure the paper is done correctly. Be sure to reiterate the use of the spell checker in the word processing. Put the main focus on the student producing original work. It is always helpful to highlight the small steps each time, rather than the whole, big picture. The idea of using a multitude or variety of options to complete the work will aid in the comprehension. Visual work such as Power Point and oral reports rather than a written essay, will likely produce original, good quality and break the monotony of writing, which leads to the frustration. Encourage the individual to use a daily journal or diary type notebook, to keep track of their progress and give continued practice with handwriting. This age youngster could also be preparing the grocery lists or chore lists around the home.
For teenagers and adults, they will find that using a tape recorder in addition to taking hand written notes; will help them with organization and comprehension. Make a step by step list to follow to accomplish any writing project. Making a list of keywords, could keep them focused on what information to include and organize it in proper order. Give the feedback for quality. Explain both the positives and the negatives of the quality in the work. In desperate situations, provide the individual with voice activated software, of which there are a few on the market. It is never too soon or too late to learn the new skills needed to assist with the disability.
It has been shown that cursive writing will work the best for the individual due to the fact that cursive writing eliminates the need for picking up the pencil or pen between letters, and then having to decide where to place it next, as far as the spacing between the letters and words. In cursive writing, there are also very few reversible letters that the person experiencing dysgraphia has to contend with. It is easier to distinguish between letters that are a simple reverse in print.
It has been shown that dysgraphia can be exhibited at the same time as dyslexia in some children and adults. Research has also shown that orthographic coding is related to handwriting. This refers to the individual ability to store unfamiliar words into memory, while the letters are being analyzed. Children do not have any primary development disorders, but may have fine motor sequential issues. These children might exhibit signs of attention deficit disorder, hyperactive or not, which may then be aided with medication.
When dysgraphia is detected early, remediation and joint forms of therapy can begin. Intervention and specialized instruction should be introduced into the child’s daily life to prevent the frustration ongoing in the child’s school years. Preventing the frustration and introducing ways in which the individual may be able to accommodate the disability will make his or her life easier throughout the curricular years. The parents, guardians and the individuals themselves who suffer with dysgraphia should attempt to try all forms of remediation and therapy, look into further research and determine which would be the best method for them. This disability does not prevent, nor should it hinder the individual’s attempt to produce fine written words for their school assignments or work projects later on in their lives.
A disability is only a disability when the individual allows said issue to disable them from the attempt to produce the outcome. This is why it is stressed heavily to not focus on the negatives, or weaknesses in the writing, but rather to give praise for the positive accomplishments the individual has succeeded in.
The law requires that teachers and employers provide reasonable accommodations for any person with a disability. They may not understand what dysgraphia is, so you may have to explain the difficulties the individual faces.
The Institute of Neurological Disorders and other institutes around the country support research for dysgraphia through grants. Most of the research focuses on ways to treat and prevent the disability.