Dysgraphia is a learning disorder in which a child does not want to write. In other ways the child is normal, but he flat out doesn’t want to hold a pencil and write. If he is forced to write, his letter formation, the spacing between letters and words, and the various sizes of letters indicate something’s wrong.
All children have times when they balk at writing—when they’re tired, for example. But dysgraphia shows as a day-in, day-out struggle to get a child to write–and not just in a writing lesson but in math and social studies too. You might think the child is having a temper tantrum, but actually he is balking at a way of learning which makes no sense to him. Children with dysgraphia spend so much energy thinking about how to hold the pencil, and how to form the letters, and where the spaces go, that whatever they are supposed to learn by writing—whether it is addition facts or how fossils form—is lost.
Something is wrong, and that something is how the brain works. (More on that in future blogs.)
So what can you, as the parent or teacher of such a child, do to end tears and tantrums?
- As much as possible, for that student eliminate writing as a way of learning and testing. Some students are asked to write each new spelling or vocabulary word five times. Don’t assign this kind of work to a child with dysgraphia. Let the child use flashcards rather than worksheets to learn math facts.
- Allow the child to do her work out loud. Let the child tell an adult what she knows. Allow the child to speak her answers directly to you or into an audio recording machine.
- If the child must write a story or an essay, or answer a question in a sentence or two, give the child time to organize her thoughts. Then let her dictate her response to you. When it’s time to revise, let the child dictate the revisions.
- Make learning the use of a keyboard a part of this student’s studies.
- Allow the student to “write” on an iPad or other electronic device.
- Try various kinds of writing tools. Sometimes smooth-flowing markers can seem not as bad as pencils or pens. Sometimes thicker or thinner tools can feel better. The smooth surface of a dry erase board can entice a student.
- If the child has sensory integration issues, schedule writing after recess or after a back rub.
You might be thinking: But at a certain point, doesn’t the child need to conform?
Maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking how we can make learning math, languages, science and social studies possible without needing to write. We do it in other fields. Do you need to write to learn how to play a piano? Create a collage? Act in a play?
Writing is one way to learn, but it is not the only way. For children with other learning problems, we make accommodations. Do blind children read with their eyes? Do deaf children speak with their mouths?
In this time of differentiated learning, children with dysgraphia need to be recognized as living with a brain impairment. They need to be accommodated so that they can learn in a way which makes sense to them.