Does your child have spider writing with letters of all shapes
, appearing above and below the line, some joined-up, some printed with a random mixture of CApitAl and loWer-caSE letters?
Do they avoid writing or tire easily when writing? Are they unwilling or unable to copy from the board? Do they have an awkward or tense pencil grip? Is their work littered with spelling mistakes?
If you recognise some, or all, of these symptoms in your otherwise fairly bright, articulate child, they may well suffer from dysgraphia.
What is dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is a condition that causes problems with written expression. For many children with dysgraphia, holding a pencil and organising letters on a line are difficult. They may also struggle with spelling, and with processing their thoughts and writing them down. They are frequently articulate and lively contributors to discussion but will avoid putting pen to paper.
How to spot a dysgraphic child
The dysgraphic child is quite possibly:
- Clumsy and uncoordinated
- Poor at ball or team sports
- Has difficulties with using a pencil or scissors
- Prone to motion-sickness
- Directionally challenged: may confuse left/right, over/under etc.
Many also have dyspraxia and associated difficulties with directions, spatial awareness and arranging letters or numbers in order.
Practical help at home and in school
Help for children with dysgraphia generally falls into three categories.
Accommodation – providing alternatives to handwriting.
- This could include touch-typing and using voice recognition software such as Dragon
Modification – making tasks easier.
- If homework is tricky suggest to the teacher that you and your child alternate the writing – your child writes a sentence or answers a question, you write down their answer to the next question, they write the next one and so on.
Sometimes a sloping desk is helpful, particularly for a child with poor muscle tone.
- Try out different pencil grips and widths.
- Use paper with guide-lines.
- Remediation – additional help to learn the skill.
- Practise letter formation, using a steamed up mirror or sand as well as a pen and paper.
- Practice colouring in letters.
- Try cursive handwriting – this is often easier for a dysgraphic child.
- Write short thank you letters, using notelets, pictures and photos to make the task simpler and more fun.
Help from an occupational therapist (OT)
OTs work with dysgraphic children to improve posture, muscle tone and strength. Writing is a physical task, so don’t be surprised if your child is given hand strengthening exercises. Specialist equipment includes wonderful soft-squidgy balls, bands et al, but a tennis ball will often suffice.
Even if your child isn’t referred for therapy, there is no reason why you can’t try out simple exercises such as squeeze the ball – count to five, release, repeat 10 times, or squeeze thumb and index finger together. Exercises needn’t be a chore: make a necklace (threading beads), do a jigsaw, go swimming, throw and catch a ball, play piggy-in-the middle or tennis – all can help.
To qualify for help in examinations your child must be assessed by an educational psychologist (EP). The EP report may qualify them for extra time and other concessions in public examinations, such as using a laptop, having a scribe or use of a transcriber.