Dysgraphia - info for students
Is it hard for you to communicate in writing?
When you are writing with a pen or pencil, do any of these things apply to you:
- A mixture of small letters and capitals
- Letters of uneven shapes and sizes
- Unfinished letters
- A strange way of holding the pen
- Pain in the hand or arm
- Talking to yourself?
If you are reluctant to carry out writing tasks because of things like this, and your writing is generally very hard to read, you may be dysgraphic.
As with dyslexia, there are a lot of indicators ‘on the list,’ but you are said to be dysgraphic if most of them apply to you all the time. Dysgraphia is not connected with your intelligence or ability to read, and it doesn’t mean that you are dyslexic (although you might confuse some letters and sometimes write the wrong word when trying to get your ideas onto paper).
Dysgraphia is nothing to do with intelligence. It is part of the diversity of human beings: we are not all alike. But the label ‘dysgraphic’ can be useful. It enables you to get the right kind of support. You are as capable of getting a good degree as any other student.
An American book describes dysgraphia as:
"writing skills (that) ...are substantially below those expected given the person's ...age, measured intelligence, and age-appropriate education".
Indicators of dysgraphia
- Illegible handwriting (in spite of trying hard)
- Handwriting needs a big effort
- Handwriting takes a long time
- Pain in your hand or arm after a short time
- Letter formation usually odd or wrong
- Struggling to make the pen do what you want
- All of this being worse when you are stressed.
Expressive writing calls for several mental functions at once: organisation, memory, attention, motor skill, and various aspects of language ability. Automatic accurate handwriting is a basic part of this complex activity. While remembering where to put the pen and how to form each letter, a dysgraphic student forgets what he or she was intending to say.
Dysgraphic people usually feel pain while writing. It starts in the middle of the forearm and can spread to most of the body. People who are not dysgraphic often don’t know about this, because many with dysgraphia will not mention it to anyone. Pain while writing is rarely mentioned by those who are dysgraphic because:
- They don’t know that it is unusual to experience this type of pain with writing
- They think that no one would believe them.
They put it down to muscle ache or cramping, and try to treat it as only a minor inconvenience
Indicators which may be part of dysgraphia
- Bad spelling
- Inaccurate copying
- Poor muscle tone
Not all dysgraphic people spell badly, and some can copy correctly even if their writing is bad. It may not be connected with a general muscle tome problem. Although ‘fine motor control’ is involved in terms of using the hand and fingers, other types of motor control are not always a problem.
Emotional factors arising from dysgraphia often make things worse. At school, you may have been kept in to finish copying things from the board, or sent home at the end of the day with unfinished work to be completed. If you were asked to recopy your work, the second attempt was probably no better than the first. Because you were bright and good at other things, your failure to write well was probably blamed on laziness or carelessness. You may have felt angry and frustrated.
Things you can do about it
- Occupational therapy can help with:
- Pen grip
- Muscle tone
- Hand control
- Hand-eye coordination
- See your doctor for a motor control assessment
- Use a computer for word processing
- Use voice recognition software.
If you have difficulty controlling your finger muscles, typing may also be a problem. Voice recognition software allows you to speak into a headset microphone and the words appear on the computer screen. You can read about this if you go to www.dyslexic.com/features.asp and click on ‘Product reviews and comparisons’.
If you are getting very tired while writing, try these things:
* Shake hands fast, but not violently
* Rub hands together and focus on the feeling of warmth
* Rub hands on the carpet in circles (or, if wearing clothing with some mild texture, rub hands on thighs, close to knees)
* Use the thumb of the dominant hand to click the top of a ballpoint pen while holding it in that hand. Repeat using the index finger
* Perform sitting pushups by placing each palm on the chair with fingers facing forward. Push down on your hands, lifting your body slightly off the chair.
You might experience these things:
- Dislike of near work (such as writing)
- Often losing your place
- Leaving out letters or words (or adding them)
- Muddling up words that look similar
- Not recognising the same word in the next sentence.
In that case, you should be assessed by an optometrist with equipment for testing the eyes ‘at near’ (at reading distance). Vision is not just about ‘sharp sight’ at a distance. When you are reading and writing, your eyes have to track the words, fixate on them, change focus and work together. You may be helped by prismatic or coloured lenses, or by coloured overlays for reading.
Writing strategies for dysgraphic students:
1. Outline your thoughts. It is very important to get the main ideas down on paper without having to struggle with the details of spelling, punctuation, etc. Try writing just one key word or phrase for each paragraph, then go back later to fill in the details.
2. Draw a picture of a thought for each paragraph.
3. Dictate your ideas into a sound recorder then listen and write them down later.
4. Really practise keyboarding skills! It may be difficult at first, but after you have learned the pattern of the keys, typing will be faster and clearer than handwriting.
5. Use a computer to organize information and check spelling. Even if your keyboarding skills aren't great, a computer can help with the details.
6. Continue practising handwriting. As frustrating as it may be, there will be times throughout your life that you will need to be able to write things down and maybe even share your handwriting with others. It will continue to improve as long as you keep working at it.
7. Talk to yourself as you write. This may provide valuable auditory feedback.
If memorising spelling is a problem but you want to do it, try the following:
8. Look at each word, then close your eyes and visualize how it looks, letter by letter. Stay with one word until you can clearly visualize it.
9. Spell each word out loud while looking at it, then look away and spell it out loud again several times before writing it down.
10. Try spelling with ‘Scrabble’ tiles, so that you can keep rearranging the letters until they look right.
11. Break the spelling list down into manageable sections of only 3 to 5 words. Then take a break after mastering each section.