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What is dysgraphia? Is it even real? Learning Disabilities often seem like some mystical almost made-up concept. People commonly think they are because children with learning disabilities seem very smart, but their school work is constantly not showing their potential. Parents, friends, family, and sadly even teachers, who should know better, might say the child is just not trying hard enough, but actually, the opposite is true. Dysgraphia is a very real learning disability that does impact a child.
It drives me up the wall when people say learning disabilities are made up! The argument I commonly hear that they aren’t real is that the child is very smart. They just aren’t applying themselves to their school work.
That’s what a learning disability is.
When people look for a learning disability, they’re looking for indicators that the student in question has the intelligence to perform school tasks, but for whatever reason, cannot.
Their academic performance does not match their intelligence or ability level.
Additionally, we know the child isn’t “faking it” because when diagnosing a learning disability, experts look for psychological and neurological indicators of certain things.
There are a lot of different kinds of learning disabilities and dysgraphia is just one. Since it doesn’t get as much screen time as its sexier sister dyslexia, I thought it might be good to spend a minute talking about it.
So in this post, we’ll go over, what dysgraphia is, how it affects children, and what we as special education teachers can do to help!
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What is Dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is formally called a “specific learning disability in the area of writing.” It’s super long and wordy, and there’s really no way to write than in a report that doesn’t sound pretentious.
However, that is how, legally, it has to be phrased because the DSM V (big book psychologists use to diagnose things) does not recognize dysgraphia. When you’re filling out reports and IEPs or 504 plans, it has to go down as a “specific learning disability in the area of writing.”
Luckily though, this is a blog so, I’m just going to call it dysgraphia.
Dysgraphia affects a child’s ability to write, both physically and mentally.
Common issues include
- Awkward handling of pencils
- Difficulty physically writing
- Poor grammar usage in writing
- Struggling to stay in margins and on lines
- Writing comes out scattered and disorganized
- Difficulty learning to type beyond what is typically expected
- A noticeable difference between speaking and writing skills
I underlined that last one because it seems the most important to me. If a child is able to speak clearly, but cannot put any of those thoughts on paper, that is a clear sign of dysgraphia and not a language processing problem.
Children with problems acquiring langue cannot speak or write very well. Whereas children with dysgraphia have mastered the language. They just run into problems putting the thoughts down.
Please note, I am not a diagnostician, and I cannot diagnose a child. The presence of these challenges does not necessarily mean someone has dysgraphia. If you believe a child you work with has dysgraphia, you should speak to their parents about getting them diagnosed.
For more information on dysgraphia symptoms please click here!
How does Dysgraphia affect students?
Obviously, dysgraphia affects a student’s ability to write and means the act of physically learning to write will probably be a challenge for a child, likely something they will avoid.
This resistance can worsen a common problem with learning disabilities.
Kids with learning disabilities are already prone to falling behind. If you add resistant behavior on top of that, it means that they are losing even more learning time. That puts them at risk of falling farther behind.
On top of that, kids with dysgraphia are likely going to continue struggling with writing, even after they have learned how to physically write.
My students with dysgraphia needed specific interventions in writing concepts below their grade level. They had been unable to process lessons on things like writing essays and claims and paragraphs, without dedicated lessons and interventions.
Seeing their peers learn to write and start to excel when they still didn’t know how to form a sentence on paper was very frustrating for them and affected their confidence.
Writing is still something a lot of them avoid, even if they are on grade level now. Most of them say they want to pick a career where you don’t have to write. That way no one will ever know how bad they are at it.
Learning disabilities can have a huge drain on a child’s self-confidence and motivation to participate and attend school.
That is why it is vital learning disabilities get formally diagnosed and children can get the interventions they need to improve academically and maintain a healthy relationship with learning.
You should also be aware that dysgraphia is common in students with ADD or ADHD. To learn more about ADD/ADHD check out this post on why ADHD is so misunderstood.
What Can Special Education Teachers Do?
As Special Education Teachers taking action is what we have to do to help these students. Luckily there are many strategies we can use.
The first thing I always recommend for kids with dysgraphia in upper grades is to get them a device with voice to text.
Every Chromebook has this feature in google docs. Under tools. It is called “Voice typing.”
This allows students to hit a button and the computer will transcribe what they are saying into a google doc. It takes a time to learn this process, as voice typing is prone to making mistakes. Especially if students do not speak clearly.
However, it is vital to separate out the physical act of writing from learning writing as a craft.
Often kids with dysgraphia have a hard time making their handwriting legible and they may even struggle with fine motor skills.
That is why I always separate out physically writing or typing from learning writing quality work, allowing my students to only focus on one aspect at a time.
If they’re writing an essay, it should be all about craft. Handwriting and typing interventions are when you should work on everything else.
Most schools these days have Chromebooks with this feature. However, I still recommend getting a dedicated device added to your student’s IEP. It will come with other software that can help them with writing.
Give Every Sentence a Job
If you are teaching your students with dysgraphia to write an essay or fiction piece then you should not allow them to “freestyle.”
Children with Dysgraphia need a lot of guidance when writing, especially if they are learning to write essays.
When I teach five-paragraph essays to children with dysgraphia or autism, I keep everything very formulaic. For example when writing an intro paragraph to a five-paragraph essay I’ve taught my kids the following
Hook + Background Information + Claim + preview of topics for three paragraphs = Intro Paragraph.
All of my students have learned to write five-paragraph essays using mindmaps and checklists, that always tell them what they should be working on next. This helps eliminate the tendency to be disorganized or for their writing to jump around.
To purchase my mindmaps and checklists for five-paragraph essays, click here!
Spend Time with them One on One
Students with dysgraphia might have a hard time following general lessons and need more explicit instruction.
This part is usually easy for me, because I’m a SEIT, so I only do one on one or small group work. However, for classroom teachers, I recommended keeping your students with dysgraphia with you and giving more explicit instructions.
Utilize examples of what you want their writing to sound like. I recommend using midrange examples from other students, to keep their expectations reasonable.
Have each of them say one thing they like about the example and one thing they don’t like. This way they know what their writing should sound like and have one thing to integrate from the example and one thing they can improve on.
And make sure you offer them lots of encouragement and praise for the effort they put forward. You want your students to know they are improving, even if their work does not look like their peers.
Teach them to compare their work to what they had done previously and stay upbeat and genuine with them. Don’t lie or be insincere, but rather celebrate progress, not perfection.
This can help keep them motivated to continue working and improving. It also stops their self-confidence from plummeting, which is common in children with learning disabilities.
Dyslexia is very real, and something many students have to contend with. Though sadly, a lot of people are unaware of what it looks like or how it presents itself.
As special education teachers, we have to make sure we are not only helping our students grow, but educating those around us as well, such as parents, aids, and other teachers.
It is okay that a student might need extra help and interventions in writing, and if their work does not come out on grade level that’s okay. Compare it to what they wrote last, and look for signs of improvement.
And most importantly, make sure to only target one element of writing at a time, either physically writing/typing or writing as a craft. Doing both can be too overwhelming for students with dysgraphia and sets them up for failure.
Make sure to join my email list to stay up to date on all my posts and products, as well as to get access to my free resource library, which does include a printable goal tracking sheet, so you can keep track of all the progress your students with dysgraphia make!