Does your child have a serious problem with handwriting? Or have they recently received a dysgraphia diagnosis?
It’s easier said than done, of course, but try not to worry. With your support, your child can grow in confidence and improve their handwriting significantly. Here’s everything you need to know about dysgraphia in children, and what you can do to help.
What is dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is a learning difficulty that affects handwriting. Children with dysgraphia find it very challenging to transcribe their thoughts into text. The condition also makes it difficult for them to do written work or copy notes from a board in the classroom.
That means children with dysgraphia will struggle to show what they know, either in assignments or exams. And they may learn less than their peers because the process of writing takes up so much of their time and attention.
As you can imagine, all of this can affect how they feel about school work and how well they learn. So what causes it?
Scientists aren’t sure what causes dysgraphia in children. However, they do know that dysgraphia is often seen alongside other learning difficulties, like ADHD and dyslexia.
It’s estimated that 4% of elementary school children have some form of dysgraphia.
What are the symptoms of dysgraphia in children?
All children struggle with writing to begin with. And it’s worth noting that fine motor skills develop a little more slowly for boys than they do for girls.
However, if you’re concerned that your child has dysgraphia, here are the key symptoms to look out for:
- Messy writing that is very hard to read
- A mix of upper and lower case, reversed and inconsistently sized letters
- Poor spelling, including missing words or letters
- Poor letter spacing and position of words across the whole page
- Unusual wrist position or a cramped grip, which may make writing uncomfortable
- Slow writing speed
- A big difference between written and spoken understanding of a subject
How can you help a child who has dysgraphia?
With the right support, your child’s writing and academic progress can improve.
Remember that your child is equally as smart as the next kid, they just struggle to show their knowledge in the traditional way. And there are lots of ways around that.
Here are a few approaches and accommodations to help overcome dysgraphia in children:
Adopt a sensory approach
Especially useful for younger children, a sensory approach can help kids to learn letter and word formation without the pressures of pen and paper writing.
Fill a tray with salt and get your child to draw letters in it. Any mistakes can be quickly shaken away, so kids won’t be disheartened when they slip up.
Experts have also found that kids respond well when they can ‘feel’ words. Trace a letter on your child’s back or hand. Then get them to recreate it on your hand or on paper.
Because fine motor skills are often a problem for children with dysgraphia, get them to practice their letters and words on a bigger scale.
Use a stick to write large letters in the sandpit. Or use shaving foam on the tiles at bath time (fun!). This uses gross motor skills, which may come more easily, and will help your child remember how letters are formed.
Build hand strength
Just holding a pen correctly can pose a problem for kids with dysgraphia. You can help to strengthen your child’s fingers with objects you’ll find lying around the house.
Tweezers or ice tongs can be used to pick up small objects — make a game of it! Or get out a favorite board game and use the pinching tools to move the pieces.
Practice gross motor skills away from writing
To write, one hand holds the paper and the other does the writing. This kind of coordination and stability can be tricky for kids with dysgraphia.
Jumping jacks, touching alternate toes, and climbing at the local playground will all build the gross motor skill strength your child needs.
Do tasks verbally
With older children, talk through writing assignments before they put pen to paper. This can help them get their thoughts in order, increasing the likelihood of successful penmanship, too.
What’s more, oral spelling tests can support their learning. Children with dysgraphia don’t necessarily struggle with spelling, they just have a hard time getting the letters down on paper correctly.
Make use of tech
While it’s important for children with dysgraphia to practice their writing, it’s also essential that they get the chance to express themselves easily — that’s crucial for personal development!
Dictation software can allow them to get their thoughts down on paper without experiencing the usual writing struggles. Alternatively, let them type rather than write (every now and then).
An audio recorder is also a great tool to have up your sleeve. Remember: kids with dysgraphia find it hard to process information and write at the same time. But with an audio recorder, they can record themselves or a teacher, listen back to the information, and then begin a writing task — making the whole process more manageable.
Teach cursive writing
Believe it or not, cursive handwriting can help overcome dysgraphia difficulties.
Because there’s a physical connection between the letters, kids aren’t worrying about spacing. And continuous movement is often easier for children who struggle with their fine motor skills. Give it a go!
And most importantly…build their confidence!
Kids with dysgraphia often hate to write and resist it with a passion. They find it difficult, frustrating, and demotivating — and who can blame them?
If they’ve been living with undiagnosed dysgraphia for a number of school years, they’ve probably had their self-confidence knocked by negative learning experiences. So as a parent, being supportive and building their confidence is one of the most important things you can do.
Dysgraphia in children has the potential to negatively affect their academic life — but only if it’s ignored. Talk to teachers and adopt a new way of learning to ensure that your child gets the education they deserve.
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