This is an extension of a yesterday’s EFTI post in which I talked about my personal struggle with dysgraphia. I promised parents a bit more today.
Not if you have dysgraphia. Moreover, that is what makes this little known learning disability hurt so much. The sufferer only knows when criticized and or his or her brain decides to show the error.
The simplest way to tell you all about this learning disability is to quote the experts. You can go here to read about what the National Center for Learning Disabilities says about dysgraphia, but I will also quote what I think is most important here:
Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. Dysgraphia makes the act of writing difficult. It can lead to problems with spelling, poor handwriting and putting thoughts on paper. People with dysgraphia can have trouble organizing letters, numbers and words on a line or page. This can result partly from:
Visual-spatial difficulties: trouble processing what the eye sees
Language processing difficulty: trouble processing and making sense of what the ear hears
As with all learning disabilities (LD), dysgraphia is a lifelong challenge, although how it manifests may change over time. A student with this disorder can benefit from specific accommodations in the learning environment. Extra practice learning the skills required to be an accomplished writer can also help.
What Are the Warning Signs of Dysgraphia?
Just having bad handwriting doesn’t mean a person has dysgraphia. Since dysgraphia is a processing disorder, difficulties can change throughout a lifetime. However since writing is a developmental process—children learn the motor skills needed to write, while learning the thinking skills needed to communicate on paper—difficulties can also overlap.
Dysgraphia: Warning Signs By Age
Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position
Avoiding writing or drawing tasks
Trouble forming letter shapes
Inconsistent spacing between letters or words
Poor understanding of uppercase and lowercase letters
Inability to write or draw in a line or within margins
Tiring quickly while writing
Mixture of cursive and print writing
Saying words out loud while writing
Concentrating so hard on writing that comprehension of what’s written is missed
Trouble thinking of words to write
Omitting or not finishing words in sentences
Teenagers and Adults
Trouble organizing thoughts on paper
Trouble keeping track of thoughts already written down
Difficulty with syntax structure and grammar
Large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech
What Strategies Can Help?
There are many ways to help a person with dysgraphia achieve success. Generally strategies fall into three main categories:
Accommodations: providing alternatives to written expression
Modifications: changing expectations or tasks to minimize or avoid the area of weakness
Remediation: providing instruction for improving handwriting and writing skills
Each type of strategy should be considered when planning instruction and support. A person with dysgraphia will benefit from help from both specialists and those who are closest to the person. Finding the most beneficial type of support is a process of trying different ideas and openly exchanging thoughts on what works best.
Although teachers and employers are required by law to make “reasonable accommodations” for individuals with learning disabilities, they may not be aware of how to help. Speak to them about dysgraphia and explain the challenges faced as a result of this learning disability.
Here are examples of how to teach individuals with dysgraphia to overcome some of their difficulties with written expression.
Be patient and positive, encourage practice and praise effort. Becoming a good writer takes time and practice.
Use paper with raised lines for a sensory guide to staying within the lines.
Try different pens and pencils to find one that’s most comfortable.
Practice writing letters and numbers in the air with big arm movements to improve motor memory of these important shapes. Also practice letters and numbers with smaller hand or finger motions.
Encourage proper grip, posture and paper positioning for writing. It’s important to reinforce this early as it’s difficult for students to unlearn bad habits later on.
Use multi-sensory techniques for learning letters, shapes and numbers. For example, speaking through motor sequences, such as “b” is “big stick down, circle away from my body.”
Introduce a word processor on a computer early; however do not eliminate handwriting for the child. While typing can make it easier to write by alleviating the frustration of forming letters, handwriting is a vital part of a person’s ability to function in the world.
Encourage practice through low-stress opportunities for writing. This might include writing letters or in a diary, making household lists, or keeping track of sports teams.
Allow use of print or cursive—whichever is more comfortable.
Use large graph paper for math calculation to keep columns and rows organized.
Allow extra time for writing assignments.
Begin writing assignments creatively with drawing, or speaking ideas into a tape recorder.
Alternate focus of writing assignments—put the emphasis on some for neatness and spelling, others for grammar or organization of ideas.
Explicitly teach different types of writing—expository and personal essays, short stories, poems, etc.
Do not judge timed assignments on neatness and spelling.
Have students proofread work after a delay—it’s easier to see mistakes after a break.
Help students create a checklist for editing work—spelling, neatness, grammar, syntax, clear progression of ideas, etc.
Encourage use of a spell checker—speaking spell checkers are available for handwritten work.
Reduce amount of copying; instead, focus on writing original answers and ideas.
Have student complete tasks in small steps instead of all at once.
Find alternative means of assessing knowledge, such as oral reports or visual projects.
Teenagers and Adults
Many of these tips can be used by all age groups. It is never too early or too late to reinforce the skills needed to be a good writer.
Provide tape recorders to supplement note taking and to prepare for writing assignments.
Create a step-by-step plan that breaks writing assignments into small tasks (see below).
When organizing writing projects, create a list of keywords that will be useful.
Provide clear, constructive feedback on the quality of work, explaining both the strengths and weaknesses of the project, commenting on the structure as well as the information that is included.
Use assistive technology such as voice-activated software if the mechanical aspects of writing remain a major hurdle.
For more on dysgraphia, check out these 10 dysgraphia resources.
Parenting thoughts and tips
All children want to do well in what matters to the adults in their world. That means all children are motivated to succeed in school. Just look at the kids lined up to go to kindergarten or the first grade and 99% of them will have happy faces.
Fast forward and with every year more and more kids will not be eager. Easy to understand.
Why because hope is dying and school is becoming more and more painful.
As Mark Twain says, “The cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again. But he won’t sit upon a cold stove lid, either”
When it comes to children, all try lots longer than cats to figure out how to avoid pain. The younger the child, the more s/he will keep trying to figure out how to please adults. Hope of good results is part of the young child’s make up. But in time what the expert calls “Learned Helplessness” set in.
In addition to dsygraphia, I suffer from dyscalculia. That means trouble with math. That is where learned helplessness has its hold on me. I don’t do any math. I’d rather trust the bank’s accounting than mine. No way I can balance books and even calculators do not help. Nine times out of ten, I punch in the wrong numbers. Hate when I have to punch in a telephone number or any other number beyond four digits. Four I can manage. Anyway onward with dysgraphia. I am less hopeless about my dysgraphia. Probably for a number of reasons.
One, for as long as I can remember I wanted to be a writer. My father was a newspaper reporter and also published his own weekly newspaper. I adored him and that meant I wanted to do what he did.
Then as explained previously, many teachers saw not the mistakes but my content which was apparently in their eyes was worthier than many others students. Also testing was not so mandatory.
I had a mother who pushed trying and worried less about success or mistakes.
The computer’s spell and grammar check made becoming a writer possible.
I do not have dyslexia and I loved to read and am a fast reader. As the pundits about writing say, if you want to write: “Read, read, read, and read some more.” I still read two or three books a week in addition to all the reading I do on-line.
Finally, my life as a foster parent and therapist caught the eye of sales minded editors. I had something to say from a unique position. Lucky me and luck does play a part in all successes.
Learned Helplessness did not rule me in terms of writing as it did with my math problems.
Read this carefully: Once a child decides nothing s/he can do will get good grades or compliments or even an internal “I got it right” message, the desire to keep trying decays and eventually dies.
The harder it is for the child to do what is asked, the more quickly the will to try fades. Then all sorts of diversionary strategies take over: withdrawal, clowning, running away, drawing negative attention to yourself, and aggressiveness are among the most common.
Jerome Kagan, human behavior guru sees the above strategies as ways to deal with the pain of uncertainty or not knowing and hence not feeling in control of yourself or the world. He believes this almost as painful as unmet survival needs.
In my work with children, I saw three stages to reaching the decision that nothing you could do made a difference in meeting yours, another’s, or life’s demands.
- Stage one: Hoping and trying. Thinking as the pundits say, if you keep trying you will get there.
- Stage two: Doubting you can “just do it” but still a bit hopeful but doubt and feelings of shame start to intrude. Trying becomes more and more painful if success is not part of the mix.
- Stage three: Absolutely certain you will not succeed. Despair and anger set in as well as the need to defend yourself from the pain of failure. That leads to the strategies listed above.
This struggle with meeting societal or parental demands takes many forms. I first spotted it when dealing with Good Kids Doing Bad Things. Then the struggle was between being a good kid and a bad kid. I think at least one of the kids engineering the Columbine killings had decided he was all bad, so doing the worse he could do became possible.
We all face that struggle for we all have thoughts and desires that lead to bad as well as god behavior. Many of us gravitate toward religion to help us stay on what our hearts know is the right track. Most of us succeed, but when we hear about a fallen priest, preacher or rabbi, I think, s/he was trying to be good, but needed more help.
Back to tips about learning disabilities.
Parenting tip one: When a child begins avoiding school or homework with any strategy described above, worry. Worry, but take the time to see if the problem is consistent and is eroding both school efforts and peace in the home.
parenting tip two: While taking the time to do the above, learn a bit about learning disabilities in general.
Parenting tip three: If the signs of a disorder last consistently for six weeks, talk to some experts. Make your child’s teacher one; make a trusted physician another, find some parent who have been there and done that. All will probably have different views.
Parenting tip four: Be prepared for disagreement and easy assurances all is right particular when talking to relatives and friends about your worries but also from the professional. Often such assurances are valid, but also often they reflect the human need to be kind.
Parenting tip five: Get the child’s view of what is going on. As children often think they are to blame for all and every problem in the world. This makes it hard for them to share openly about concerns, so go slow. In fact, a child or a teen make talk more openly with someone besides a parent. An aunt or uncle might be an ally in your quest to learn what the child is feeling. Don’t forget youth leaders, advocates, or similar folk.
Parenting tip six: Think of finding a good therapist or other source of support for you and the child. Start with you and think carefully about what a good therapist means. I think it means someone with knowledge I do not possess, who can relate to me and my needs, sets a clear contract using SMART goals, measures outcomes and is not doctrinaire but has a wide variety of tools to help at his or her command.
Parent advocates were mentioned earlier as were youth advocates. These can be extremely helpful, but also not helpful.
Parenting tip seven: Related to finding helpers that help. You must be your own and your child’s best advocate. That means two things. Experimenting and keeping tabs on what is working and what isn’t working. Setting some SMART Goals is the way to do this .
Parenting tip eight: Be patient. Nothing is going to happen quickly and that is okay. Children are resilient and usually move forward with their lives despite problems. That does not rule out trying to help, good help always helps and improves things better and faster than no help.
Parenting tip nine: Remember the five to one rule; five good experiences as a balancing force for every bad experience. With my own sons, I refused to get them tutoring over the summer. Almost got me reported for educational neglect, However, the only time each son was truly happy was when school was out and I could not bear taking that away from them.
This also means making the most of what the kids do well and want to do.
Parenting tip ten: Strengthen yours and your child’s self-soothing skills.
If you like this post share it with another. That is practicing deliberate kindness which is an easy Emotional Fitness Exercise .
As always, thank you for your support.
LINKS OF INTEREST
Word Press Aug 11, 2014 Daily Prompt New Wrinkles: You wake up one day and realize you’re ten years older than you were the previous night. Beyond the initial shock, how does this development change your life plans?
How does this fit in with todays Parents Are People Too blog. In ten years the worries of today will be old hat. For many parents age and stage bring their own rewards and challenges. Maybe you wake up having missed the perils of a disgruntled teens or in time to enjoy a wedding or to find you have some wonderful grandchildren. When it comes for to the future, plan for what you can and then hope for the best.
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