Dear Dr. Linda,
Willie is in the fourth grade and does well in reading and math. But when he has to write, even one sentence, he just sits and stares at the paper. And when he does write something down, his actual writing is a disaster. We can’t read a word. Even when we make him rewrite it, we still can’t read it. And forget about his spelling! His teacher said that he may have dysgraphia, a writing disorder. What is that? What do we do to help him?
Concerned Mom and Dad
Dear Concerned Mom and Dad,
Children with dysgraphia have difficulty with anything involving writing. Their handwriting is poor and they often have trouble with grammar, punctuation, capitalization and spelling, which, in turn, affects their ability to construct sentences and organize paragraphs. Even math suffers.
Children may develop a fear of writing on top of the neurological dysfunction itself. When doing schoolwork, they are often required to write, rewrite and then rewrite again. For children who have a writing disorder, it’s torture.
- Handwriting is poor. Pencil grip is poor or incorrect.
- Artwork is poor relative to that of most of their peers.
- Will sit staring at a piece of paper or the computer for hours and still not write a word.
- Letters and numbers are often reversed or inverted.
- Can tell you answers verbally but has difficulty getting those same thoughts onto paper.
- Has difficulty copying from a board or a book.
- Complains that his hand hurts when he writes.
- Cannot keep the numbers lined up in columns while doing math computations.
- Has difficulty with spelling, grammar, punctuation, and paragraph organization
If your son has dysgraphia, he’ll benefit from the following suggestions:
- He needs to be given equivalent alternatives for written assignments (oral report, clay or models, posters, panoramas, etc.) for demonstrating what he’s learned—which, after all, is the point.
- He will benefit from assistive technology for use during written work.
- He will benefit from learning how to write in cursive.
- When writing lengthy assignments, he should dictate to an adult. The adult can then write or type the text, which can then be hand copied as the final paper, if necessary. (It will be useful to place a sticky-note or other guide above the line being copied and move it as copying progresses.)
- When writing, he should be provided with a word bank of related topic words spelled correctly for reference.
- Spelling needs to be graded separately so that the paper is not penalized for spelling errors.
Once he has focused on a topic, tell him to just scribble some thoughts he has about the topic. First, tell him to think of these five W’s: Who or what is the paper about? Where does it take place? When does it take place? What happens? Why does it happen? Have him jot down his answers. Have him think of his five senses. What does this topic look like? Does it remind him of any sounds? Smells? Tastes? How does it feel? If he can’t come up with anything, help him get started.
Once he has some ideas on paper, help him decide which ideas are good ideas, but may not belong in the paper. Cross them off. Now number the remaining ideas in order of what he thinks is most important or likes the best. Number one will become the first sentence or first paragraph. Number two will become the second paragraph and so on down the list.
Now without realizing it, your son will have the basis for writing a paper. He got started!
If it’s a short paper, making this list will do the trick. If it’s a longer paper, the list will be the beginning of an outline. For most kids and adults, including great writers, it’s always easier to start writing and to stay on track by having a list or an outline.