Because of his writing challenges, Alex, a Sixth Grader, was Failing Every Subject
To begin with, nobody near Alex knew anything about diagnosing dysgraphia. They knew Alex was failing social studies because the tests came from the notes the teacher wrote on the board. Copying notes from the board was so difficult that Alex couldn’t read them. If that weren’t bad enough, Alex had no idea what the teacher was saying because trying to write the notes was all consuming.
Secondly, he was failing English because of the papers he wrote. The teacher insisted on having his students write in cursive. Now Alex was penalized for poor penmanship and poor grammar, spelling and punctuation.
Thirdly, he failed math because he couldn’t keep numbers lined up nor read his own writing. Finally, he was failing science because his grade depended on written lab reports. So, Alex never did them—too much writing.
Alex is smart. So what’s going on here?
Alex has dysgraphia, a learning disability that makes writing difficult. Diagnosing dysgraphia isn’t common knowledge. Children with dysgraphia can sit in front of a blank piece of paper or computer screen. Three hours later the paper or screen are still blank. These kids often have wonderful and creative thoughts but can’t get them onto paper or a computer. They can tell you what they want to say but are unable to write it. For some, writing is such a slow and tedious process that they don’t have the patience to sit still long enough to write.
Other kids will write fast and furiously, skipping words, getting sentences and paragraphs in the wrong order. Often they can’t read their own handwriting. The end result is the same: poor grades and an aversion to writing.
Often these children stop writing because, even if they can get the paper written, they’re terrified that their teacher or their parents will insist they revise and rewrite.
Some children may also have actual physical problems with writing that are related to poor eye-hand coordination or lack of fine-motor skills. These children tend to avoid writing, even something as simple as their homework assignment.
Symptoms of Dysgraphia :
- Poor handwriting
- Good ideas but difficulty getting the same thoughts onto paper
- Difficulty copying from the board or from a book
- Overly long time spent when required to write a paper
- Difficulty with spelling, punctuation and grammar
A diagnosis of dysgraphia, a writing disorder, is not appropriate if the child does not have all the symptoms. Some children are simply poor spellers, some have poor motor skills and some simply haven’t learned punctuation and grammar yet. Because children can have different challenges with writing, you’ll want to pick and choose from the list below to help them improve and learn to enjoy writing.
Five Strategies for Writing at Home:
- Use a computer. Encourage your child to use a computer when at all possible. Kids who write too fast and whose handwriting is lousy often do well on a computer—especially as they become proficient at keyboarding.
- Set up short practice sessions. For young children, practice writing individual letters, words, sentences, or short paragraphs. Keep the sessions appropriate (in subject and in length) to your child’s age, maturity level and personality. For example, 5 to 10 minutes for 6 year olds because they are just learning how to write, 15 to 30 minutes for 7 – 10 year olds, 30 to 45 minutes for middle schoolers and and 60 minutes and more for high schoolers.
- Depending on their maturity level, personality and desire to write, more time is great. But for the struggling writer, more time may be counterproductive. My book “How to Improve Writing Skills” helps children with writing challenges.
- Help with spelling. During a writing session, if your child has trouble spelling, spell the words for her. If the primary goal is writing, stopping often to look up a word interferes with the creative process. Or encourage her to ignore spelling until the draft is written. Use the spell-check function of your computer’s word processing program.
- Have your child tell you what he wants to write about. Then write his thoughts on paper. This can be in list form, on a web (main idea in the middle of a circle and thoughts are on spokes coming out of the circle), or outline form. Then decide together which ideas should be in the beginning of the paper, which should be in the middle and which should be at the end. Number the ideas and cross out the ones that do not belong. Then have your child write or type the final copy by writing one thought after the other.
- Try to avoid making your child rewrite excessively. Forcing a child to do so is drudgery that often turns him off to writing. Remember your child’s maturity and appropriate skill level for his grade.
Dysgraphia can certainly affect children’s grades, test scores, and even their attitude toward school. If you suspect that your child may have dysgraphia, talk to your child’s teacher about diagnosing dysgraphia and see what can be done in the classroom.
To get fun activities that help kids with writing, pick up a free copy of my Dysgraphia Toolkit: How Singing, Playing Games and Other Fun Activities Can Help Defeat Writing Disabilities.