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What is dysgraphia, and how can I improve my child's symptoms?

Dysgraphia-1Dysgraphia is a learning disorder characterized by difficulty in handwriting and other related fine-motor skills and/or difficulty organizing thoughts into writing. Symptoms include difficulty writing legibly (i.e., can’t form letters properly), and avoiding coloring, crafting, or other fine-motor activities that most kids enjoy. Children may struggle excessively to button clothing, zip jackets, and tie shoes even when these skills are considered developmentally appropriate. In addition, children may have severe difficulty organizing and writing paragraphs and struggle with determining what words to write. Some children with dysgraphia have strong verbal skills to compensate for their writing issues and are often fantastic readers. Because little is known about the disorder, it is sometimes misdiagnosed as dyslexia or dyscalculia. If your child struggles with the handwriting and/or organizing thoughts into well-constructed writing, use these tips and strategies to ease his or her frustration:

1. Utilize online resources. A quick internet search offers strategies for spelling success, templates for organizing different types of writing, apps for practicing legibility, and more. Determine your child's most significant writing struggle, and then work on improving that particular skill first. Symptoms of dysgraphia can be improved through targeted skills practice, and utilizing technology may appeal to frustrated kids.

2. Teach each writing skill separately. For instance, if your child is working on writing legibly, don't focus on quality of content at the same time. In other words, avoid critiquing grammar and spelling when you are helping your child improve fine motor skills. Choose a different time for your child to focus on generating original thoughts in a concise manner, and do not judge their creative writing progress on neatness or spelling. When working on generating quality content, it may be helpful to have your child use a voice recorder or word processing software to eliminate the motor skill of writing. Breaking down all the different pieces of writing, like neatness, spelling, grammar, and content, will allow your child to experience success one skill at a time.

3. Schedule writing practice. Once you've identified your child's largest barrier to writing success, schedule short practice times. For instance, if your child's handwriting isn't legible, schedule 15 minutes several days a week to work specifically on neatness and proper letter formation. Keep sessions short to avoid frustration, and explain to your child that he or she must practice writing just as he or she would practice sports or a musical instrument. Skills like staying in the margins or organizing thoughts into paragraphs, while intuitive to most students, may not come naturally to kids with dysgraphia. Teaching those skills directly can lead to tangible improvement.

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