My Child’s handwriting is awful, could it be Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia. What is it? Unlike Dyslexia and Dyspraxia, dysgraphia is not a word we hear a lot about, but increasingly I am seeing it being included in reports that parents give me of assessments that their children have undergone.

What is dysgraphia?Written Expression

Dysgraphia is a condition that effects written expression. People with dysgraphia may find it difficult to put their thoughts down on paper. There is some debate about the use of the term as a separate disability. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5) doesn’t name dysgraphia specifically . Instead, it refers to “an impairment in written expression” under the category ‘specific learning disorder’. This is the term used by most doctors and psychologists. Some educational psychologists and teachers use the term dysgraphia as shorthand to mean “a disorder in written expression.”

Writing is a complex action that requires fine motor skills and good language processing skills but it is rarely an independent diagnosis.  I usually see it added on to an assessment of dyslexia.  This can lead to panic amongst parents who now think that their child has bigger issues than they thought.  In my experience, though one tends to beget the other.  They are very similar in many ways.

Chicken and Egg

So which came first – the bad handwriting or the spelling mistakes?  Personally, I find that when worked on separately, both can really improve.  But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

Before we learn to read, we start to develop our motor skills. Nearly every child who comes to us in Hummingbird Learning Centre has a poor pencil grip. I have written about this before. My cousin in Dublin, a Montessori teacher had the exact same issue with her students.  Care must be taken to teach our children these skills long before they start school. Children need to learn how to pick things up with a pincer grip. They need to learn how to open and close buttons, tie laces and catch small balls. I love Velcro as a sensory stimulant but keep away from it when developing fine motor skills.  I know it makes putting on shoes easier but in the long term learning to tie shoelaces will be of more benefit.

Handwriting

With their pincer grip compromised, children will be slower at writing, will dig into paper and find that their arms and hands get tired easily – all of which are considered to be symptoms to Dysgraphia. However, once the grip is corrected, the hands and arms relax, the pencil or pen is supported properly, so they child isn’t digging into the paper and they start to speed up as the relaxed hand can now allow words to flow.  The haphazard way that handwriting is taught, with some teachers never teaching cursive or joined writing, also adds to the confusion. (One boy told me – confirmed by his mum when she saw my shocked face – that only the girls in his class were taught joined writing!).

I was a child of the seventies for primary school and joined writing was no longer part of the curriculum then. I envied my mother’s and aunts’ beautiful handwriting & so I taught myself my own version of joined writing.  It is a melting pot of cursive and print with the odd capital letter thrown in as a lower case letter. It is not classical handwriting but it’s not awful and it certainly looks mature. It is distinctive and it is my handwriting. However, everything I have just described about my handwriting to be could be inadvertently taken as being symptomatic of dysgraphia.

Writing & Language Processing

So if handwriting is slow and sore, it will follow that having to write will not be an enjoyable task.  If we add in difficulty with phonics, then we have all of the symptoms of dysgraphia! Poor spelling leads to spelling mistakes in writing, but which is causing which?  The most important thing is, I believe, to understand what it is you are learning.  If you understand what a ball is then you can pull that image in your head when needed. Then the word ball is added to that image.  The child now has meaning, they can spell it and then read it, After that they can write the word ball.  We call this the Hummingbird Learning Shamrock™. By moving away from what words sound like to what they look like, children can spell more easily and write in the appropriate size, using capital letters and punctuation correctly.

Dysgraphia: Cursive WritingWorkbooks

Regular readers will know that I don’t particularly like workbooks and I feel that they contribute to issues with handwriting. Writing in copy books teaches children to space correctly, write in straight lines and to become spatially aware. A blank page allows for formation of thought and expansion of ideas. It makes it easier to size letters appropriately and encourages correct punctuation.  In fact, for children who struggle with handwriting, skipping print writing and moving straight to cursive can be hugely beneficial. Spacing becomes less of an issue and writing tends to flow more easily.

Our Programs

All of our Hummingbird Learning Method® programs cover the symptoms of Dysgraphia because it overlaps with so many other learning challenges. We check the pincer grip and work on correcting it straight away. We have the Hummingbird Learning Shamrock™ encompassing meaning, spelling, reading and writing. We also have our unique note taking techniques and homework routines which make writing even easier.  For more information contact me on 087 2996054 or elaine@hummingbirdlearning.com.

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