Learning to Write – Support for the Dysgraphic Student

Somewhere there is a child who can’t write legibly. A child who becomes so frustrated at the routine of writing school work. A smart child, whose written work is full of erasures, scratch outs, holes, and is probably written on wrinkled paper. That is, the paper didn’t start wrinkled, but it got that way as the assignment progressed. And that child is probably hearing the following:
1. Slow down and write CAREFULLY!
2. You can write legibly if you just try.
3. (to a girl) You write like a boy.
4. (to a boy)What is this? A paper full of holes and the writing all over the place? You are so CARELESS!
5. (My personal favorite) No you can’t use the computer or the typewriter. That’s cheating.

Dysgraphia is a learning disability which affects many children at the age they learn to write. Briefly, the student experiences a physical confusion when attempting to write – the brain and the hand don’t seem to connect about letter formation. Some dysgraphic children are also dyslexic, but not always. Often, the student’s ideas outpace their ability to put their thoughts on paper.

The dysgraphic student experiences difficulty learning to write, and often cursive proves difficult. They have difficulty joining letters together, closing loops or circles, aligning their writing to space on the page, and often letters such as t and x have the cross stroke placed too high or too low. They have a very weak grasp of spatial relationships.

This is not something that will straighten itself out. If the student does not learn letter formation, get the mechanics of writing in hand, the problem will get worse, not better. While many dysgraphic teens and adults are proficient on the computer and digital technology, everyone needs to know the mechanics of personal writing. They typical classroom activity of copying from the board can often prove difficult for a child who has no idea how to arrange the information from the board onto a horizontal piece of paper.

Dysgraphia is best remediated with young students, but it is possible with older children to see some improvement with practice. They key to helping a dysgraphic child learn to write is to reduce the anxiety over the finished product, and give them plenty of opportunity to practice letter formation. Templates and tracing are best for learning the path the hand has to follow.

Handwriting practice, whether freehand or with templates, should not last long. Focusing on writing mechanics is difficult for dysgraphic children, and they become restless or tired. When a child says he or she has had enough, they probably have. Then experience of practice needs to be affirmative, positive.

And yes, children should be encouraged to use computers. One of my joys as a dysgraphic adult has been to use a tablet computer – I can write on it, and it deciphers what I have written and makes it legible. I may not understand technology, but it understands me!