If your student can’t write, no matter what age – prepare yourself for the long haul because so much of schooling and even many aspects of hiring and work can require writing.
When writing is difficult for students with dyslexia, it may be that they are having difficulty converting feelings and images to words, trouble retrieving words, or putting them in the correct order, then writing them down with correct spelling and grammar.
A significant proportion of dyslexic students will also have dyspraxia, so have trouble with sequencing and fine motor control required for handwriting automaticity. Any added difficulties may also swamp working memory, causing students to get lost in what they want to say.
For many dyslexic people, dysgraphia will present a greater problem in adulthood than reading.
ACCOMMODATIONS AND REMEDIATION
In the early years, be prepared to educate your student about dysgraphia and self-advocacy. Dysgraphia can cause a lot of existential angst even in the early grades and teachers may not understand that they need to dramatically adjust their work expectations for students with moderate to severe dysgraphia.
In our experience, dysgraphic students have very challenging fits in classrooms, often leading to exits from traditional school environments if appropriate accommodations and modifications are not in place.
In many schools, typing / keyboarding may not be taught until the 5th grade, but some dysgraphic students may need to type at the very beginning – for instance even as early as the 1st grade. That does not mean that students should not have time to work on writing by hand and work with a pediatric occupational therapist, but it does mean that when a classroom task is to get ideas down onto paper, then accommodations like dictation or typing with writing software should be permitted.
WRITING MAY IMPACT ALL CLASSROOM WORK
It is important to realize that dysgraphia – especially if it prevents handwriting automaticity (writing without thinking) – can contribute to “underachievement” in all subjects due to effects on processing speed and working memory overload.
Moderate to severe dysgraphia improves over years – and typically remains at some level into adulthood; but the option to keyboard narrows or sometimes completely closes the gap between dysgraphic and non dysgraphic people with much less impact in the workplace than in grade school classrooms.
Dysgraphia directly impacts short answer and essay writing, but also foreign language homework, science lab notebooks, all types of math work including homework, and science work – especially something like Chemistry where equations need to be worked through.
Teachers who may have never been taught about how to accommodate or modify curriculum for dysgraphic students may request quantities of classroom and test-related work that students can’t possibly complete.
For highly gifted students who are dysgraphic, the emotional pull of not being able to show your work can be tortuous.
For those who are able, taking students out of the conventional curriculum to homeschool, charter, or private school can bring tremendous relief.
DYSGRAPHIC AND EXPRESSIVE DYSFLUENCY
For those who are both dysgraphic and dysfluent, expect a double burden. Students may constantly have to experience the frustration of knowing much more than they can easily show. Working on various subskills will pay off eventually with subskills are put together, but takes time.
Also look for opportunities to practice in non-stressful environments (like at home or in one-on-one tutoring or small groups). Anyone who has trouble retrieving words may be embarrassed by pauses and stammers – but that means they should be doing more practice and not less. If a student at home gets into a routine of letting siblings talk for them, then nip that in the bud quickly.
Muffle a sibling or yourself or your spouse – and count silent to oneself, waiting until those words are successfully retrieved. Students with these difficulties should also read aloud on a regular basis because it may also eventually help with word retrieval.
LEARN ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY
Help your student to learn assistive technology so that it can be smoothly learned and integrated into classroom work. Years ago as a 1st grader, our son typed his work on a simple word processor (Alphasmart) then went to a computer room across the hall to print his work. The school bought an infrared device that allowed him to print to the printer without having to connect or log on.
Later, he just emailed his work to his teacher. Students who have a lot of worksheet work may be able to type answers in a separate document (Word or Google Docs), while others might use an app like Snap Type to take a picture and type directly on the worksheet that then can be emailed.
Younger students may require some experimentation to optimize tools that will be used on a day-to-day basis.
The gift that many dyslexics have regarding seeing ideas or situations from multiple perspectives, can also increase the difficulty writing in a direct and sequential fashion; some may benefit by talking out ideas or working with post-its that they can move around, regroup and add or take away. Scaffolding for writing may take a very long time. Many college students and professional writers may prefer to work with a partner as part of their writing process.
If you have a virtual non-writer, simplify the task as much as possible. Allow them to dictate and start practicing with summarizing or paraphrasing at the sentence, the paragraph level.
Many early writers can be overwhelmed by open-ended prompts. Narrow the task by having them write with a model paragraph as an example or use a graphic organizer like the one at right to get an essay started or check out these other writing graphic organizers from Miss Leed.
Some teachers and parents may dislike these templates and formulas for writing, but if you have a student who really struggles knowing where to begin, having structures like these can really be godsends.
When our kids were young, I liked doing the practice of Narration as described by early British educator Charlotte Mason. You read a few pages and then have the kids narrate by their version of the story. For more information visit HERE.