Definition of Dysgraphia
Dysgraphia is a learning disorder characterised by difficulties in writing, particularly in terms of spelling, handwriting, and expressing thoughts onpaper.
People with Dysgraphia often struggle with forming letters, spacing words and letters correctly, and maintaining consistent handwriting. This condition is not related to intelligence, as individuals with Dysgraphia may have normal or even above-average cognitive abilities.
Causes of Dysgraphia
The exact causes of Dysgraphia are not yet fully understood. However, researchers believe that it is likely to be caused by a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors. Here are some potential factors that may contribute to the development of Dysgraphia:
- Neurological factors: Dysgraphia is thought to involve differences or abnormalities in the brain's structure or functioning, particularly in areas associated with writing and fine motor skills. These differences may affect the coordination and control of the muscles involved in handwriting.
- Genetic factors: There is evidence to suggest that Dysgraphia can run in families, indicating a genetic component. Specific genes or genetic variations may contribute to the development of Dysgraphia, although the precise genes involved have not been identified yet.
- Developmental factors: Dysgraphia often emerges during childhood when children are learning to write. Developmental factors, such as delays in fine motor skills, visual-motor integration, or hand-eye coordination, may play a role in the development of Dysgraphia.
- Language processing difficulties: Dysgraphia is sometimes associated with underlying language processing difficulties, such as difficulties with phonological awareness (the ability to recognise and manipulate sounds in words) or orthographic processing (the ability to recognise and remember written words).
- Environmental factors: Certain environmental factors may contribute to Dysgraphia, although more research is needed to understand their specific impact. Factors such as early childhood experiences, exposure to toxins, or insufficient opportunities for fine motor skill development could potentially influence the development of Dysgraphia.
It's important to note that Dysgraphia is not caused by lasiness or lack of effort. It is a specific learning disorder that affects a person's ability to write, despite having average or above-average intelligence.
Symptoms of Dysgraphia
Symptoms of Dysgraphia can vary from person to person, but some common signs include:
- Illegible or messy handwriting: People with Dysgraphia may have difficulty producing legible and consistent handwriting. Their writing may be messy, poorly spaced, or irregular.
- Spelling difficulties: Individuals with Dysgraphia may struggle with spelling, frequently making spelling errors or having difficulty recalling how to spell words correctly.
- Slow or laboured writing: Writing can be a time-consuming task for individuals with Dysgraphia due to the effort required to form letters and write words. They may write slowly and find it challenging to keep up with classroom note-taking or timed assignments.
- Inconsistent letter formation: People with Dysgraphia may have trouble forming letters consistently. This can result in variations in letter size, shape, and slant within a single piece of writing.
- Difficulty organising thoughts on paper: Expressing thoughts coherently and organising them in writing can be challenging for individuals with Dysgraphia. They may have trouble structuring sentences, paragraphs, or essays.
- Poor spatial awareness and line placement: Dysgraphia can affect a person's ability to judge spatial relationships accurately, leading to uneven spacing between words or letters and difficulty aligning text on lines.
Tips on Differentiating Curriculum for Students with Dysgraphia
Although Dysgraphia cannot be cured, various strategies and accommodations can help individuals manage their difficulties. Below are some ideas.
Provide Assistive Technology
1. Word Prediction Software: Word prediction software aids in typing by suggesting words based on the first few letters that are entered. This technology can significantly reduce the number of keystrokes a student must make, which can be extremely beneficial for those who struggle with the physical act of typing or spelling. Additionally, word prediction software often includes a read-aloud feature, so students can hear the suggested words before they select them, supporting auditory learning and ensuring correct word choice.
2. Keyboarding Programs: Keyboarding programs help students learn touch typing (typing without looking at the keys), which can greatly enhance writing speed and efficiency. By learning to type fluently, students with Dysgraphia can focus more on the content of their writing, rather than the physical process of writing or typing.
3. Spell-Checkers and Grammar Checkers: Advanced spell-checkers and grammar checkers, like those found in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Grammarly, are invaluable tools for students with Dysgraphia. These tools automatically highlight spelling and grammatical errors, and suggest corrections, allowing students to self-correct their work.
Provide Modified Writing Assignments
Supporting students with Dysgraphia often involves modifying traditional writing assignments to accommodate their unique needs. Here are a few strategies that can make writing tasks more accessible and less stressful for these students:
1. Typing Assignments: Allowing students to type their assignments instead of handwriting them can alleviate some of the struggles associated with Dysgraphia. Typing can remove the challenges related to the fine motor skills required for handwriting. Students may find it easier to organize their thoughts and edit their work on a word processor, and spell-checking software can assist with spelling difficulties. Keyboarding lessons can also support students who are not yet comfortable or efficient typists.
2. Using a Scribe: A scribe is someone who writes or types for the student. The student dictates their responses, and the scribe transcribes their words verbatim. This can be an effective accommodation for students with significant handwriting difficulties. Scribes can be fellow students, teachers, or even parents. This strategy allows the student to focus on the content and organization of their ideas without the added stress of writing or typing.
3. Recording Responses: With the ubiquity of smartphones and other mobile devices, students can easily record their responses to assignments using a voice recorder or video recording app. This allows them to express their thoughts verbally, which can be a more natural and comfortable mode of communication for students with Dysgraphia. The student can then listen to their recording and transcribe it, or submit it as an audio or video response, depending on the assignment requirements.
It's important to remember that the goal of these modifications is to allow students to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge without the barrier of their writing difficulties. When introducing these modifications, it is crucial to explain to the student why they are being offered and how they can benefit their learning. Open communication about these strategies can empower the student and increase their engagement and confidence.
With the right modifications and support, students with Dysgraphia can overcome the obstacles posed by traditional writing assignments and succeed academically.
Provide Pre-writing Strategies
Students with Dysgraphia can greatly benefit from pre-writing strategies, which can help to organise their thoughts, plan their writing, and reduce the cognitive load when they begin the actual writing process. Here are three key pre-writing strategies:
1. Mind Maps: Mind maps are a visual way to organise thoughts and ideas. Students start by writing the main idea in the centre of the paper and then branch out with related ideas, creating a visual 'map' of their thoughts. This can be especially helpful for students with Dysgraphia as it does not require much writing and the spatial arrangement can help make connections between ideas clearer.
2. Verbal Brainstorming: This technique involves students speaking their thoughts aloud before they write. They can brainstorm ideas with a partner, a small group, or even record themselves talking through their ideas. Verbal brainstorming allows students to generate and organise their thoughts without the pressure of writing. They can then listen to their brainstorming session again when they are ready to write, which can help trigger their memory and provide a structure for their writing.
3. Graphic Organisers: Graphic organisers, like flow charts, Venn diagrams, or sequence charts, can provide a visual structure for organising ideas. For example, a student might use a sequence chart to plan the events in a narrative or a Venn diagram to compare and contrast two topics. Graphic organisers can help students visually structure their writing and make it easier to see how ideas relate to one another.
Using these pre-writing strategies can help students with Dysgraphia break the writing process down into manageable steps. These techniques allow them to focus on one aspect of writing at a time – first generating ideas, then organising them, and finally writing them down. This can make writing tasks feel less overwhelming and support students in producing more structured, coherent writing.
It's important for educators to introduce and model these strategies, providing guided practice until students feel comfortable using them independently. With these supportive strategies in place, students with Dysgraphia can become more confident and successful writers.
Provide Spelling Support
Spelling can be a significant challenge for students with Dysgraphia, and providing appropriate support can make a huge difference in their writing. Here are some strategies that can be particularly effective:
1. Dictionaries: Traditional or electronic dictionaries can be useful tools for students who struggle with spelling. Teaching students how to use a dictionary effectively can empower them to correct their own spelling errors. For younger students or those who find dictionaries overwhelming, consider using a children's dictionary or a dictionary app with a search function that can predict words as the student begins to type them.
2. Word Banks: Word banks are lists of words that a student frequently uses or finds difficult to spell. These lists can be individualised and created together with the student, based on their specific needs. Word banks can be kept in a notebook or on a computer, and the student can refer to them when writing. Over time, referring to the word bank can help the student learn to spell challenging words correctly.
3. Spelling Software: There are many spelling software programs and apps available that can support students with Dysgraphia. These can range from spell-checking tools to games and activities designed to teach spelling rules and patterns. Programs like SpellingCity or Ghotit Real Writer offer targeted spelling practice in an engaging format.
4. Modified Writing Assignments: When grading writing assignments, consider focusing on the content of the student's writing rather than spelling accuracy. You can also limit the number of spelling corrections you make to prevent the student from feeling overwhelmed. For younger students or those who are significantly struggling with spelling, consider allowing them to use inventive spelling (spelling words as they sound) in their first drafts, and then work on correcting the spelling together during the editing process.
Providing spelling support to students with Dysgraphia is not about achieving perfect spelling, but rather about equipping them with strategies to help them become more confident and independent writers. It's important to offer positive feedback and encouragement, focusing on their efforts and improvements rather than their mistakes. With the right support, students with Dysgraphia can make significant progress in their spelling skills.
Providing Explicit Writing Instructions
Providing explicit instruction to students with Dysgraphia is key to helping them navigate their learning process. By breaking down complex tasks into manageable parts, educators can support these students effectively. Here are three areas where explicit instruction can make a significant impact:
1. Planning: Teaching students how to plan their writing is a crucial first step. This can involve brainstorming ideas, organising thoughts using a graphic organiser, and deciding on the main idea and supporting details. Instructors can model these steps, work collaboratively with students to plan a piece of writing, and gradually release responsibility to the student as their skills improve. Planning reduces the cognitive load when writing and provides a roadmap for students to follow.
2. Drafting: Once students have a plan, the next step is to draft their writing. Teachers should provide explicit instruction on how to turn their plan into sentences and paragraphs. This might include lessons on sentence structure, paragraph organisation, or the use of transition words. As with planning, the process should initially be modelled by the teacher, then gradually handed over to the student as they become more confident.
3. Editing: The final step in the writing process is editing, which involves reviewing and refining the draft. Teach students to look for common errors in their writing, such as spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, or awkward phrasing. Also, teach them to check that their writing makes sense and stays on topic. To begin, it can be helpful to edit a piece of writing together as a class or in small groups, discussing the changes made and why they improve the writing. Eventually, students can be guided to edit their own work independently.
By breaking down the writing process into these three distinct steps and providing explicit instruction at each stage, teachers can make writing more accessible and manageable for students with Dysgraphia. Importantly, providing students with consistent feedback and opportunities for revision throughout this process can greatly enhance their writing skills and build their confidence as writers.
Providing Visual Supports
Visual supports can be extremely helpful for students with Dysgraphia, as they provide clear and accessible reminders that can support understanding and memory. Here are three types of visual supports that can be particularly effective:
1. Anchor Charts: Anchor charts are visual representations of strategies, processes, routines, and guidelines that students can refer to during class or while working independently. For students with Dysgraphia, anchor charts could include strategies for planning, drafting, and editing writing; examples of good writing; or reminders about grammar rules. These charts should be displayed in a prominent place in the classroom and referred to often to reinforce learning.
2. Visual Aids: Visual aids, such as diagrams, timelines, or flowcharts, can help students organise their thoughts before writing and can serve as a reference during the writing process. For example, a graphic organiser could help a student plan a narrative or an essay, while a diagram of a sentence could support a student in understanding sentence structure. Incorporating visual aids into instruction can also help students with Dysgraphia better understand and retain new information.
3. Visual Cues: Visual cues are symbols or images that remind students of rules, procedures, or strategies. These could be sticky notes on a student's desk reminding them to check their spelling, an image of a hand on their notebook reminding them to space their words, or a poster in the classroom illustrating the steps in the writing process. Visual cues can act as prompts for students with Dysgraphia, supporting them in becoming more independent and successful writers.
Visual supports can make abstract concepts more concrete and accessible for students with Dysgraphia, helping them understand and remember what they have learned. By incorporating these supports into instruction and daily routines, educators can create a supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students.
Providing Alternative Assessments
Traditional written assessments can often be a source of frustration and anxiety for students with Dysgraphia. However, alternative assessments can allow these students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in more accessible ways. Here are three types of alternative assessments that can be particularly effective:
1. Presentations: Oral presentations allow students to express their understanding of a topic verbally, which can be especially beneficial for students who struggle with writing. Students can prepare and present a report, explain a concept, or engage in a debate or discussion. While they may need to make notes or a brief outline, the majority of their grade is based on their verbal explanation, rather than their written work.
2. Projects: Projects offer a hands-on, practical way for students to demonstrate their learning. This could include creating a model, designing an experiment, developing a portfolio, or conducting an investigation. Projects allow for creativity and individuality, and the end product can often be created using a mix of written work, diagrams, drawings, or physical models.
3. Multimedia Presentations: With the advancement of technology, multimedia presentations have become an increasingly popular form of assessment. Students can create slideshows, videos, podcasts, or websites to demonstrate their understanding of a topic. These types of presentations often require minimal writing and allow students to combine text, images, audio, and video in creative ways.
Alternative assessments can provide students with Dysgraphia the opportunity to showcase their abilities and knowledge without the stress and difficulty of extensive written tasks. These assessment methods promote diversity and inclusivity in the classroom, recognising and appreciating different strengths and ways of learning. Remember, the ultimate goal of assessment is to understand what a student knows and can do, so it's important to offer a variety of ways for students to show their learning.
The complexity and multi-faceted nature of writing can often be overwhelming for students with Dysgraphia. Breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps can make the writing process significantly more accessible and less stressful. Here's how educators can facilitate this:
1. Clear Instructions: It's essential that instructions given to students with Dysgraphia are explicit and easy to understand. When assigning a writing task, be specific about what is expected. Instead of saying, "Write a story," you might say, "Write a story that includes a beginning, middle, and end, and features at least two characters." It may also be helpful to provide written instructions that students can refer back to as needed.
2. Task Decomposition: To make writing tasks more manageable, break them down into individual steps. For example, if the assignment is to write an essay, the steps might include: brainstorming ideas, creating an outline, drafting an introduction, writing body paragraphs, drafting a conclusion, and finally, revising and editing. By breaking down the task in this way, students can concentrate on one step at a time, which can make the overall task feel less daunting.
3. Guided Writing Process: Teachers should guide students through each step of the writing process, modelling the steps and providing examples where necessary. Start with brainstorming sessions and discuss how ideas can be organised. Then, guide them through the process of drafting, revising, and editing their work. This guidance can make each step of the process clearer and more manageable for students.
4. Consistent Feedback: Regular, constructive feedback is a crucial part of this process. Feedback should be given throughout the writing process, not just at the end. This helps students understand where they are doing well and where they might need to focus more effort.
5. Encourage Patience and Persistence: Remind students that good writing often involves multiple drafts and revisions. Encourage them to be patient with themselves and to persist even when the task seems challenging.
By providing clear instructions and breaking down tasks into smaller steps, educators can support students with Dysgraphia in handling writing tasks more confidently and effectively. This approach allows them to focus on one aspect of writing at a time, reducing overwhelm and supporting continuous learning and improvement.
Provide Support to Develop Fine Motor Skills
Developing fine motor skills can be particularly beneficial for students with Dysgraphia, as these skills are directly related to handwriting. Incorporating fine motor skills activities into daily routines can help students improve their control, coordination, and strength. Here are some effective strategies:
1. Finger Exercises: Simple finger and hand exercises can help students build strength and dexterity. These exercises might include activities like pinching and releasing play dough, finger tapping games, or exercises using finger resistance bands. Even simple actions like crumpling paper into a ball using one hand can be beneficial.
2. Manipulatives: Manipulatives are physical objects that students can handle and manipulate, which can help improve fine motor skills. Examples include building blocks, puzzle pieces, bead threading, or sculpting clay. Even activities like cutting with scissors or gluing small items onto paper can help develop these skills.
3. Practicing Handwriting: Regular handwriting practice can help students with Dysgraphia improve their letter formation and writing speed. Start with large, simple shapes and gradually progress to individual letters and then words. Tracing over letters or writing in sand or shaving cream can make this practice more engaging. It's also important to ensure students are using the correct pencil grip and posture, as these can significantly impact handwriting.
4. Use of Technology: Tools such as pencil grips or specially designed writing implements can make writing easier and more comfortable, thus encouraging more frequent practice. Typing on a keyboard or a touch screen can also help develop fine motor skills and can be a valuable alternative to handwriting for some students.
Supporting students with Dysgraphia in developing their fine motor skills can help improve their handwriting, and it can also boost their confidence and independence. These activities should be varied and engaging to maintain student interest and should be integrated consistently into students' routines for the greatest impact.
Provide Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement and encouragement play a crucial role in boosting the confidence and motivation of students with Dysgraphia. Recognising effort, progress, and strengths can create a more inclusive and supportive learning environment. Here's how educators can put these principles into action:
1. Recognise Effort and Progress: Focus on the efforts made by students, not just the end results. By acknowledging the hard work they put into their writing tasks, you validate their efforts and encourage continued growth. Celebrate improvements, even if they're small. For instance, if a student is putting in consistent effort to improve their handwriting, this should be acknowledged and praised, regardless of the current state of their handwriting.
2. Celebrate Strengths: Each student brings unique strengths to the classroom. For a student with Dysgraphia, these strengths might be in areas like oral communication, creative thinking, or problem-solving. Highlight and celebrate these strengths regularly, reminding students that writing is just one part of their academic journey.
3. Positive Feedback: Ensure feedback is positive and constructive, focusing on what the student is doing well alongside areas for improvement. Try using a "praise sandwich" - start with a positive comment, then suggest an area for improvement, and end with another positive comment. This can help make constructive criticism more digestible.
4. Foster a Growth Mindset: Encourage students to adopt a growth mindset, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. Use language that promotes persistence and resilience, such as "You're not there yet, but you're making progress."
5. Individual Successes: Recognize individual achievements and milestones. This could be as simple as noting a student's improved control over their pencil or their increased ability to express thoughts on paper. Celebrating individual successes can greatly enhance students' self-esteem and motivation.
By providing positive reinforcement and encouragement, educators can help students with Dysgraphia feel more confident, motivated, and valued. Remember, all progress, no matter how small, is worth celebrating.
Embrace Differentiation to Empower Students with Dysgraphia
As we reflect on the broad range of strategies discussed throughout this factsheet, it's important to remember the central message: differentiation isn't about simplifying or making tasks easier for students, it's about making learning achievable and meaningful for each student.
For students with Dysgraphia, writing can often present a considerable challenge. However, through the use of assistive technologies like word prediction and keyboarding programs, we can level the playing field, allowing these students to express their thoughts more effectively. By modifying assignments and assessments, we provide alternative avenues for these students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding.
Every one of the strategies discussed in this factheet acknowledges the unique abilities and challenges of students with Dysgraphia, enabling them to better engage with their education. By implementing these adaptations, we're not reducing the complexity of tasks or lowering our expectations, but rather, we're making the learning process more accessible and achievable. We're acknowledging the diverse needs of our students and adapting our approach to meet them where they are.
Ultimately, the aim of differentiation is to unlock the potential of every student, making education a journey of discovery and growth that every individual can embark on, regardless of their specific learning challenges. By embracing differentiation, we empower students with Dysgraphia, affirming that while their journey may look different, their capacity for learning and achievement knows no bounds.
If you are supporting an individual with this diagnosis, please refer to our services and resources. They aim to help children, adolescents and adults achieve better communication, social, emotional, behavioural and learning outcomes. So whether you are wanting guidance on parenting, teaching, supporting or providing therapy, Behaviour Help is at hand.
Note: This is not an exhaustive list of all the possible causes, symptoms and types but some general information that can be further explored. Based on what you have read if you have any concerns about an individual, please raise them with the individual/s. The caregiver can then raise these concerns with their local doctor who can provide a
referral to the relevant professional (e.g. pediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist, allied health professional and learning specialists) for diagnosis and treatment if appropriate.