8 Strategies to Homeschool A Child with Dysgraphia
Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects a person’s handwriting. The hallmarks of dysgraphia include the inability to properly space letters, not recognizing the difference between lower and upper case letters, gripping the pencil so hard that the person creates holes in the paper, having trouble expressing thoughts in writing, and actual pain when writing.
While I am not a doctor or an occupational therapist, I am the mother of three children who live with dysgraphia. When my oldest child was diagnosed at the age of 8 we decided to take matters into our own hands, to help her develop the skills necessary to survive in spite of the condition. In the 12 years since her diagnosis she has worked hard and has managed to overcome the hurdles caused by dysgraphia. I am now teaching two more children with dsygraphia and using the same techniques.
Whether your child has been officially diagnosed or you just suspect dysgraphia, there are many things you can do at home to improve your child’s writing and help alleviate their pain.
Homeschooling Your Child with Dysgraphia
1. Change the paper. Something in the brain of the person with dysgraphia causes them to not be able to understand the spacing between letters, words, and sentences. To help your child visualize the space, and to minimize frustration, switch your child’s lined paper out for graph paper or turn the lined paper sideways, with each letter getting its own block/space and leaving an empty block/space between words.
2. Change the writing instrument. Dysgraphia affects fine motor control and gripping a pencil lightly isn’t natural. Encourage your child to write as if they were holding a feather, or take it a step further and give them a quill and ink. Feathers are delicate and children tend to handle them much more gently than they do a solid object like a pencil. If a quill isn’t possible try taking the plastic casing off an ink pen (this can get messy!) Chalk is another great idea, it’ll crumble if they press too hard.
When it comes to writing surfaces, go BIG! The bigger, the better! You can use an easel or a large white board, but we use sliding glass doors as they are huge and the glass surface naturally encourages my children to write much softer than they do on other surfaces, and it’s easily washed.
3. Teach your child to type. Typing and basic word processing skills are important for almost everyone, but they are a must for the person with dysgraphia. My daughter wouldcry because her thoughts were stuck in her head, once we allowed her free access to a word processing program she blossomed, her entire demeanor changed for the better.
My child taught herself to type in her own style but we took her to a local computer store for lessons on how to use our word processing software. This isn’t to say you should give up handwriting altogether, but typing allows your child to express themselves more easily and increases their chance of finding (and keeping) a job.
4. Gross motor skill exercises to strengthen the arm and hand. Some ideas are to have your child “write” letters in the air using their entire arm, or have them form letters in sand or shaving foam. Sports like baseball and tennis can strengthen your child’s writing arm, even just throwing a ball around will help.
5. Fine motor control exercises to strengthen the fingers and wrist. Puzzles, jewelry making, and beadwork crafts are excellent choices for fine motor control exercises. Squeezing a tennis ball and cutting paper are great exercises, too.
6. Skip straight to cursive. People with dysgraphia often say “draw my letters” instead of “write my letters”, and many are capable of drawing without the same issues they face when writing. Many children with dysgraphia are able to learn cursive writing with much less problem than printing. Cursive flows more naturally and spacing isn’t quite as much of an issue, and it’s just processed better by some brains.
7. Develop narration skills. Dysgraphia causes some people to experience a block between thinking something and writing it. Narration is an excellent tool for helping your child record their thoughts, so when it’s time to write them down they have a handy list.
Your child can start by dictating to you and transition to using an audio recorder or text-to-speech program.
Tools we suggest:
Dragon Naturally Speaking
8. Work together to change your writing goals. I’ve always loved writing and I’ve always preferred paper and pen over the computer because it’s more convenient. Imagine my surprise when my child, who is so much like me in so many ways, spent day after day sitting in front of a piece of paper crying.
Over the years our goals have changed; whereas we once had the goal of writing research paper rough drafts by hand, we now have the goal of being able to write short, informative notes while concentrating on typing and oratory skills.
BONUS TIP: Go for journals!
Skip the blank pages and go for journals! Kids who are reluctant to write often respond very well to writing prompts. Some of our favorites only require a few words to be written per prompt, making them perfect for gentle instruction.
Dysgraphia is a brain condition. Your child can learn how to reprogram their brain but it takes time and effort! Your child may become discouraged after a few months with only slight improvement. Remind them that this will take time and that progress is often slow with dysgraphia, but it will come with time and physical maturity.
Dysgraphia doesn’t have to hold your child back. With some minor accommodation & hard work your child can develop strategies to overcome and beat dysgraphia!
Meg Grooms is a long-time homeschooling mother of 6 children, ranging in age from preschool to married with kids of their own. Always a vagabond at heart, Meg and her family have embraced a slow travel lifestyle and currently call Southern California home. Your guess is as good as hers as to where they’ll end up next.
Meg blogs about secular homeschooling and gameschooling at Homeschool Gameschool.