Premature birth can lead to long-term challenges, such as learning disabilities. Dysgraphia is a learning disability (LD) in the area of writing. It is a processing disorder, not just a problem with penmanship. It could mean your child has trouble holding a pencil or pen, forming letters and numbers, or spelling correctly. It can also mean your child struggles to organize his thoughts in his head and put those thoughts down on paper. Written work may be unclear and unorganized. In short, dysgraphia includes difficulty in all of the aspects of acquiring and expressing written language. Although dysgraphia may affect many preemies, it is also seen in children who are born full term.
Writing involves a complex series of steps. First, a child must learn how to form letters and understand combinations of letters and how they form sounds. Then he must learn how to put them all together in a coherent way using paper and pencil. The paper/pencil part requires eye/hand coordination and a certain amount of muscle strength and dexterity. And then there is another aspect to writing – organizing ideas in his head and being able to transfer his thoughts down on to paper. Whew…that is a lot of stuff going on just to write a few paragraphs on a piece of paper!
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), dysgraphia can be due to visual-spatial processing problems (when the brain has trouble making sense of what the eyes see) or language processing problems (when the brain has trouble making sense of what the ears hear).
Because writing depends so much on interpreting and using language, many children with dysgraphia also have other learning disabilities, such as dyslexia (reading), or other language impairments. Some may have attention problems, too. If your child has more than one challenge, the act of writing can become overwhelming. (And he is surely not going to like doing it.)
What are the warning signs of dysgraphia?
It is important to understand the signs and symptoms of dysgraphia because often children with an LD (or LDs) are mistaken for being lazy or unmotivated. The symptoms of dysgraphia vary widely depending on the age of your child. NCLD provides lists of signs or symptoms by age group, from very young children through adults.
How is dysgraphia treated?
Unfortunately, dysgraphia (like other LDs) is lifelong. But, fortunately, there are different treatments that may help a child overcome obstacles.
- A child may benefit from occupational therapy, as it may help increase hand coordination and muscle strength to improve writing stability.
- A child may also benefit from specialized instruction in school (through special education). Specialized writing programs can help a child with letter formation. Other programs help with topic and paragraph organization (such as graphic organizers).
- There are also ways around the problem – such as learning to type on a computer or using voice activated computer software which types a child’s words. Many children with writing problems find using a laptop or other computer to be the ticket to success for them. (My daughter started learning keyboarding skills in first grade (as part of her IEP), as a result of her dysgraphia. The fluent sentences that emerged from the computer shocked her teacher so much that she thought that I had helped her with her work! We were all amazed at what my daughter was able to do once we shifted all her written work to a computer.)
Where can you find more info?
If you suspect that your child has dysgraphia or any kind of LD, speak with your child’s pediatrician. You can also ask that your child be tested through your local school system. Of course, there are professionals who can test him outside of school, too. Getting a clear diagnosis and help as soon as possible is very important.
NCLD provides a list of helpful writing resources, including a Resource Locator, specific to your location and type of help needed.
With any disability, it takes time to find the right treatments to put in place. Then it takes lots of patience and tons of practice. During this time, your child may not want to have anything to do with drawing or writing. I can understand this, can’t you? I don’t like being forced to do things that are particularly hard for me. But, hopefully, with the right therapy and program, and tons of positive reinforcement, your child will begin to overcome or learn to compensate for his challenges.
The sooner the disability is diagnosed and treatment is targeted and begun, the sooner your child can improve. As with any disability, the earlier it is diagnosed and treated, the happier your child will be.
Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.
Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.