I have been trying to write again about dysgraphia for a while now, but it has been hard. I wanted to come back to it, because my youngest child has it, and it is nothing like what it was like with my oldest. My oldest had the “classic” version I had seen as an OT. Horrible handwriting, weak hand strength, poor fine-motor coordination, and of course bad spelling and spacing. I’ve written a lot about that journey with dysgraphia.
The One-Two Punch
On the other hand, my youngest has beautiful handwriting while doing copy work. Her fine-motor skills and hand strength are amazing and she colors, draws, sews, and crafts for fun. But she still has dysgraphia. And in her case, it is more profound because she also has dyslexia.
Dyslexia and dysgraphia together are a whole world apart from dysgraphia alone. At one point, we had worked on copy work and cursive so much that my youngest could copy entire paragraphs in cursive. It was beautiful to behold. But she couldn’t read a word of it. And that made this activity which I usually believe is an excellent learning activity completely worthless. It doesn’t matter how neatly you can write if you can’t read it back to yourself.
Recognizing It For What It Is
But how do I know it isn’t just dyslexia and is a form of dysgraphia? I understand if you are asking that question now. The honest answer is that we did educational testing on her to learn more about what was going on. But the better answer is that I have learned that there are at least five kinds of dysgraphia.
Like every form of dysgraphia, my child’s brain forgets how some letters are made. Questions like “Which way does the J face again?” come up a lot for those with dysgraphia. Honestly, J might be the most reversed letter in the alphabet overall, but that’s neither here nor there.
My youngest has a form of dysgraphia that affects her ability to hold words, phrases, and sentences in her head and put them on paper. It isn’t just about individual letters, like some forms of dysgraphia. She actually struggles to tell me sentences to write down for her. Put on the spot that we are going to write a story, her mind appears to go blank. This is strange because she can hold a conversation just fine. She has a great vocabulary and understands anything you might discuss with her. But the moment we need to put words on paper, we have a problem.
Forging a New Path
What we are doing now to address her struggles is a combination of things. We have pushed ahead with an Orton-Gillingham reading program that focuses a lot on phonics and is proven to help those with dyslexia learn to read. Because other methods just weren’t working. We have also added an Orton-Gillingham spelling program to our daily work. We are working at a lower level in spelling than reading. This is because I believe she needs to be able to read what she writes to get the benefits of writing anything.
We are also working on dictation more than copy work. Given the chance to do copy work, my child’s brain will skip the reading step and just copy the lines and shapes of the letters, the way you or I might copy a drawing of a stick figure. Instead, I recite short sentences made of words she knows how to spell. Her goal is to remember the sentence and write it down. This is a critical step in learning to write your own thoughts. You need to be able to think of a sentence, hold it in your head, and then write it down. For now, we are skipping the step where she thinks of the sentence, and instead, I think of one for her. Eventually, we will work on her telling me a sentence she wants to write and having me repeat it while she writes it.
Making It Work
If you try this with your own child, I recommend starting with very short easy sentences or phrases. “I fell flat.” or “He has a cat.” Start your child off with only needing to remember a few words they know how to spell and repeat them as many times as they need to hear them. Gradually, work on repeating the phrase fewer times while they are writing. And once they are doing well with that, you can add more words or longer words. Remember to not use words your child has no clue how to spell or read. Words you have gone over in reading and spelling with them will lead to more success.
One of the most important things when working with a child who struggles is to find ways for them to be successful at what they are struggling with. That doesn’t mean you need to make everything easy. But it is okay if some things are easy. It is okay if you go slow and make things more challenging only when your child is actually ready to be challenged.
Is your child struggling with dyslexia and dysgraphia? Let me know in the comments and tell us what has worked for you.
P.S. The method that worked for teaching my dyslexic, and dysgraphic child their letters can be found in my Foundations and Fundamentals program. Hopefully, someday, I will be able to use our experience to write a follow-up program.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.