I’ve been writing about childhood apraxia of speech a lot on this blog over the last month, and I’ve received some great responses from parents of children struggling with this difficult motor-speech disorder. But many “apraxia kids” deal with more than apraxia. Often there are other issues that accompany it. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to talk about some of these other challenges, starting with one that Anna has struggled with since she entered school …
We weren’t sure what to expect when we met Anna’s first grade teacher for our one and only scheduled parent-teacher conference last year. We had heard little beyond biweekly emails up to that point. Anna brought home regular reading homework, and was one of the best readers in her class, but we had no idea how she was doing in other subjects, particularly handwriting, which she had always struggled with.
Her teacher showed us a variety of schoolwork Anna had completed, commenting on her progress, and then she handed us Anna’s journal.
“This is some of Anna’s writing.”
Page after page of loops, scribbles, and swirls. A cipher without a key. All at once it was four years ago—Anna pleading to be understood, and us unable to understand.
Then in speech and now on paper. The scribbles and swirls were the consonants that all sounded alike, the loops were the vowels that flattened into an indistinct “uh.” The lines on the page were like unraveling spools of barbed wire, blocking us from our daughter’s words.
And after four years of struggling to be heard, she had to start all over again. We added occupational therapy to her IEP, and a young girl who’d faced so many obstacles now had one more to overcome.
So much weight on such small shoulders. Like so many kids dealing with one or more of the interconnected aspects of dyspraxia.
As her parents, we had questions. Maybe you are asking yourself the same ones.
What is dysgraphia? (From the National Center of Learning Disabilities)
Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. Dysgraphia makes the act of writing difficult. It can lead to problems with spelling, poor handwriting and putting thoughts on paper. People with dysgraphia can have trouble organizing letters, numbers and words on a line or page. This can result partly from:
Visual-spatial difficulties: trouble processing what the eye sees.
Language processing difficulty: trouble processing and making sense of what the ear hears.
What are the warning signs? (From Learning Disabilities Association of America)
- May have illegible printing and cursive writing (despite appropriate time and attention given the task)
- Shows inconsistencies: mixtures of print and cursive, upper and lower case, or irregular sizes, shapes or slant of letters
- Has unfinished words or letters, omitted words
- Inconsistent spacing between words and letters
- Exhibits strange wrist, body or paper position
- Has difficulty pre-visualizing letter formation
- Copying or writing is slow or labored
- Shows poor spatial planning on paper
- Has cramped or unusual grip/may complain of sore hand
- Has great difficulty thinking and writing at the same time (taking notes, creative writing.)
What strategies work best?
- Accommodation: Provide alternatives to written expression (possibilities include laptop computers, classroom note-takers, and alternatives to written assignments and etests).
- Modification: Change expectations or alter tasks to minimize struggle (possibilities include wide-ruled or raised-line paper, greater latitude toward legibility, and letting the child read or describe written work as necessary).
- Remediation: Provide instruction to handwriting skills (IEP should include occupational therapy for handwriting and related small motor skills).
- Perseverance: Advocate for your child and fight if necessary for all of the above.
What do I do now?
- Check out these 10 Helpful Dysgraphia Resources.
- Educate yourself. There’s lots of information online.
- Educate the teachers and therapists at your school. Share your knowledge with everyone.
- Remember how frustrating this is for your child, and try to be patient. But don’t let it become an excuse for bad behavior. Be patient, be strong, and persevere. It may be the hardest thing you ever have to do, but you are child’s dragon-slayer, and no one ever said that slaying dragons was easy.
Does your child struggle with handwriting? Do you worry that something may be wrong? Are you adjusting to a diagnosis of dysgraphia? Tell me your story, and feel free to ask more questions in the comments.