The diagnosis of dysgraphia is so vague that I almost hesitate to write about it. The reason I am dipping a toe into these messy waters? Almost every psychologist that gives a child this diagnosis recommends abandoning handwriting in favor of tablets and speech recognition programs. I feel strongly that this does young children a huge disservice. They will still need to write to survive at school and in life. There are ways to help them accomplish this without sending the message that writing is hopeless.
When I meet dysgraphic children that clearly have difficulties with the control and placement aspects of handwriting, I know two things: they are likely to need instruction in posture/paper positioning, and they probably did not have handwriting instruction in a developmental order. Control (lines that don’t connect, overshoot, get re-written, etc.) can be fixed with some of Handwriting Without Tears’ best materials, including the magic of gray block paper.
Older kids, those in second or third grade, sometimes balk at being asked to write capital letters in those little boxes. They don’t realize that the box borders and the uniformity they provide will automatically help them grade their control and build uniform sizing. Really.
Adding some work on learning the correct start/stop sequence with frequently used letters such as “e”, “a”, and “t” can make a big difference right away. The number of children that have no idea that an “a” isn’t made with a circle and a short line is almost unreal. Give them directions that don’t confuse them, use double-lined paper, and see progress occur. Not a cure, but it can make a paragraph legible for the first time in years.
Many kids with dysgraphia also have issues with postural control, body awareness, and dyspraxia. They do not sit in a position that gives them optimal pencil and paper control. And they have never been taught that it matters. Their teachers may not know the importance of posture/placement, or they assume that these children should have learned about it in preschool or kindergarten. Not. Being direct about the how and the why, and firm about not writing until they are physically ready to write can make a huge difference with dysgraphic kids.
A word about mastery. A diagnosis of dysgraphia tells me that a child has been struggling with writing for a while. When a dysgraphic child makes progress, they need to experience it fully and take joy in it. Their peers felt this in preschool and kindergarten. Give them the same chance.
Being successful hasn’t been emphasized enough in OT. Mastery is a wonderful feeling, and sometimes we move kids to the next level before they have fully received the blessings of mastery. Even if activities move forward, always keep a mastery task on board. Start the session with it, use it on an “off day”, when a child really needs the chance to feel good, or end a session on a high note. I never let the opportunity for a mastery moment slip by. Ever!