Friday, June 21, 2013

Dysgraphia

Back in January, I sent this email out to a select few of my homeschool friends regarding my oldest son:


I have a question and decided to ask you few ladies.
My son has struggled for years with penmanship. He writes very neatly and very well in his handwriting book.
If he writes on his own, on a blank sheet of paper, he just can't do it.  If he writes anything, it's a mess. He can't express his thoughts on paper because he struggles so much to remember how to physically form each letter. 
I've tried keeping a penmanship alphabet in front of him, but he will look up for almost every letter.   
I've been putting off dealing with this for the past two years. I have said, "He'll snap out of it." "One day it'll all click for him."  But he's close to 10 years old now and he's feeling "stupid" (his own words) because he "can't write."
Today, I sat him down to try to find out the problem and he said he simply can't remember how to form the letters. (He later told me when he tries to write on blank paper, he feels like he's choking.)
He's smart. He does well in math and is currently working a grade above his "official" grade level. He does math on Teaching Textbooks and loathes having to write out any math problems. He would rather sit there 5 times as long and do it in his head than write it down.  (He does get the problems correct; even multiplying 2- and 3-digit numbers.)
He loves history; he reads and comprehends well. He prefers (and seems better at) cursive over printing. (We use Handwriting Without Tears.)
These things make me feel like it's something related to how his brain is processing writing. Should I have him tested? Do places like Kumon and Sylvan deal with this type of issue?
In the meantime, he's loving typing and is very motivated to become proficient so he will never have to write.
Since he's mid "4th grade" I can't put off making him write. He has more and more writing coming down the pipe and I can't write for him forever. (I have been.  I'll dictate his verbal answers, copy down math problems so he can work them, etc. Now I'm admitting we need some help!)
Any ideas? If not, prayers are cherished!! He is far from dumb and I don't like him feeling that way. 


I have beautiful friends who offered ideas and encouragement.  The Internet has been another source of invaluable information.  Months after sending this email, I found a "diagnosis" for dysgraphia. My son fits many of them, specifically "dyslexic dysgraphia:"

- neat handwriting when copying from an example, but illegible handwriting otherwise
- prefers cursive over printing
- holds pencil too tight and presses down too hard, adding to fatigue
- does not remember how to form the letters
- abnormal spacing of letters

There were a few "symptoms" that he didn't fit, but everything I read said no child fits the exact mold.  My son reads and comprehends well.  He also spells well, which isn't always the case for people with dysgraphia.  He recently memorized pi up to about 15 places, so memorization isn't a problem when he's motivated.

A quick email sent to our Austin homeschool community let me know that Scottish Rite Hospital does assessments and therapies for kids with Dysgraphia.  I don't know all of the details yet, but am hopeful that they will be able to provide some professional advice.

In the meantime, I've scoured every corner of the internet and have learned:
- Lots of people struggle with dysgraphia, one form of which is dyslexia.
(One day, when my son was feeling "stupid," we googled and found this!)
- Typing is not cheating! He already loves to type and prefers to type.  I've always been reluctant to do this, feeling like it was giving him an "easy way out."  I now know better.  If he were in public school and officially diagnosed with dysgraphia, he would get a laptop as his accommodation.  A homeschool mom even suggested letting him use our label maker to print and stick answers on worksheets. How brilliant!
- Graph paper is a must for math.  He won't be able to work problems in his head forever.  I will not allow him to use a calculator.  I'm so glad we have Teaching Textbooks!  That program, along with having him use graph paper, will help him continue to flourish in math.
- We will pick his preferred writing method (cursive) and only worry about neatness when he does handwriting practice.  He does need to master writing to a certain point, but there is no need in making him learn two systems.

As his mom and teacher, there is a lot of freedom in knowing that it's okay.  It's okay for him to type. It's okay that I act as his scribe sometimes.  Over the past two years, I've struggled with feeling like it's my fault that he was struggling.  Did I teach him wrong?  Did I push him enough?  Too much?  Where did I fail?  Learning about dysgraphia was given me a feeling of relief for both my son and myself.  We have a game plan.  We know the root of his writing struggles.  We have hope!

6 comments:

  1. From what I've seen around disability services offices (at the college level at least), having a scribe and/or doing oral exams are also accepted accommodations in certain circumstances. Possibly not the best thing for writing essays, but so many exams are fill-in-the-blank or short answer style questions. All you need to do then is prove that you know the information, not than you know the info AND can write it down neatly.

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  2. If he ends up with a dysgraphia diagnosis, I know ACC offers special services for test taking, etc.
    If it's not a diagnosis and instead, a developmental delay, I'd offer this that I wrote:
    Boys & Writing: Our Journey.
    http://suepatterson.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/boys-writing-our-journey/

    Please don't beat yourself up over it. You're finding out more and exploring your options now.
    So glad you shared your link on the AAH list. I'll be reading along! :)

    Hugs!

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  3. Sue, your article brought me to tears!! Thank you SO much for linking to your blog entry. It's a blessing to find someone who has already walked the path! And kudos to both you and your son. His story gives lots of hope to a mom like me. :)

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  4. Thanks for this update! I've been meaning to ask if you found some answers, and I'm excited for you and TJ!

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  5. introduced me to tears!! Thank you SO much for connecting to your website access. It's a advantage to discover someone who has already stepped the path! And cheers to both you and your son. His tale gives plenty of want to a mom like me. :)
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  6. Please look up diannecraft.org. I heard her speak at a homeschool conference and she is amazing. She speaks of dyslexia and dysgraphia and she has a simple system for helping children overcome it along with nutritional supplements. I have spent thousands trying to help some of my children who have learning disabilities only to find her tools and they are incredibly inexpensive. She even gives you the tools you can use for free if you hear her speak at a homeschool convention. Using her writing system each day my 7 year old is conquering her dysgraphia. It is amazing! I don't get any compensation for writing any of this and don't know her personally. I am just amazed at how much her system has helped my child. In the meantime, keep the typing going. Typing has made a huge difference in my 12 year old child's life who hates to write. Good luck!

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