Today, I would like to share the knowledge I gained while studying Neurological Speech Therapy (at a Spanish university) and Speech-Language Pathology (at a Ukrainian university). Dysgraphia was one of my favorite subjects to study. I would like to thank Natalia Cheridnichenko for her awesome lectures and unforgettable practical seminars.
What is dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder. The main characteristics are that writing is distorted and incorrect; it includes difficulties with letter formation, spacing between letters, and spelling. There are problems with fine motor coordination as well as grammar and formulation.
Dysgraphia might occur when existing brain pathways are disrupted, for example, by a traumatic brain injury, neurologic disease, or degenerative conditions.
Dysgraphia might be misdiagnosed or not diagnosed. Teachers or parents often label kids with dysgraphia as “lazy,” “not clever,” or “slow.” If you spot that a child or an adult struggles with writing, reading, or something else as a teacher, you should recommend seeing a speech-language pathologist or therapist. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Only a professional speech-language pathologist or therapist can state the diagnosis of dysgraphia.
Different types of dysgraphia:
The main characteristics are that naturally written text is not clear enough to be read, or it is copied and is reasonably good but with the wrong spelling. The stem of cerebellar damage is probably absent. Although such people have a normal finger-tapping speed. Learners may have dyslexic dysgraphia and not “pure” dyslexia.
Motor dysgraphia may occur due to poor fine motor skills, poor muscle tone, and dexterity (skill in using your hands or, at times, your mind). Read “10 Easy Activities and Exercises to Improve Manual Dexterity” (in English).
Moreover, you may notice vague motor clumsiness. The handwriting may not be clear enough to read, even if someone copied a text from a book.
In addition, learner needs a lot of effort and time to write letters. You can observe that the finger-tapping speed is below the norm.
This type of dysgraphia is associated with the underdevelopment of visual gnosis (knowledge or awareness), analysis and synthesis, spatial representations, and visual memory. This happens when letters in writing that are close together by optical-spatial features are changed or distorted.
Individual letters are not recognizable and do not correlate with certain sounds. As a result, substitution errors occur. Besides, if a student is left-handed, mirror writing is often observed—elements are written from right to left.
You can see that your learner has a problem understanding space in a copybook. S/he doesn’t have the sense of writing a text in one line and shifting lines. Also, you could offer to use lined copybooks. It will help immensely! And in this case, the tapping speed is normal.
Semantic dysgraphia is another type of dysgraphia. The main characteristics are difficulties with joining words to build up complete and comprehensive phrases and sentences, and allocating meaning to written words because of possible left hemisphere lesions.
Another main characteristic is that the learner does not understand the meanings of idioms. For instance, “break a leg” is understood literally — a wish to go and break the leg before an exam, for example.
Learners with phonological dysgraphia have difficulties with accuracy in actual words and non-words. They usually have signs of significant lexical abilities in reading as well as spelling. Such people perform terribly in phonological tests with no orthographic components.
Moreover, they cannot hold phonemes in memory and write them in their proper order to form an utterance. They may change some sounds (e.g., “men” instead of “pen”), the sounds that are close to the sounding, devitalization, and close to articulation. In this case, a learner doesn’t understand what one writes since, for this person, it is totally OK. One of the reasons is that the learner simply pronounces that word or words this way. For example, instead of pronouncing “think” as /θɪŋk/, the word is mispronounced as /dɪŋk/ or /sɪŋk/ thus, it is misspelled.
9 useful exercises:
Furthermore, these exercises are easy to adapt to any language lesson.
Before writing, I highly recommend starting with some Fine Motor Warm-Ups Exercises.
The task is the following:
“Pencil walks” is a simple exercise to perform, and the entire group or class can do them.
Instructions: use your dominant hand. Hold an eraser-end pencil the way you hold it when you write. Use only your thumb, index, and middle fingers. Then, these three fingers “walk” down the shaft of the pencil to the tip and, after that, “walk” back.
Flip the pencil over, then “walk” back up to the eraser end. You can have “walking” races between students or time students to “break records” to motivate them.
Sometimes, I do this exercise with my healthy adult learners, as many of them do not write by hand because they mainly only type. They admit that writing by hand is challenging for them.
“10 Fine Motor Warm-Ups Exercises For Handwriting Tasks” by Amanda Atkinson, MS; OTR/L
In case your learner mixes the letters up (if we talk about the English language), “p,” “b,” “d,” “m,” and “n.” We should develop visual-spatial gnosis.
Write these letters on the sand, on a tray with shaving cream, or with a piece of ice on a palm, for example. Thus, the “silhouette” will be memorized better.
If a learner cannot differentiate the sounds /s/ and /ʃ/, we need to work it out. A child may not correct oneself during speaking.
- Clap your hands when you hear the sound /ʃ/. I name: “street,” “ship,” “cheap”, “tank”, “she”, “shoe”.
- Put a palm close to your mouth. Pronounce /s/. Feel the cold air. Pronounce /ʃ/. Feel the warm air.
In case a learner does not know which sound corresponds to what letter/s. For example, in Spanish, “ll” (e.g., “llave”) is one sound – /ʎ/.
You demonstrate a word and divide it into syllables and sounds. For example, the Spanish word “llave”.
ll – /ʎ/
a – /a/
v – /β/
e – /e/
I assume that a person knows how to divide theoretically into syllables and sounds to some extent so that we don’t have to explain it. However, if the learner does not know it, we teach how to do it.
If a person has some problems with syntax.
- Read a sentence aloud. Before explaining that there are special signs for each word.
- the first word in the sentence or a word, which is written with a capital letter |___
- each word we “write” ___
- we write all the punctuation signs.
- An example: an SLP reading a sentence, “ I love eating pizza, but John likes apples”, must be transcribed as |___ ___ ___ ___, ___ |___ ___ ___.
A teacher asks, “Name the number of a sound /m/ is the word “name.” Correct answer: the sound /m/ is the 4th sound in this word.
Give a short, printed text. Then, ask students to underline the letter “a” (it can be any letter that you want to work on).
Text: Tiffany & Co. was founded in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young, in New York City, as a “stationery and fancy goods emporium”, with the help of Charles Tiffany’s father, who financed the store for only $1,000 with profits from a cotton mill. The store initially sold a wide variety of stationery items and, as of 1837, operated as “Tiffany, Young and Ellis” at 259 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. The name was shortened to Tiffany & Company in 1853, when Charles Tiffany took control and established the firm’s emphasis on jewelry.(taken from Wiki)
Use the same text; delete all “a” letters. Then, ask learners to fill in the gaps with missing letters. Do not tell them which letters are missing.
Write down a list of words your learners already know or are currently learning. Ask your learners to write them down carefully and underline the stressed syllables.
I hope that you found this article helpful and valuable. You are welcome to share it with your colleagues and friends.
Happy to read your comments 🙂
Burns, T. G. (2010). Wechsler Individual Achievement Test-III: What is the ‘Gold Standard’ for Measuring Academic Achievement?. Applied Neuropsychology 17, p. 234.
Cheridnichenko, N.V., Klymenko, I. V., and Tentser, L. V. (2018). Written disorders in children at primary school: diagnosis and treatment. Kyiv: DIA.
PAR/ [n.d.]. Retrieved from https://www.parinc.com/Products/Pkey/76
Q-interactive [n.d.]. Retrieved from http://www.helloq.com.au/wiat-iii