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Writing Legibly: Interventions for Dysgraphia

written by: Stephanie Torreno • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 1/6/2012

Dysgraphia is a neurological condition that affects handwriting, spelling, and putting thoughts on paper. Strategies for dealing with dysgraphia include remediation, modifications, and accommodations to improve writing skills and ease difficulties in the classroom.

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    Though dysgraphia is a neurological disorder, it is commonly known as a handwriting disability. It can occur with other learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, attention deficit disorder, or occur by itself.

    Effects of this condition include illegible handwriting, inconsistent spaces between letters and words, writing inconsistent with lines and margins, and unfinished or missing letters or words. Students with dysgraphia usually hold pens or pencils very close to paper, or hold their thumb over two fingers and write from their wrist. These students can exhibit strange wrist, body, or paper positions, and talk to themselves while writing or concentrate on the hand that is writing.

    The written work of a student with dysgraphia often does not reflect the individual’s other language skills or academic abilities. Remediation, accommodations, and modifications are needed to help better express the student's thoughts and knowledge in writing.

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    Remediation, Modifications & Accomodations

    Remediation provides instruction and assistance in improving handwriting. Children with dysgraphia need to strengthen hand muscles and improve motor control by playing with clay, keeping within lines on mazes, connecting dots or dashes to create complete letters, and tracing letters with an index finger or a pencil eraser.

    To improve motor memory, have students practice forming letters and numbers in the air with big arm movements. Then, have them form letters and numbers with smaller hand or finger motions. Students should also experiment with pencil grips, shorter pencils, and other pencils and pens to find what feels best for them.

    While remediation should be ongoing since good handwriting takes time and practice, strategies for dealing with dysgraphia include modifications, or changes in assignments to avoid writing. Assignments can be modified in the following ways without changing the academic task:

    • Reduce copying of assignments and tests. Choose the questions that the student should answer in complete sentences, then allow the others to be answered in phrases or words. When students are copying definitions, let the student shorten them or give him the definitions and have him highlight or underline important words or phrases.
    • Give shorter written assignments.
    • Grade assignments on individual elements of the writing process. On one assignment, make spelling count, then make grammar count on the next. On long-term assignments, help the student plan by providing intermittent due dates and working with him as a deadline approaches.
    • Give the student an alternative to a written assignment. Assign an oral report or visual project and specify what the student should include.

    Accommodations offer alternatives to written assignments. These include:

    • Providing additional time for note-taking, copying, and tests.
    • Starting projects or assignments early.
    • Providing the student with an outline so he can fill in details under major headings instead of taking notes.
    • Dictating some assignments or tests using a scribe.
    • Allowing abbreviations in some writing.
    • Not counting spelling on rough drafts.
    • Using a spell checker or having another student proofread his work.
    • Allowing the student to print or write in cursive, whichever is most legible.
    • Encouraging younger students to use paper with raised lines.
    • Allowing older students to use a different line width.
    • Allow students to use different color paper, pens, or pencils.
    • Allowing the student to use graph paper for math to help with lining up columns of numbers.
    • Allowing the student to use a word processor and speech recognition software, if necessary and appropriate.

    Students should continue to work on improving their handwriting as it is an important skill and necessary in daily life. Meanwhile, strategies for dealing with dysgraphia, such as these modifications and accommodations, help facilitate learning and ease difficulties inside and outside the classroom.

    Source: Jones, S. (1999). Dysgraphia Accommodations and Modifications.