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Dysgraphia

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School support section:

Advice for the classroom
School issues
Books and articles
Programmes, games & software
Useful addresses & websites

Home support section:

What is Dysgraphia?
How will this affect my child?
How can I help?
Where can I find out more?

School support:

What are dysgraphic difficulties?

Dysgraphia is a difficulty with handwriting, fine motor coordination, organisation and presentation of material of written page. There may be an accompanying spelling difficulty and lack of motivation in relation to written expression. Dysgraphia is often linked to dyspraxia and dyslexia – it often appears as the ‘typical dyslexic’ who somehow reads well.

Advice for the classroom:

  • Materials:
    Avoid plain paper – lines and squares will help in organising the page, and double spacing may help improve legibility.

  • Processing:
    Allow extra time, if appropriate, so that special care can be taken with layout and presentation.
    Be aware that writing can be tiring for him/her: try to break writing tasks down into small steps, with frequent breaks.

  • Presentation:
    Encourage redrafting – it is sometimes helpful to use a double page: the left-hand page for first draft, the right-hand page for redrafting.
    At the appropriate point, encourage the development of keyboard skills – word processing with spellcheck is an invaluable lifeskill for all learners, but specially important for dysgraphics.
    Encourage the use of cursive script, as it helps fluency more than print script.
    A sloping board can be useful as a writing surface.
    A writing posture which is too close to the paper can be a pointer to visual binocular instability or convergence difficulties.
    Discuss writing-hand correction – the four S’s: slope, size, space, sitting on the line.

  • Facilitating effective learning:
    Consider use of a dictaphone as a personal organiser/homework diary, or for notemaking.
    Consider use of an electronic personal organiser.
    Consider use of voice recognition technology.

  • Notes and organisation for older pupils:
    Because of organisational and writing difficulties, the pupil will not be able to make effective notes. Please ensure there are notes available from which he or she can revise, either by providing lesson notes or checking that the pupil photocopies those of a peer. Check up that this is happening quite frequently, and insist that the pupil is always able to show you notes that are adequately organised, up-to-date and sufficient for revision purposes.

  • Motivation and self-esteem:
    Reassure the pupil that lots of famous and successful people have similar difficulties.
    Let the pupil know you are aware of his/her difficulty, and that you are sympathetic – but that you have high expectations.
    Be specially generous with praise and cautious with criticism. Praise can be a natural motivator as long as the child feels the praise is genuine and deserved.
    It is important to let the pupil know why he/she is being praised rather than just to provide praise. In a behavioural reward system with extrinsic rewards such as stickers or points, the child can easily see why he/she is being praised. This can be an effective motivator, as long as the rewards are meaningful and appropriate.

School issues:

Ensure that all the pupil's teachers know about the difficulty and understand its implications. Consider requests to examination boards, as appropriate, for:

Scribes;
Use of tape recorder;
Transcription of examination scripts, with or without correction;
Non-penalisation of spelling errors.

Books & articles:

Addy, Lois (2004) Speed Up ! a kinaesthetic programme to develop fluent handwriting (LDA).

Alston, J. (1991) Assessing and Promoting Writing Skills (NASEN).

Alston, J. and Taylor, J. (1992a) Handwriting Helpline (Dextral Books).

Alston, J. and Taylor, J. (1992b) Writing Lefthanded (Dextral Books).

Benari, N. (1999) Early Movement Skills (Winslow).

Blyth, P. (1992) A Physical Approach to Resolving Specific Learning Difficulties (Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology, 4 Stanley Place, Chester).

British Dyslexia Association, the Dyslexia Handbook, produced annually by the BDA, contains many short articles on dyslexia and associated difficulties, details of providers of resources and of British Dyslexia Association branches throughout Britain and Europe.

British Dyslexia Association (2002) Dyslexia-friendly Schools Pack (BDA).

Cooke, J. (1996) Early Sensory Skills (Winslow).

Dyspraxia Trust (1991) Praxis Makes Perfect – an excellent publication which should be beneficial to teachers and parents. It contains nine chapters, all on areas concerning dyspraxia. Dyspraxia is defined as an ‘impairment or immaturity in the organisation of movement which leads to associated problems with language, perception and thought’.
There are chapters on understanding dyspraxia and views from teachers, psychotherapists and occupational therapists. The book contains excellent guidance on dealing with handwriting problems, advice on activities for dyspraxic children and general considerations at school, including social integration in the classroom.

Ellis, Sue, and Friel, Gill (1992) Inspirations for Writing (Scholastic) – provides the teacher with a vast collection of superb ideas to motivate children in joined writing tasks. The consistent relation of tasks to the curriculum context with the book is especially useful. It is well illustrated with chapters including functional, imaginative and collaborative writing. Each chapter has an activities section with indications of the age range most suited to the task. The ranges tend to be from five to nine years, although there are some for children of up to twelve years. The book also includes 30 pages of photocopiable material related to some of the activities.

Goddard, S. (2002) Reflexes, Learning and Behaviour – a window into the child’s mind (Fern Ridge).

Hong, C. S., Gabriel, H. and St John, C. (1996) Sensory Motor Activities for Early Development (Winslow).

McIntyre, Christine (2001) Dyspraxia 5–11: A Practical Guide (David Fulton) – contains many ideas and strategies which can be used in both the home and the school. There are sections on social and emotional development as well as the practical aspects of dealing with the coordination difficulties associated with dyspraxia.

Nicolson, R. I. and Fawcett , A. J. (1999) ‘Developmental Dyslexia: The role of the cerebellum’, Dyslexia: An International Journal of Research and Practice, 5, 155–77.

O’Hare, A. and Khalid, S. (2002) ‘The Association of abnormal cerebellar function in children with developmental coordination disorder and reading difficulties’, in Dyslexia, 8, 4.

Portwood, Madeleine (1999) Developmental Dyspraxia: Identification and Intervention: A Manual for Parents and Professionals (David Fulton).  The first two chapters provide a neurological-oriented background, but without the terminology which usually accompanies such explanations. The chapter on ‘What is dyspraxia?’ provides an excellent summary, from 6–12 months through to 7 years, describing some observable behaviours found in dyspraxic children. The definition which the author uses to describe dyspraxia is located in this chapter: ‘motor difficulties caused by perceptual problems, especially visual-motor and kinaesthetic motor difficulties’ (p. 15). Other chapters examine assessment of the junior-age child: attainment tests, cognitive assessment, screening. The rest of the manual focuses on remediation programmes for different age groups – these contain a wealth of ideas. The book concludes with useful addresses and contacts for parents and teachers.

Portwood, Madeleine (2000) Understanding Developmental Dyspraxia: A Textbook for Students and Professionals (David Fulton).

Portwood, Madeleine (2001) Developmental Dyspraxia: A Practical Manual for Parents and Professionals (Durham County Council, Educational Psychology Service, County Hall, Durham) – provides a thorough insight into dyspraxia. It is extremely readable, well illustrated and appropriate for both parents and teachers.

The first two chapters provide a neurological-oriented background, but without the terminology which usually accompanies such explanations. The chapter on ‘What is dyspraxia?’ provides an excellent summary, from 6–12 months through to 7 years, describing some observable behaviours found in dyspraxic children.
The definition which the author uses to describe dyspraxia is located in this chapter: ‘motor difficulties caused by perceptual problems, especially visual-motor and kinaesthetic motor difficulties’ (p. 15). Other chapters examine assessment of the junior-age child: attainment tests, cognitive assessment, screening. The rest of the manual focuses on remediation programmes for different age groups – these contain a wealth of ideas. The book concludes with useful addresses and contacts for parents and teachers.

Portwood, M. (2000) ‘Seeing the Signs’, in Special, Spring 2002 (NASEN).

Poustie, Jan (1997) Identification Solutions for Specific Learning Difficulties (Next Generation).

Ramsden, Melvyn (1992) Putting Pen to Paper: A New Approach to Handwriting (Southgate, Devon) – a very comprehensive and useful book on handwriting, with plentiful examples. The book examines some misconceptions about handwriting, and some principles in relating handwriting to language, reading and spelling. The stages of teaching handwriting are addressed, supported by numerous graphics. There is also a chapter on the initial stages of handwriting.

Richardson, A.J. (2002) ‘Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and ADHD – Can Nutrition Help?’, paper presented at Education Conference, Durham County Council, June 2002

Russell, James (1988) Graded Activities for Children with Motor Difficulties (Cambridge Educational) – a set of graded activities for children with motor difficulties, presented in a very teacher-friendly text, with clearly illustrated activities. The programme consists of fourteen sections, including gross motor, balancing, catching, throwing, kicking and jumping, directional orientation, visual-motor coordination and handwriting activities. These activities, though essentially directed to children with motor problems, can be extremely useful for a number of dyslexic children.

Although motor skills and literacy are two distinct strands of development, there is a growing awareness of the link between the two, and hence this programme of activities may be extremely useful in helping the teacher tackle the difficulties associated with dyslexia. The programme is aimed at both primary and secondary sectors and can be used by teachers with little or no specialist training.
It provides a comprehensive and easy-to-follow series of lessons each aimed at different aspects of motor development. These include gross motor control; balancing, catching, throwing and jumping; body and spatial awareness, visual tracking and handwriting activities. Each of the fourteen programmes has a clear set of objectives, illustrations and a number of complementary activities.

Sassoon, R. (1995) The Acquisition of a Second Writing System (Intellect Ltd).

Smith, P. (1994) Teaching Handwriting (UK Reading Association).

Teodorescu, Ion and Addy, Lois (1999) Write from the Start (LDA)  a programme for improving fine motor skills and handwriting.

Topping, K. (1992) Paired Writing Information (Kirklees Metropolitan Council).

Walton Cavey, Diane (2nd edition 1993) Dysgraphia: Why Johnny Can’t Write – A Handbook for Teachers and Parents (Pro-Ed) – looks at explanations of dysgraphia, presenting this from the parents’ and teachers’ perspectives and with suggestions for developing a teaching programme. It also looks at vocational training and a useful glossary is included. For parents, the book provides some early warning signs and some tasks which may be helpful. Examples of dysgraphic characteristics and ideas for teaching provide the teacher with useful guidelines for assessment and teaching. A very useful book.

Programmes, games & software:

  • Acceleread, Accelewrite: A guide to using talking computers to help children with reading and writing – Vivienne Clifford and Martin Miles (1994), IAnsyst Ltd, 72 Fen Road, Cambridge, England
    This guide helps the teacher access voice recognition systems for the computer. The emphasis is on developing the practical skills, but the guide also provides a theoretical understanding of the system. The guide provides suggestions for using the applications for creative and curriculum based work. The first two sections examine the hardware which can be utilised and the theory behind the approach.

    Essentially it provides the basis for a structural approach to developing phonological skills in a multisensory way. Thus the pupil reads the story, then types it into the computer, the computer then repeats each word of the sentence to the child as the space bar is pressed. The whole sentence is also spoken once the sentence has been completed. The guide emphasises self-monitoring, auditory and visual feedback.

  • An excellent range of activities and games to aid word access and expressive language can be found on: http://members.tripod.com/~Caroline_Bowen/wordretrieval.html

  • Before Alpha: Learning Games for the Under Fives – this is a programme of learning games developed by Bev Hornsby (1996, Souvenir Press) which can be used with children under five. The games are in a series of structured stages, are multi-sensory and aim to foster language development and other pre-reading skills such as visual and auditory perception and discrimination, fine motor control, spatial relationships, knowledge of colour, number and directions.

  • Brain Gym ¨ – a series of exercises developed by Dennison and Hargrove (1986) (Educational Kinesthetics, Glendale, Calif.) from which an individual programme can be devised for the child relating to the assessment. Many of these exercises include activities which involve crossing the mid-line, such as writing a figure eight in the air or cross-crawling and skip-a-cross, in which hands and legs sway from side to side. The aim is to achieve some form of body balance so that information can flow freely and be processed readily. This programme has been widely and successfully implemented in the school setting.

  • Developmental Exercise Programme – an assessment and intervention programme developed by Blythe and Goddard-Blythe for assessing the presence of primitive reflexes, and a series of exercises designed to control the primitive reflexes and release the postural reflexes. See Blythe, P and Goddard, S. (2000) Neuro-physiological assessment test battery and Goddard-Blythe, S. (1996) Developmental Exercise Programme (Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology, 4 Stanley Place, Chester).

  • Blythe found that 85% of those children who have specific learning difficulties that do not respond to various classroom intervention strategies have a cluster of aberrant reflexes. He argues that as long as these reflexes remain undetected and uncorrected, the educational problems will persist. These reflexes should only be present in the very young baby and would become redundant after about six months of life. But if these reflexes continued to be present after that time, Blythe argues, the development of the mature postural reflexes is restricted and this will adversely affect writing, reading, spelling, copying, maths, attention and concentration.

  • Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Attention Disorder Treatment (DDAT) – DDAT is the name given to the exercise-based treatment (Dore and Rutherford, 2001) based on the cerebellar deficit theory (Fawcett and Nicolson, 1994; Nicolson and Fawcett, 1999. This theory implies that the cerebellum has an important function in relation to dyslexia and other learning difficulties and their hypothesis supported by earlier work on automaticity and more recent work on the role of the cerebellum in language. The treatment programme also implicates other aspects of neurological/biological development such as the functioning of the magnocellular system, the inhibition of primitive reflexes and fatty acid deficiencies.

    Controlled studies which have sought to provide clinical evaluation of the DDAT treatment have been implemented and reported (Reynolds, Hambly and Nicolson (in press), although earlier reports on improvements have not been without criticism, Wilsher (2002) commented on the ‘placebo effect’ in this type of treatment. While the transfer of these improvements to reading has yet to be demonstrated, it is encouraging that physiological and cognitive changes have been noted, and additionally it is encouraging that the developers of the programme are utilising data from school-based as well as clinic-based programmes in their evaluations.

  • Dore, W. and Rutherford, R. (2001) ‘Closing the Gap’, paper presented at the BDA 6th International Conference on Dyslexia, York, on Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Treatment Centres (DDAT) – also see the DDAT website (www.ddat.co.uk) for latest research reports

  • Wilsher, C. R. (2002) ‘A miracle cure? “Tonight with Trevor McDonald”, ITV, 21.01.02’, in Dyslexia, 8, 2, 116–17.

  • Penfriend – this software from Design Concept (30 South Oswald Road, Edinburgh EH9 2HG; tel: 0131 668 2000) provides an excellent word-prediction tool and also has an onscreen keyboard specifically intended for children with dyslexia and writing difficulties. It also provides three lexicons for different ages, and new word lists for different topics can be created.

  • Posture Pack (from Back in Action; tel: 01628 477177; website: www.backinaction.co.uk) – a portable seat wedge that converts to a writing slope.

  • Read and Write Educational Supplies (Mount Pleasant, Mill Road, Aldington, Ashford, Kent TN25 7AJ; tel/fax: 01233 720618) supply specialised books, computer games and pencil and paper games, and teaching aids for dyslexic pupils, teachers and parents.

  • THRASS – The Teaching of Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Programme, known as THRASS, can be useful as support approach and an indivdualised programme. THRASS has many different aspects which can be accessed by children and parents. Details of these can be found in the comprehensive THRASS website: www.thrass.com.
    THRASS involves multisensory methods and practice in pre-writing skills such as beads threading, shape and pattern copying, tracing, colouring in, and writing letters in sand – try to ensure that work at home is not only with the use of pencil and paper.

Useful addresses & websites:

Ann Arbor Publishers, PO Box 1, Belford, Northumberland NE70 7JX; website: www.annarbor.co.uk, provide a considerable amount of resources, most of which focus directly on literacy skills. For example, in relation to written expression, the Teaching Written Expression resource may be useful. This programme offers a theoretical framework and a practical step-by-step guide to developing sentences, constructing paragraphs, editing and developing a ‘sense of audience’.

British Association of Occupational Therapists; College of Occupational Therapists,  website: www.cot.co.uk

British Dyslexia Association (BDA), 98 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5AU; tel: 0118 966 2677; email: admin@bda-dyslexia.demon.co.uk; website: www.bda-dyslexia.org.uk

Becta (British Educational and Technology Agency), Milburn Hill Road, Science Park, Coventry CV4 7JJ; tel: 024 7641 6994; fax: 024 7641 1418; email: becta@becta.org.uk

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, website: www.csp.org.uk

Crossbow Education, 41 Sawpit Lane, Brocton, Stafford ST17 0TE; tel: 01785 660902; website: www.crossboweducation.com – games for learning.

Desktop Publications, 54 Railway Street, Barnetby-le-wold, North Lincolnshire DN38 6DQ; tel: 01652 688781; fax: 01652 688850, website: www.desktoppublications.co.uk

Dyslexia in Scotland, Stirling Business Centre, Wellgreen, Stirling FK8 2DZ; tel: 01786 446650; website: www.dyslexia-in-scotland.org

Dyslexia Institute, 133 Gresham Road, Staines, Middlesex, TW18 2AJ; tel: 01784 463851; website: www.dyslexia-inst.org.uk

Dyslexia Research Trust, website: www.dyslexic.org.uk – a detailed site giving current research, newsletter, conferences and publications, upcoming talks and lectures.

Dyslexia UK charity, website: www.dyslexia.uk.com – a knowledge site providing information and guidance on all topics relating to dyslexia.

Dyspraxia Foundation, 8 West Alley, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, SG5 1EG; tel: 01462 454986; website: www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk

Handwriting Interest Group (HIG), website: www.nha-handwriting.org.uk  – a charity dedicated to improving and supporting handwriting difficulties.

 

Helen Arkell Dyslexia Centre, Frensham, Farnham, Surrey GU10 3BW; tel: 01252 792400; website: www.arkellcentre.org.uk

Hornsby International Dyslexia Centre, Wye Street, London, SW11 2HB; tel: 020 7223 1144; website: www.hornsby.co.uk

National Association of Special Educational Needs (NASEN), Nasen House, 4-5 Amber Business Village, Amber Close, Amington, Tamworth B77 4RP; tel: 01827 311500; fax: 01827 313005; email: welcome@nasen.org.uk; website: www.nasen.org.uk

Office for Advice, Assistance, Support and Information on Special Needs (OAASIS), Brock House, Grigg Lane, Brockenhurst, Hants SO42 7RE; helpline tel: 09068 633201; website: www.oaasis.co.uk – an advice, training and resource centre for parents and professionals.

Professional Association of Teachers of Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (Patoss), website: www.patoss-dyslexia.org

Philip and Tacey, www.philipandtacey.co.uk – angled writing surfaces.

QuEST Therapies, PO Box 13281, Haddington, EH41 3YY; tel: 07793 919145;
email: admin@questtherapies.com; website: www.questtherapies.com – a diagnostic and referral service to identify the prominence of auditory, visual, or movement/coordination/balance factors in causing a child’s specific learning difficulty, as well as the role of fatty acid deficiency.

Read and Write Educational Supplies, Mount Pleasant, Mill Road, Aldington, Ashford, Kent TN25 7AJ; tel/fax: 01233 720618, supply specialised books, games and teaching aids for dyslexic pupils, teachers and parents.

SEMERC software publishers, website: www.blackcatsoftware.com

SEN Marketing, 618 Leeds Road, Outwood, Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF1 2LT; website: www.sen.uk.com

SpLD Resources, www.dyslexia.org.uk  hosts a guide to the help available to parents of children with special needs – a useful compendium of information covering difficulties with reading and writing (dyslexia), numeracy (dyscalculia), handwriting (dyslexia), developmental coordination (dyspraxia), language impairment, autism and ‘attention deficit disorder’. Lists details of the national organisations that address a range of SEN needs, together with a list of books and pamphlets.

THRASS website: www.thrass.com

The Left-handers Club, 5 Charles Street, Worcester WR1 2AQ; website: www.left-handersday.com

www.dyslexiaa2z.com
www.dyslexics.org.uk – highly recommended coverage of things that can be done at home
www.gavinreid.co.uk – contains over 40 links and articles on dyslexia and details of publications.

Home support:

What are dysgraphic difficulties?

Dysgraphia is a difficulty with handwriting, fine motor coordination, organisation and presentation of material of written page. There may be an accompanying spelling difficulty and lack of motivation in relation to written expression. Dysgraphia is often linked to dyspraxia and dyslexia – it often appears as the ‘typical dyslexic’ who somehow reads well.

How will this affect my child?

Your child’s handwriting and page layout will be a mess, and spelling too may be weak. This will be discouraging, especially when neatness is something teachers work so hard to encourage.

How can I help?

  • Handwriting:

The Teaching of Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Programme, known as THRASS, can be useful and has many different aspects which can be accessed by children and parents. Details of these can be found in the comprehensive THRASS website: www.thrass.com

THRASS involves multisensory methods and practice in pre-writing skills such as beads threading, shape and pattern copying, tracing, colouring-in, and writing letters in sand – try to ensure that work at home is not solely with the use of pencil and paper.

Try to encourage your child to verbalise the nature and direction of strokes while tracing and drawing individual letters.

Try to encourage your child to repeat back key points as well as to talk through tasks, as his/her own voice will help to direct his/her motor movements and serve as a useful memory aid.

  • Organisation:

Your child is likely to be very disorganised. Help in every way you can: liaise with school over books and equipment needed, etc.

Check the homework diary frequently and help your child with the organisational aspects.

Check the schoolbag daily – but without being too controlling, as you should be encouraging independence.

Encourage the use of a dictaphone as a personal organiser.

  • Activities:

Encourage ‘crossing the midline’ activities – e.g. simple juggling, even with just one ball from hand to hand. Swimming can also be beneficial in this way.

Most sports are helpful, but ensure that this does not de-motivate – as others may be better than him/her at sport. Participation for pleasure rather than for competition should be encouraged.

Where can I find out more?

Information can be obtained from the Dyspraxia Foundation, 8 West Alley, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, SG5 1UU; tel: 01462 454 986; website: www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk

Praxis Makes Perfect (published by the Dyspraxia Trust, PO Box 30, Hitchin, Herts SG5 1UU) looks at all aspects of dyspraxia, including dysgraphic difficulties.

Developmental Dyspraxia: A Practical Manual for Parents and Professionals, by Madeleine Portwood (2001) (Durham County Council, Educational Psychology Service, County Hall, Durham).

Dyspraxia 5-11: A Practical Guide, by Christine McIntyre (2001) (David Fulton Publishers), contains many ideas and strategies which can be used in both the home and the school.

Fledglings, 6 Southfield, Ickleton, Saffron Waldon, CB10 1BE; tel: 0845 458 1124; e-mail: enquiries@fledglings.org.uk; website: www.fledglings.org.uk – a free product and service search for families of children with special needs, for educational items and developmental toys.

Handwriting Interest Group (HIG), website: www.handwritinginterestgroup.org.uk – a charity dedicated to improving and supporting handwriting difficulties.

Office for Advice, Assistance, Support and Information on Special Needs (OAASIS), Brock House, Grigg Lane, Brockenhurst, Hants SO42 7RE; helpline tel: 09068 633201; website: www.oaasis.co.uk – an advice, training and resource centre for parents and professionals.

Posture Pack (from Back in Action; tel: 01628 477177; website: www.backinaction.co.uk) – a portable seat wedge that converts to a writing slope.

QuEST Therapies, PO Box 13281, Haddington, EH41 3YY; tel: 07793 919145;
email: admin@questtherapies.com; website: www.questtherapies.com – a diagnostic and referral service to identify the prominence of auditory, visual, or movement/coordination/balance factors in causing a child’s specific learning difficulty, as well as the role of fatty acid deficiency.

SpLD Resources, www.dyslexia.org.uk  hosts a guide to the help available to parents of children with special needs – a useful compendium of information covering difficulties with reading and writing (dyslexia), numeracy (dyscalculia), handwriting (dyslexia), developmental coordination (dyspraxia), language impairment, autism and ‘attention deficit disorder’. Lists details of the national organisations that address a range of SEN needs, together with a list of books and pamphlets.

The Left-handers Club, 5 Charles Street, Worcester WR1 2AQ; website: www.left-handersday.com

Useful websites:

www.bda-dyslexia.org.uk
www.dyslexiaa2z.com

Philip and Tacey, www.philipandtacey.co.uk – angled writing surfaces.

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