DIS-GRAF-EEA: Ideas to support at home and school

So, last week we looked at Dysgraphia, what it is, how it can present and what can be done to assess handwriting difficulties. This week we will discuss some of the therapeutic approaches mentioned last week and some ideas and activities that can be tried at home and school to support handwriting difficulties, such as Dysgraphia.
The below are a mix of remedial, functional and compensatory strategies to support children who may have Dyspraxia or handwriting difficulties. We have decided them up into Home Support and School Support, however some of the ideas can be done in either space.
Support at home
This can include ideas to support handwriting and especially for older primary children, ways of making writing more enjoyable and functional.
  • First of all, correct seating! This is often overlooked. Ensure the child has a seat that gives them a 90 degree angle at their hips, with feet flat on the ground (or propped up on something if the chair is too high).
  • Hand strengthening exercises – these can be useful when a child becomes fatigued or as a warm up activity prior to writing. Try and provide opportunities for hand strengthening throughout the day i.e. stress balls, theraputty, hole punch work.
  • If you do any writing at home, always be positive and encourage your child to write/draw/mind map ideas base on their interests! Also, reward effort rather than outcome.
Support in the class
Junior Primary
  • Continue to examine pencil grip and aim to work on an ‘optimal grip’. A previous OTFC blog on pencil grips can be used to find out more about optimal grips.
  • To support spatial awareness, raised lines (e.g. tactile/embossed lines on a page, so a child can feel when they are ‘bumping’ the lines.
  • Paper templates. A good one to use is ‘Sky, Grass and Dirt’, which provides clear visual guides of where letters need to be placed and the size and shape of them.
  • Trying a number of different mediums for drawing or writing – i.e. practising letter formation in sand/salt trays, chalk, shaving cream, whiteboards.
  • Some children with handwriting difficulties and low postural control have trouble sitting upright at the table or placing their arm flat on a table, which impacts on writing. Using a slant desk or slope board can support a more upright stance, functional wrist position, reduce fatigue and enhance writing.
  • Talking out letter formation patterns (e.g. ‘d’ as ‘around up and down’) can help reinforce the motor sequences required for letter formation.
Primary and Upper Primary
  • If a child’s pencil grip is still not functional, then looking at supportive pencil grips for pens and pencils, to support a functional handwriting grip (e.g. crossover grip)
  • Look at different forms of communication and expressing a point – this could be through oral presentation, mind maps, drawing, dictation apps or even using a scribe more for more intense writing tasks.
  • Copying can be trickier and increase anxiety and frustration, so reducing copying tasks can further support writing.
  • For initially engaging children who clearly appear to have difficulty with handwriting, encourage them to start by drawing and writing about their interests – this can often be a good way into establishing a better idea of their true strengths in writing.
  • Breaking writing tasks into smaller steps, using dot points or ‘filling in the blank’
  • As mentioned for younger children, Slope Boards and slant desks are very effective to provide an ‘angle’ for handwriting so the wrist is flat to the writing surface and isn’t ‘deviating’ excessively, increasing wrist cramp and fatigue.
  • Using print or cursive. Some students find the ‘flow’ of cursive easier for letter formation and writing.
  • Increasing proficiency on a word processor is important (especially if a child has Dysgraphia) as handwriting is not likely to be their first medium of communication going forward. This does not ‘remove’ handwriting for the child, as it is still an important skills to work on, however computer skills will be more supportive long term.
  • Some students may also work well with speech recognition programs (e.g. dragon dictation) combined with a word processor so that dictation can occur. Apps such as Notability allow for voice recording, free drawing, adding text and collaborating projects  rather than type them. This increases speed and efficiency and allows the student to focus more completely on complex thoughts and ideas.
  • Tape recording assignments or using dictaphones can also be effective. In addition, allowing for ‘oral presentations’ or powerpoint can further support expressive output.
  • Mind mapping, use of a ‘scribe’ (try to ensure the scribe is completing no more than 50% of writing) and breaking longer tasks/assignments into smaller components (e.g. one day complete part of the assignment, next day complete the next) can further reduce the demands and expectations with such tasks.
  • SnapType for Occupational Therapy is another excellent app that provides reduced handwriting requirements by allowing users use their iPad or tablet to take a picture of a worksheet, whiteboard task etc. then using the device, type out the answers or responses.
These are just some ideas that can be used to support those kids who have handwriting difficulties, or in fact have Dysgraphia. If you feel like your child may be having a great number of difficulties in these areas, try some of the above ideas, and if there are still challenges, seek professional advice from Occupational Therapists or Psychologists in your area.

*Information sourced from: OTFC Clinical Director and staff, Education and Individual Services (2015) <www.somerset.gov.uk>, Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities (2006) Volume 11, Number 4 and Regina G. Richards (2015), Strategies for Dealing with Dysgraphia, Learning Disabilities Online <http://www.ldonline.org/article/5890/>


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