Aug 022013

How do you know if your child has a writing disability?

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Q: My child can read, but has difficulty writing. Is it possible my child has a writing disability or dysgraphia?


Generally speaking, dyslexia and dysgraphia are closely related learning disabilities that show up in a child’s writing. Either one can lead to your child being diagnosed with a writing disability.

Dyslexia affects a child’s ability to learn to read,  dysgraphia affects a child’s  ability express his self in writing. A similar learning disability, called dyscalculia, affects a child’s ability to perform mathematical calculations.

Often a child has difficulty in one or more of these areas, but typically one area of learning is notably more severe. For example, your child may struggle a LOT with reading, or with writing, or with math.  Your child may struggle with all three areas, but one area is usually the most severe.

With a reading or writing disability, the problems are dependent upon the severity of your child’s underlying skill problems as well as your child’s overall IQ. For example, a child who has severe dyslexia and an average IQ may not be able to read or write.

However, a child with a very high IQ and dyslexia may develop great coping skills and not seem to have much of a disability until schoolwork demands exceed his natural writing abilities. When the underlying skills are related to dyslexia-based learning issues, but a child can read, the child is said to have “stealth” dyslexia.  The dyslexia is “hidden”.

It may appear that your child reads well enough to not have dyslexia, but he may struggle with writing because of underlying dyslexia issues. Your child may have an isolated writing disability, but that is less common than having dyslexia.

Since your child can read well, I would say.. Yes, your child probably has dysgraphia.  However, you should seek a comprehensive evaluation by a highly qualified neuropsychologist or other professional to be sure you know the root causes of your child’s writing problems.

Having an evaluation will help you know how to meet your child’s needs.  If your child has dysgraphia, it could be rooted in phonemic awareness issues (related to dyslexia), fine motor difficulties, processing difficulties, working memory deficits, or executive functioning deficits. You really won’t know the root cause of your child’s writing disability without an evaluation.

If your child has difficulty with fine motor skills, specifically handwriting, then you’ll probably want to start with a handwriting curriculum created for kids with dysgraphia as  a better choice for helping your child.

You may also find it beneficial to teach your child keyboarding skills using software programs that teach typing skills. There are any number of good typing programs for younger children.

A lot of parents like like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing for middle school or high school aged children. About 15 minutes per day will suffice for advancement, but the work must be done daily or your child will lose some of the progress that was made.

Also, for a child with dysgraphia, it is often difficult for them to formulate their ideas, organize them in their mind, then go through the physical process of putting the information onto paper. It is too much information for their brains to process and hold simultaneously and they loose their thoughts in the process of trying to write.  If your child has memory, processing, or executive function deficits, daily use of a cognitive enhancement program could really help your child.

Children with writing disabilities can often dictate wonderful ideas, stories, and answers to questions when handwriting is taken out of the equation. Thus, you do not want to slow your child’s learning in all other subject areas by requiring tedious amounts of writing by hand.  Your child will benefit by having a scribe until he can write fluently or by using dictation software to dictate his ideas into a word processor.  Once your child’s dysgraphia is remediated, writing will be easier, even if your child continues to have a written expression writing disability.

As your child gets older, if his writing disability continues to be a problem, and written expression is a struggle, using speech to text softwareassistive technology for a writing disability can become critical. Dictation software allows your child to express his thoughts in writing without all of the heavy-duty brain-work required for writing.

Using speech to text software can enable your child to perform at his level of thinking ability. Going around your child’s writing disability can go a long way in helping your child be successful with school.

Hope that helps!

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