Response to a Reader on Dysgraphia

I received a comment below from a reader. It raises a some good issues and questions. I would like to devote a post to it.  I have re-posted the the entire comment. and will address questions at the end.

Hello Dee,
I do not know if I’m doing this right, but here it goes. This is the first time I comment on ANY blog.

Like you, my 13 year old son has ADHD and dysgraphia, so I would like to know more about your academic experiences. How did you become such a good writer and speller?

He is doing OK in 7th grade. He can complete reading comprehension tasks, so he gets Cs and Bs on all his core classes. He is in advanced math, and he is doing very well there, but he does all the math in his head. If he writes numbers down, he has a difficult time reading them. He is very smart in many ways, but he cannot spell well or write complete sentences.

What made spelling and writing click for you? Do you have any information that might be helpful to him. Did you have specialized instruction? I know these learning differences are very hard on him, and his self esteem is suffering. I would appreciate any information you can share.

Annabel

I’m honored to be your first every blog comment.  Yes, and you did it right. I just have my settings so that comments go to moderation before posting. That is to limit the spam and troll comments. Now on to your questions.

How did you become such a good writer and speller?

Once I had the use of technology I actually learned that I enjoyed writing. From a young age I was rather advanced with verbal communication. My mom was an English teacher and my dad in broadcast journalism and a minister so I think  that helped develop my oral communication and vocabulary at an early age.  After 4th grade writing or rather penmanship was used as a torture device against me. I was forced to rewrite anything that looked messy or any spelling word until it was perfect. The teachers told me it would make me learn to write better and not be messy. Well it made me hate write and made my writing worse. Dsygraphia effects fine motor skills and even holding a pen or pencil causes intense pain. Writing is extremely painful.  Dysgraphia may be the least understood and hardest to diagnose of the forms of dyslexia. For me it also effects my motor skills. I often fall, trip or injure myself.

As for spelling, I’m still not very good at spelling.  My high school transcript included a copy of my achievement test scores. From about 5th grade on I started getting 12.9 in most subjects except math and spelling. My math scores were always well above grade level. My spelling scores never got above about 5-6 grade level. Somehow my senior year I had a 12.9 on everything except spelling.  However, I have amazing computer skills. I know what the colored underlines in Word mean. I have spell and grammar check settings turned on high.

My advice for improving writing and spelling skills is to become a better reader. Read a variety of material especially non-fiction. Reading on a higher level will improve writing abilities. Then just write. For me blogging helps. As for spelling, don’t sweat it. Learn the basics and then learn how to use tools for that.

He is doing OK in 7th grade. He can complete reading comprehension tasks, so he gets Cs and Bs on all his core classes. He is in advanced math, and he is doing very well there, but he does all the math in his head. If he writes numbers down, he has a difficult time reading them. He is very smart in many ways, but he cannot spell well or write complete sentences.

By the legal definition someone with a learning disability must have average or higher intelligence.  One of the things that is not understood about someone with dysgraphia is the memory and reasoning capacity. Most people with dysgraphia avoid writing at all cost so as a matter of survival memory and reasoning skills are vital. I tend to close my eyes so I can picture what I’m thinking about.

He is very smart in many ways, but he cannot spell well or write complete sentences.  This sentence really bothers me.  Please do not equate spelling or writing abilities with intelligence. That is a very common mistake. I have been called dumb all my life because of my writing skills. Not just as a kid. As an adult I’ve had cashiers, clerks and other professionals humiliate me in public because of my handwriting.

I think this is a better version of that sentence: He is very smart in many ways, but he cannot spell well or write complete sentences.  To be learning disabled one must have a normal or higher IQ  with no other condition such as vision, hearing, or emotional issues preventing learning.  My research and experience indicates that people with dyslexia and related disorders tend to have IQs that are well above average. Also, spelling alone can no longer be considered a learning disability.

As for the spelling do not sweat it learn to use technology and other tools. As for writing try allowing him to dictate written things. Be sure to have him read it aloud after it is written and if possible type it. That way you are helping him capture his own words. It is similar to LEA or  Learning Experience Approach to teaching young children to write.

What made spelling and writing click for you?

Spelling has never clicked for me. I know it is a weakness and that it probably won’t get better. So I have learned to compensate.

As for writing, I’m very verbal I have to talk out what I plan to write. Then I can type it out.  Growing up my mom would allow me to dictate written assignments to her and then I would rewrite them to turn them in. As my typing skills improved and once I had a computer I was able to do this myself. I often free write all of my thoughts and then go back and edit them.

Do you have any information that might be helpful to him.

Best thing that happened for my self-esteem was to see a “check list of a normal” person with ADHD, dyslexia and dysgraphia. For the first time in my life I was normal. I also realized I wasn’t alone.  Oh, try googling famous people with learning disabilities. You might be surprised at some of the people on the list.

Second learn to use technology.  It is not a crutch but it can be a useful tool. You must learn to become responsible for your own academic success. Learn exactly what you need to be successful and do that.

Remember that if an expert decides you have a learning disability they are also saying you are smart.  So no matter how frustrated or dumb you feel because you can’t make your brain or hands work right, don’t give up.

Focus on what you do well not what you can’t do. The fact you can do math in your head is amazing.

Did you have specialized instruction?

Yes and no. I never officially received special education services in school. My mom was an educator and became a special educator because of me. I was a preemie and my parents were told I might have learning problems.  My parents especially my mom provided me with an environment that promoted learning and academic readiness from a young age. (ie. lots of books, puzzles, art and creative activities, and building toys). My teachers in kindergarten through 3rd grade had little problems accommodating my learning issues. In first grade I was one of the lowest readers in my class but by third grade I was several grade levels above grade level.  Also my teachers in kindergarten through 3rd grade were absolutely amazing and spent a lot of one-on-one time helping me. My kindergarten teacher often had me do “writing” assignments on an easel using a paint brush. That was a standard approach for her with little ones who had a hard time using pencil. It was great for a child with  dysgraphia because it used large motor skills and not fine motor skills. My mom spent a lot of time helping me learn to read and become successful in school.

When we moved in 4th grade and went to a different school my learning problems became an issue. At that time I was not eligible for services because there was not a significant gap between my ability and achievement (that requirement has been removed now) and even in my weakest area I was on or near grade level. The problem from 4th grade on was more due to poorly trained, inflexible or inadequate teachers.  There were a few teachers who learned with a little help I could be a good student.  In college and grad school I required little accommodations. Mainly being allowed to type written tests and sometimes I needed extra time to complete written assignments (that happened maybe 3 or 4 times during college and grad school)

I would appreciate any information you can share.

Please see the materials from a workshop I presented a few years ago. An Insider’s Guide to Learning Disabilities.

Hope this helps. DH

 

Author: TheDeeZone

I write about things I find interesting this include music, movies, cooking, religion, news and whatever else pops in my ADHD brain. As a my tagline says: "The musings of an ADHD mind."I'm never really sure what is will catch my interest.

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