Dyslexia and Dysgraphia: How to Help Your Child or Student
“Tell your hand what to do.” “Magic c becomes the d.” “Bzzzzz”
These may sound rather cryptic, but they are powerful reminders for all students, especially those students with dyslexia or dysgraphia.
What are Dyslexia and Dysgraphia?
The terms dyslexia and dysgraphia are both Greek in origin and mean a condition (ia) having impaired (dys) lexicon (word) or graph (letter) production.
Dyslexia affects one in five students. It is the most common learning disability. These students may struggle with reading, spelling words, and using language effectively.
According to the University of Michigan, of people with reading difficulties, 70 to 80% are likely to have some form of dyslexia. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty understanding the individual sounds in words
- Reversal of letters and numerical sequences
- Flipping letters and numbers and/or writing them backward past the age of 7 or 8
- Not seeing or acknowledging punctuation in written text
- Omitting of words while reading
- Difficulty writing
Children with dysgraphia have trouble producing written language due to poor motor planning. They may also struggle with organizational skills and movements that need to be in an automatic, specific order. As a result, they may write in a mixture of both capitals and lowercase letters.
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), warning signs of dysgraphia include:
- Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position
- Illegible handwriting
- Avoiding writing or drawing tasks
- Tiring quickly while writing
- Saying words out loud while writing
- Unfinished or omitted words in a sentence
Sounds like a lot to overcome, but there are simple and effective supports available.
Teaching Students with Dyslexia or Dysgraphia
When addressing how to help a child with dyslexia or dysgraphia, we hear words like direct, explicit, systematic, multisensory, and, of course, above all else, it has to be fun. That’s where Learning Without Tears excels – it’s very effective and still very fun for both the student and the teacher too.
Here are some strategies and tools that can be used to support students with dyslexia and dysgraphia:
- Heading in the Right Direction
The Learning Without Tears program is set up to be a quick and coordinated effort to eliminate reversals that tend to happen naturally and can also be a valuable teaching tool for those with dyslexia and dysgraphia. Letter formation begins with capitals that are easier to produce and more distinguished among traditionally troublesome lowercase letters (B, D, P, Q versus b, d, p, q). Writing capital letters first establishes a much-needed habit of top-down and left to right letter formation using the Gray Block Paper having a dot at the correct starting location for both capitals and numbers. The instructional language is direct and natural (top, middle, bottom, left, and right) without confusing positional terms. Terms are used consistently throughout the program and across the grade levels which provides the reinforcement of these lessons year after year.
- Keep It Moving
As the student produces the letter or number, they narrate what they are doing. Ask the student to, “Tell your hand what to do.” This provides added instruction by having them repeat the letter formation as they are writing the letter – “Big line down, frog jump up to the top, little curve to the middle, little curve to the bottom – capital B.” The student can begin the lesson using air writing to offer shoulder rotation movements. Then, using two fingers for added sensory input, the student can trace the letter written on 8½ x 11 construction paper or use Wood Pieces Set on the Mat for Wood Pieces to build and then trace the capital letter. Further effective practice can be done using the Wet-Dry-Try method. Using chalk on a slate gives a resistance that helps control the work being done—an important support for those with dysgraphia. It also provides neurological feedback to the brain to enhance the memory of the letter formation. To produce lowercase letters, use the Blackboard with Double Lines. These kinesthetic and multisensory activities are key strategies for those with dyslexia or dysgraphia.
We are all very aware of the b/d confusion and the need for teaching strategies for dyslexic students to remediate this error. The Learning Without Tears student letter stories are beneficial in addressing this concern. Reversals are typical in all students up to 2nd grade. Students with dyslexia and dysgraphia find it more challenging and reversals can continue well past 2nd grade. Letter stories for these troublesome letters reinforce the proper orientation of the letters in both writing AND reading! Telling your hand that the “Magic c becomes the d” will become a visual they can carry over into their reading as well. Lay a clear transparency over a short passage and trace the Magic c inside of every d with a dry erase marker. Seeing the Magic c inside the d while reading will reinforce the proper orientation and the difference between the b and the d in reading and writing.
The story of the honeybee is equally effective and the above strategies can be used with this story as well. Making the lowercase h first it is then transformed into a b while telling your hand it is a honeybee. This story can become an even quicker reminder by only making the buzzing sound to remind the hesitant student wondering which way the letter b goes. This simple reminder promotes the student’s recall and they build their memory of the letter formation. Don’t tell them what to do – simply remind them to think of it for themselves. Using a transparency to highlight the h inside the b can be done as well. Highlight only one letter at a time on a passage. Remember to keep it simple and avoid overstimulating material.
- Practice, Practice, Practice
This need for simplicity is another key feature of the Learning Without Tears hands-on materials and the student editions. The student edition workbooks, Building Writers student editions, Journals, Double Line Writing Paper, and the A+ Worksheet Maker Lite all provide simple, yet structured practice. Building Writers student editions direct the struggling writer with provided content support, a checklist, and opportunities to more easily use their imagination.
- Keep It Short and Sweet
It may seem like a lot, but the fact is that only five to ten minutes a day is all it takes to make a lasting impact on your child’s ability to write fluently with legibility and little effort on their part. Our goal is to make writing a fun way to bring their thoughts to paper. Penmanship practice leads to mastery which makes writing all about the content and not the construction. Learning Without Tears makes penmanship easy to learn and easy to teach. It must be noted that for those students in 3rd grade and above, cursive can be much easier than print for the child with dyslexia. Don’t feel you have to perfect print before continuing on to the equally effective Learning Without Tears cursive curriculum.
- Don’t Forget Keyboarding!
In addition to penmanship, keyboarding is another method of written production that needs to be taught to avoid the hunt-and-peck technique. This is an additional method of writing, not a replacement. There is a need for both in today’s world. When given a longer project that includes outlines, rough drafts, and edited versions, keyboarding is better for the child with dysgraphia who distresses over the idea of so much writing and rewriting. In this age of technology, we believe it is important for children to both type and write. You can find more information about Keyboarding Without Tears here.
Wet-Dry-Try is a multisensory learning activity that teaches students correct letter and number orientation and formation. Students practice the formation of capitals, numbers, and lowercase letters in simple, step-by-step sequences.
Available as both a Slate Chalkboard and a handwriting app for iPad, Wet-Dry-Try can be used at home as a parent, caregiver, or occupational therapist, or as part of your classroom curriculum.
Learning Without Tears Can Help with Dyslexia or Dysgraphia!
Learning Without Tears has tools and guidance to help you support children with dyslexia or dysgraphia. From hands-on learning manipulatives to digital resources, our resources are designed to be simple, engaging, and fun.
View our online shop to see our full collection of learning resources!