How To: Accommodate Students With Writing Disabilities
"Making the steps feel small and manageable is the key to success."
Kit Richert, Ph.D.
Although less frequent, there are learning disabilities specific to writing ability. One, called dysgraphia, is defined as difficulty expressing thoughts in writing. Where reading disabilities are typically related to impaired auditory and attention processing, Dysgraphia can be related to either motor, visual, or spatial processing problems.
• Your students with dysgraphia may exhibit the following academic symptoms:
• Slow writing speed
• Delays in writing achievement
• Difficulty with writing out math problems.
• Difficulty taking notes
• Poor spelling and handwriting
• Sometimes writing takes all the students focus and they cannot attend to lecture.
• Sometimes have difficulty with hand-eye coordination, or fine motor skills.
How to Help Your Students With Writing Disabilities
• Like all students with disabilities, make sure to read your student’s IEP and list of required acommodations. Consult with the special education teacher or school psychologist for tips about your student’s unique learning style.
• If lecture is important to attend to, make sure your student can get a copy of the notes (from either you or a buddy) so they do not miss important information by trying to take their own notes laboriously.
• Allow the student to type instead of writing out assignments. Encourage the use of a spell checker.
• Extend their time limit allowed on tests or writing intensive assignments.
• Decide on a learning goal for each writing assignment. If the focus is on the organization of the content of the writing, than do not grade harshly on spelling and handwriting. If spelling and handwriting are the focus, than go easy on the organization and content. It may help the child to make the goal clear and to alternate the focus so all skills are worked on, but in general, students will enjoy writing more when the focus is on expression of original ideas.
• On tests of knowledge, it may be appropriate to allow for the child to give answers orally, so they can convey what they have learned more easily.
• Provide graph paper for math assignments so it is easier for the student to write equations in columns or rows.
• Make sure the student has an appropriate grip on their pencil.
• Have the student talk aloud during writing assignments.
• Have the student orally construct their paragraphs over a tape recording, and then copy down their language from the recording.
• Break writing assignments into small steps, such as:
1. Making an outline. With topic for each paragraph.
2. Work on one paragraph at a time, on separate pages.
3. Focus first on getting ideas down on paper, saving the grammar, punctuation, and spelling for later drafts.
4. Combine the paragraphs, and re-polish the document.
For students with writing disabilities, motivation may be low for practicing writing. Making the steps feel small and manageable is the key to their success, in addition, hold on to old work over the year, and periodically show the student how much they have improved by comparing their old work with new work. Your student may be comparing their own writing ability to their peers, which may also cause them to get discouraged. Focus on comparing their old work with new work, and on achieving their personal best rather than how other students are writing.