How does dyslexia impact on the writing process?

Reposted from

It is often commented that the characteristics of dyslexic students’ written work might equally be found in the work of a non-dyslexic student. The problems with composition that students with dyslexia experience may be accompanied by difficulty with spelling and handwriting. Students may try to choose words they can spell rather than those they want to use. Those with short-term memory problems may have difficulty transcribing a mentally composed sentence, thus much backtracking is required which disrupts the flow of thought. When this is coupled with reading difficulties, it is easy to see why written tasks are laborious. The techniques of editing and refining demand extra stamina and time, and need to be done in separate stages. To be effective, this requires good pre-planning and time management. Paradoxically these may be the very skills that students with dyslexia may find particularly challenging.

Those students who are familiar with their own problems and are used to academic study are often highly disciplined to the task and start work on assignments as soon as they receive them. Others will need some explicit help in pacing themselves and in the understanding of the separate stages of the writing process. It is also worth noting that many of the errors will not be picked up by a standard spell checker or, in some cases, by the student’s proof reading.

In any event, it is likely that the final outcome of the work presented may not reflect the time and effort that has gone into its preparation.

When giving feedbacks to students, it may be useful to bear the following points in mind:

  • students need to understand why they have gained or lost marks and if spelling, punctuation and grammar are considered an essential part of the brief, it is important to let them know this in advance;
  • prompt, legible and detailed feedback is especially helpful. Dyslexic students need encouragement on what they have achieved and explicit information about how they can improve their work;
  • feedback about exam performance is as important as feedback after coursework submission; it helps tutors and students to ascertain the reasons for possible low marks or failure. It is important for all students with a SpLD to realise the extent to which low marks are due to a lack of detailed knowledge or to an inability to reflect their knowledge adequately in writing;
  • it is helpful to identify the type (what kinds) of errors that have been made in the work, particularly if these can be pointed out in detail in a small section. Providing correct spellings of subject specific words is very useful;
  • in addition a common perception is that dyslexic students have fluency in oral language but difficulty with written language. However some dyslexic students also experience spoken language difficulties, such as word finding, hesitations, mispronunciations and incomplete sentences. This should be taken into account when assessing oral presentations.

Variations in processing difficulties and the effects of secondary factors, such as environment and self-esteem, contribute significantly to the individual profile. Many students may have developed excellent ‘compensation’ strategies.

Emphasis is usually given to problems with written work. However, writing is only one aspect of the range of difficulties reported by students. These can include some or all of the following:

  • listening and taking notes in a lecture; this is why many students are provided with digital recorders and microphones so that they can concentrate on listening and understanding rather than writing. In some cases students may also have a note-taker;
  • limitations in working memory, resulting in the need to go over texts many times to remember and understand them; this is one of the reasons why extra time is given in examinations;
  • handwriting which may be extremely slow, lacking automaticity, which contributes to spelling errors and/or word omissions;
  • pronunciation of polysyllabic and/or unfamiliar words;
  • slow speed of reading; word omissions, problems making sense of print without substantial re-reading; this is another reason why extra time may be given in exams;
  • difficulties in reading aloud;
  • tendency to misinterpret or miscopy complex written or spoken instructions;
  • word recall difficulties (spoken and written); often giving the appearance of immature language in relation to complexity of ideas;
  • estimating time, both in managing deadlines and for daily routines;
  • left/right confusion, leading to orientation difficulties, e.g. in the library;
  • fatigue as a result of the extra concentration and energy needed to meet both the literacy and non-literacy requirements of the HE environment;
  • difficulties with basic maths and statistics; this particularly affects students who encounter mathematical content within a non-mathematical discipline.

Dyslexia is the most common specific learning difficulty in HE but you may meet students who are dyspraxic, dyscalculic or who also have a pervasive developmental disorder such as Asperger syndrome or autism. Additionally, some students will have a combination of these difficulties and disabilities.


Understanding Your Child’s Trouble With Writing

By Erica Patino

reposted from

Close up of girl with her head on her hand concentrating on writing | Understanding Your Child’s Trouble With Writing

At a Glance

  • A number of learning issues can make writing difficult.
  • A child may struggle with the physical act of writing, or putting her thoughts into writing—or both.
  • There are many tools and strategies to help improve writing skills at home and at school.

If your child struggles to form letters, put ideas into words or spell correctly, she’s not alone. It’s not uncommon for children to have some kind of trouble with written expression. One of the most common causes is a learning issue called dysgraphia. But there can be other causes as well. Find out what can cause difficulties with writing and how you can help.

What You Might Be Seeing

Writing is a complex task! Many kids who struggle with writing try to avoid it altogether. That can be frustrating to watch, especially when your child has homework that she keeps putting off or gives up on. But it’s important that you and her teachers don’t assume she’s lazy, or that she’s not smart.

Here are some other signs of a possible writing issue:

  • Has messy handwriting
  • Writes slowly and painstakingly
  • Is easily overwhelmed by writing assignments
  • Refuses to write or do work that involves writing
  • Mixes up or leaves out words and letters
  • Has a poor grasp of spelling and punctuation
  • Has trouble putting thoughts on paper

What Can Cause Trouble With Writing

When kids struggle with writing, a condition called dysgraphia is often a prime suspect. But other issues can affect a child’s ability to write for various reasons. Here are the main causes of writing issues.

Dysgraphia: This condition makes tasks like spelling and handwriting difficult. It affects fine motor skills used in writing, drawing and tracing. Dysgraphia can make it hard to visualize how letters should look on the page.

You might see your child writing letters too close together or too far apart. She may also mix print, cursive, uppercase and lowercase letters. She may spell correctly orally but not on paper. Learn more signs of dysgraphia.

Dyspraxia: Dyspraxia causes problems with movement, including the physical act of printing and writing.

Kids with dyspraxia often have trouble planning and completing tasks that involve motor skills. Depending on how severe their symptoms are, they may struggle with everyday tasks, such as brushing their teeth or tying their shoes.

Dyslexia: This common learning disability is best known for causing reading difficulties. But it can also affect writing. Kids with dyslexia can have trouble recognizing and making sense of written words.

Because of that, they’re often poor spellers, and that makes writing a challenge. Their handwriting may be slow, and they may have a hard time getting their thoughts down on paper.

Kids who struggle with writing usually have more than one of these conditions. Keep reading to learn how to pinpoint the reasons for your child’s writing issues and what tools and strategies can help.

How You Can Get Answers

It’s not unusual for parents to be the first to notice their children’s writing difficulties. But it can take time to sort out what’s causing the problem. Working with your child’s teacher, school and pediatrician can help you get the answers you need. Then you can get appropriate support for your child.

Here are some steps you can take to find out what’s causing your child’s trouble with writing:

  • Talk with your child’s teacher. Knowing what the teacher is seeing at school is an important piece of the puzzle. The teacher can tell you how your child’s trouble with writing is affecting her learning. Be sure to share that information when you talk with other professionals about your child’s struggles. The teacher may also try out someinformal accommodations in class to see if they help your child with her writing.
  • Look into an educational evaluation. Having your child evaluated by the schoolmight reveal the cause of her struggle with writing. It may also result in support and services to help with her writing issues. Either you or your child’s teacher can request an evaluation. If the school agrees, the testing will be free. If your child is eligible for support, the school will commit to providing a written education plan, either anIndividualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan. If your child is under age 3, you also can contact your state’s early intervention system.
  • Talk with your child’s doctor. You can also start getting answers by telling your child’s doctor what you’ve observed at home and what the teacher has noticed. That includes trouble with the physical act of writing and other fine motor skills. The doctor may be able to rule out some medical causes (such as a vision impairment). She may refer you to a specialist for further evaluation.
  • Consult with specialists. There are a number of professionals who can help figure out what’s behind your child’s trouble with writing. Neurologists, psychologists, occupational therapists and some learning specialists can help you identify the issue. They can also suggest helpful interventions.

What You Can Do Now

Fortunately, a lot is known about the conditions that make writing difficult. And there ways to help. Regardless of which condition your child may have, you can help your child at home. Here are some ideas you may want to consider:

  • Learn as much as you can. Understanding your child’s trouble with writing is the first step to getting her the help she needs. The more you know, the better able you’ll be to find strategies to build her writing skills and reduce her frustration.
  • Observe and take notes. By closely watching your child’s behavior when she’s writing, you may start to see patterns. And that can help you find solutions. Maybe you’ve noticed that your child immediately melts down when she has more than a page of written homework. You can try breaking down the work into 10-minute segments and see if that helps.
  • Focus on effort, not outcome. Praise your child for trying. Remind her that everyone makes mistakes, including you! Help her understand how important it is to keep practicing, and reward her for making progress.
  • Encourage keyboarding. For many kids, keyboarding (typing) is easier than writing by hand. For some kids, voice-activated software can make typing easier. Some students find an audio recorder a helpful supplement to taking notes in class.
  • Look for apps and other high-tech help. There are lots of apps and online gamesthat can help your child build writing skills.
  • Encourage writing at home. Give your child a chance to practice writing in low-pressure situations. Have her jot down items on the grocery list and take short phone messages. Or encourage her to journal and write about what interests her, even if it’s just a few sentences a day. Don’t rush her through this process.
  • See it through your child’s eyes. It’s hard to know what your child is experiencing with her writing difficulties. Get an idea of what it might feel like to have those issues. Having that insight can make it easier to be supportive.
  • Connect with other parents. Connecting with parents in similar situations can give you support and confidence. Our online community is a great place to find other parents who also have kids with writing issues. They can be a great source of information, ideas and tips.

Finding out what’s causing your child’s trouble with writing and how to help are important first steps in an ongoing journey. Just getting started can make you feel more hopeful and confident about helping your child.

Key Takeaways

  • Your observations provide important clues for your child’s teachers, doctor and specialists.
  • Learning the cause of your child’s writing issues can help you and professionals provide the right kind of support.
  • Other parents in similar situations can be a good source of advice, suggestions and support.

About the Author

Erica Patino

Erica Patino

Erica Patino is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.

More by this author

Dyslexia and Writing

Dyslexia and Writing

Dyslexic children and adults experience a range of challenges when trying to put pen to paper . . . John Bradford describes common difficulties and some strategies which have been found to help.


  A teacher’s attention is often drawn to a dyslexic child or student by their ‘messy’ work – short words spelt wrongly, poor handwriting, words crossed out, lack of paragraphs, and incomplete work. Unfortunately, teachers too frequently come to the conclusion that the child cannot be bothered to make an effort, or is simply stupid. It can come as a surprise to discover that the child is actually quite intelligent, and teachers often conclude that the child must, therefore, be lazy. 

This is far from the truth. Dyslexic children, teenagers and adults suffer from a range of difficulties which, even with the greatest effort, make writing the most difficult activity they are asked to perform.

There are four main challenges for a dyslexic child:

1. Spelling
2. Sentence punctuation
3. Handwriting
4. Sequencing ideas

1. Spelling

Visual memory weaknesses present particular challenges. This weakness prevents a child or teenager from having a strong memory of what many common words look like. You can compare this to your own visual memory of what the Statue of Liberty looks like – you probably have a clear picture in your mind.

Dyslexic children can learn to work out the spellings of words that follow a logical pattern of letter sounds (like ‘c-a-t’ and ‘s-i-n-g’). The best help for a dyslexic child is to use phonics-based teaching of spelling . However, the spellings of words with little relation to their sounds – like ‘said’ and ‘ought’ – are particularly difficult to remember. They do not sound like the letter-sounds from which they are spelt.

In some languages, like Italian, the spellings can be worked out from their letter-sounds. So, a sentence like:

La mia madre desidera andare all’isola.

(My mother wants to go to the island)

is not too hard to spell once you know the rules. However, to spell the English word ‘mother’ from its letter-sounds is not easy: you would think that the beginning of moth|er was a flying insect! The word ‘island‘ looks like ‘is’ ‘land’ and the letter sounds do not create the word ‘island’.

Other words like ‘where’, ‘here’, ‘are’, ‘there’, etc. are equally impossible to spell from the sounds of their letters. (These illogical spellings came about because of the complex history of the English language, which has been built up from other languages over the centuries.)

One group of spellings causes particular difficulties for dyslexic writers:

any (‘eny’) 
many (‘meny’)
does (‘dus’)
said (‘sed’)
they (‘thay’)
because (‘becos’)
island (‘iland’)
friend (‘frend’)
enough (‘enuff’)

These tricky words can be learned as a ‘mnemonic’ by dyslexic children. ‘Because’, for example, can be remembered from the first letters of the ‘silly’ sentence: ‘BigElephants Can Add USums Easily’. The word ‘any’ can be remembered by using the ‘silly sentence ‘Ants Never Yawn’. A useful book which provides mnemonics for these words is ‘Mnemonics’ from Tregear Books.

Dyslexic children and teenagers can be helped if teachers write the spellings of words which most children will use on the board while discussing the topic with them. For example, if the children were to write about ‘My trip’, the teacher could put such words on the board as:


Telling dyslexic children to check spellings in a dictionary is not helpful. To find a word in a dictionary, you have to know how the word is spelt in the first place! However, spell-checkers can make a big difference (and are seen as being fun and trendy!).

2. Sentence punctuation

Sentence punctuation means putting upper-case or capital letters at the start, and periods or full stops at the end, of each sentence. You will often notice dyslexic children omitting these crucial markers of how the passage reads.

An easy exercise to teach this is to take a passage of about five or six sentences which a dyslexic child can read without difficulty, and type it out, omitting the upper-case letters and periods. Children will soon see how hard it is to make sense of the passage, and they can be asked to punctuate the passage into sentences. If repeated a number of times, children will become proficient at using sentence punctuation themselves.

Another activity which works well is to say a couple of sentences to a child, and ask how many sentences you said. For example, say: ‘I got into the car yesterday. I found the map I had been looking for.’ (two sentences). Say: ‘I went home last night and cooked myself a meal.’ (one sentence). The child will soon come to realize that the word ‘and’ can link two ideas into one sentence.

3. Handwriting

Some dyslexic children experience difficulty memorizing the sequence of movements which make up the writing of each letter. This can lead to uneven handwriting, and, if severe, may be described as ‘dysgraphia’.

They may also find it hard to remember which way round certain letters go (like b/d, 9/p, p/q. c, z, j, g, and others).

The following approaches can help:

  • When assessing a dyslexic child’s original writing, it is important to ignore the poor spelling and handwriting, and to grade on the content rather than the handwriting. 
  • The best help for improving handwriting and memorizing spellings is to teach dyslexic children cursive handwriting.


  • In view of their difficulties with handwriting, dyslexic children should be allowed to do homework assignments on a word processor at home, and to bring in the print-out. As this can be spell-checked, and usually looks attractive, it can help to re-build their self-confidence. Some schools allow dyslexic children to do their written work in class on an inexpensive laptop computer (from an educational supplier) with a spell-checker, and take it to the Special Services/Special Needs department at recess/break times to print out their work..

(Comparison of the handwriting of a dyslexic child with that of a child who is not dyslexic.)

(Read an account of teaching cursive handwriting to one dyslexic child below.)

4. Sequencing ideas

Telling a story in the right order or explaining what happened can cause problems. Dyslexic children, teenagers and students are often unaware of the need to sketch out a rough outline of an essay before actually writing it. This can look like this:

1. Introduction – how we decided to go on a trip.
2. What we took with us.
3. Journey to the mountains.
4. Setting up camp by a lake.
5. Getting lost on the first day.
6. Two million mosquitoes at night!
6. Cooking a meal on the camp fire.
7. Singing songs on our journey home.
8. Conclusion – like to go again, but with a mosquito net!

With this plan on a sheet of paper, a dyslexic child can then write a paragraph about each part of the story, confident in the knowledge that each section of the story will be in the right order. Although time-consuming at first, thus procedure leads to confident essay-writing over the years.

For a university student, a plan like this can re-build their confidence in their ability to write an essay which argues a point coherently. Once the plan is written, they only have to fill out each section.

John Bradford 
June 2003 
John Bradford is Director of Direct Learning.


Boy writingTeaching cursive handwriting to a dyslexic child

One child found adapting to a cursive style of writing particularly difficult as he joined uswhen he was aged six. We worked together using crayons on large pieces of paper, sand on trays, and chunky pens on large wipe-able white boards to practice the letter formations. I encourage him to be aware of letters that had a similar formation. We would sometimes play music in the background to encourage a better flow when writing.

He became confident about where each letter should start and where it ended. We then built on this by forming small words, and identified how each letter could join to the next. Small words became sentences and his hand writing has greatly improved. 

He also now has less problems identifying whether he is writing a b or a d, because he is aware that they are formed and join in a different way. (J.B., Wimbledon, London)


Articles on connected topics

 The Sounds the Letters Make 

 Hearing Your Child Read

 Enabling the Dyslexic Student to De-code Information

 Multi-sensory Teaching methods

 English is Europe’s toughest language to learn


 Website evaluation of John Bradford’s article

Comparison of the handwriting of a dyslexic child with that of a child who is not dyslexic

I have compared ‘J’s’ writing with ‘Z’. ‘Z’ is a male pupil age 11 years who had not been diagnosed with dyslexia. ‘Z’ is a very slow learner.

‘Z’ has beautiful handwriting. He writes with his right hand and takes a very long time to complete a piece of work. ‘Z’ writes at his own pace and speed, all his letters flow evenly and every letter sits on the line. He puts a lot of effort in to his work and uses correct punctuation.

‘Z’ will immediately notice if he has made a mistake with his writing and rectify it, whereas ‘J’ will not notice at all unless it is pointed out to him.

‘J’, who is dyslexic and left handed, has very messy and untidy writing. ‘J’ always starts off on the line (usually in the margin) but never manages to complete the line without falling off it, thus his writing does not flow evenly.

‘J’ also forgets to use spaces between his words because he is rushing through it to finish it.

To help ‘J’ I had made photocopy pages with thicker lines for him so that the lines stand out. This helps ‘J’ to see where the lines are, as in his writing book the lines are quite faint.

What I did notice by comparing both boys’ handwriting books is that ‘Z’ uses a lot of pressure on his pencil as he is writing it and this is clearly seen on the page underneath. ‘J’ holds his pencil quite loosely and his writing is light in color in comparison with ‘Z ‘s which very dark.

A. B, Hewport, Gwent, UK.
(A.B. is a student on the Dyslexia Certificate course)

Occupational Therapy



 Signs of a Student Struggling with Handwriting

Students who have difficulty with many aspects of schoolwork often struggle with a mechanical writing problem that contributes to their predicament.  When children have to focus a lot on the process of writing, they miss much of the content being taught, and may not accurately convey what they do understand.  Occupational Therapy attempts to improve a child’s handwriting by addressing not only the learning process of letter formation, but also fine-motor coordination, attention, and visual-perceptual components related to it.  

Signs of a Student Struggling with Handwriting:


  • Difficulty with letter formation or general illegibility
  • Significant variations in size of letters
  • Problems with keeping letters/words on line
  • Inconsistent spacing between letters and words
  • Continual crowding of words at the end of a line
  • Reversals of letters and numbers
  • Extreme slowness of writing speed or writing much too quickly
  • Complaints of hand pain/cramping
  • Use of an awkward or strange-looking pencil grasp
  • Not holding paper in a stable position while writing
  • Unusual/awkward body postures when trying to write



If tracing and copying letters are difficult for a child, it sometimes helps them to develop more sensory and perceptual awareness of letters.  Children who are having difficulty with learning basic letter formations may benefit from practice with making letters in different types of media, where they can experience the concrete spatial properties of letters in a tactile way.  Some ideas for this are:


·         Rolling play-doh into snakes and then making letters out of the doh pieces

·         Stamping letters on play-doh or paint.

·         Making letters with fingers in finger paint.

·         Making letters with a squiggle-writer (a vibrating pen)

·         Tracing letters in sand

·         Smearing shaving cream on a cookie tray or table top and writing letters on the  shaving cream with fingers

·         Making a large cookie tray of jello, then using letter cookie cutters to stamp out letters  and eat them.

·         Sorting letters from a box of Alphabet cereal, then gluing them onto paper or making words with them.

·         Sorting plastic magnetic letters into groups of which ones have straight lines and which ones have curved lines.

Provide structure to support learning to write letters on paper.

·         Make tracing sheets that let children trace letters made of dots, lighter letters, or letters that you have gone over with wide red lines

·         allow children to write on graph paper, using the boxes as a target for where to put letters

·         Use darkened lines to target where to place letters, or draw over lines with a red marker.

Be aware of a child’s body position when he or she is writing. If a child has instability in sitting balance or in stabilizing the forearms on a table or desk during writing, he may do better at first by trying a different position such as lying prone on a rug to stabilize the forearms or trunk, or by writing at a table or desk with a shorter height, or using a taller chair or seat cushion.

Children who basically get the idea of letter formations but need practice to be able to form their letters better or write more quickly can practice daily with writing worksheets that are tailor-made to their needs (for example concentration on specific letters, either by first repeated tracing of letters and then copying them.)  These can easily be made using free sites on the internet.  

A list of websites you can go to in order to make customized handwriting worksheets for practice;

 Other Informational Sites on Writing


Twelve Rules for Good Cursive Handwriting:


Accommodations and Modifictions for Students with Handwriting Problems and/or Dysgraphia:


The Physical Language Workout Space:


A Common Sense Approach to the Teaching of Handwriting:


The “Handwriting Without Tears” website (Kirkwood School’s Current Approach) :

Don’t Let Writing Cramp Your Style – Ergonomic Tips for Pain-Free Writing


Technically, “writer’s cramp” is not an overuse syndrome. Writer’s cramp is a problem of incoordination and loss of control of movement arising in the basal ganglia of the brain. Its cause is unknown. The symptoms are localized, sustained muscle contractions that cause twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures when a person performs a specific, fine motor task such as writing. Pain and cramping is uncommon, although discomfort in the forearm wrist and fingers may be present. (Sources:;


Although true writer’s cramp is a rare syndrome, hand pain, muscle fatigue and cramping from repetitive writing is not. Even if writing is not a large part of the job, writing can contribute to the development of repetitive strain injuries. Forceful gripping of the pen and pressing the tip onto the paper, awkward positioning of the pen or the paper, contact stress from holding the pen or leaning on the wrist or forearm are all risk factors of musculoskeletal disorders. In addition to addressing the keyboard and mouse as contributing factors to hand, wrist and forearm pain, writing technique should also be considered.


As early as 1700, Bernardino Ramazzini, considered to be the founder of occupational and industrial medicine, wrote that “the incessant driving of the pen over paper causes intense fatigue of the hand and the whole arm because of the continuous . . . strain on the muscles and tendons.” (Source:

In 1995, almost 300 years after Ramazzini described the occupational hazards associated with writing, the first ergonomic pen was introduced to the mass market. The Dr. Grip pen, with a rubberized and wide-body barrel was designed with the purpose of increasing writing comfort.

Several other wide-body pens followed quickly thereafter including the PhD and the BIC XXL. All of these styles followed the quill, stick-style design.

Recently, the ergonomics of writing have been addressed with alternative pen designs that fit the hand better and reduce the pressure and tension of writing. These pens are breaking away from the standard stick-pen look. Such designs include the EZ Grip, the PenAgain, the RingPen, and the EvoPen.

A Review of Ergonomically Designed Pens


The following are some writing tips to reduce your risk of hand and arm pain.
To Reduce Force

  • Use the lightest grip possible while writing.
  • Use ergonomically designed or wide-barrel pens.
  • Use a rubberized grip or increase traction by wrapping a rubber-band around the pen barrel.
  • Use a felt-tip pen, gel pen or roller ball so that the tip glides easily over the paper.
  • Do not plant your wrist or forearm on the desk. Glide over the surface of the desk using your shoulder to initiate the movement of writing.

To Avoid Awkward Postures

  • Keep the wrists neutral.
  • Position the elbow so that it is open at more than a right (90 degree) angle.
  • Keep the shoulders relaxed.
  • Keep the hand relaxed and avoid forceful bending or hyperextension of the finger joints or thumb when holding the pen.
  • Position the paper you are writing on about 2 inches above elbow level while sitting with your shoulders relaxed.
  • Use a sloped desk to reduce the need to bend the neck or round the shoulders forward.
  • Place the paper in a position that is easily accessible.
  • Use a microdesk writing platform above the keyboard.
  • Get in close to the work surface.
  • Don’t reach around objects placed on the desk while writing.
  • Don’t hold a pen while typing.
  • Use a headset if you need to type and speak on the phone at the same time.

To Reduce Contact Stress

  • Consider one of the new ergonomically designed pens.
  • Use the lightest hold possible while still maintaining control of the pen.
  • Don’t lean on the wrist or the forearm, especially on the sharp edge of a desk.
  • Use a round, not a triangularly-shaped, rubberized grip.

To Reduce Repetitive Writing Movement

  • Take microbreaks.
  • Stretch often.
  • Vary work tasks.

For more information on hand and upper extremity injuries, prevention and recovery, visit Hand Health Resources.

Content copyright © 2008 by Marji Hajic. All rights reserved.

Boy is empowered by his weakness


Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
ONE ON ONE: Michael works with Alicia, 7, at a homeless shelter in North Hollywood. He teaches typing and software programs through his nonprofit, Showing People Learning and Technology.
Michael Guggenheim’s dysgraphia, a learning disorder that impairs his writing, spurred him to open a nonprofit that teaches homeless students how to use computers.
By Francisco Vara-Orta, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 7, 2008
Every Wednesday at the Sydney M. Irmas Transitional Living Center in North Hollywood, Michael Guggenheim teaches a handful of students how to type their names and basic phrases in Microsoft Word and how to work with math, vocabulary and typing programs.

At a recent tutoring session, Michael moved between the laptops used by shelter residents Alicia Lewis and Heaven Sanders, both 7. He coached them for 30 minutes on typing their names, then switched to a half hour of vocabulary and math games.

“Michael, I’m lost,” Heaven said, resting her face on her hands.

He quickly went to her computer and punched the “load” button on the keyboard to get the software working.

Another student in distress, another rescue.

But Michael is not just another teacher. He is 12, a sixth-grader at Los Encinos School in Encino. He can’t drive, vote or write much with a pencil, but he started a nonprofit when he was 11 and teaches computer skills to elementary students once a week.

He doesn’t regard his dysgraphia, a learning disorder that severely impairs writing, as a disability. Instead, he has turned it into a driving force.

For starters, he was quick to discover that he could use a computer, and now he earns straight A’s using a laptop for course work. Later, he started the nonprofit organization that takes laptops and educational software to elementary school children in homeless shelters.

New skills

Along the way he discovered his skills at pitching the project that is close to his heart: “Many disadvantaged kids and teenagers don’t have the opportunities and access to learning and using computer skills,” Michael said. “The tool that changed my life was a laptop, and it’s a skill that’s necessary to learn to get good grades and a good job so you aren’t left behind.”

Dysgraphia, a form of dyslexia, makes it difficult to write by hand. It is a lifelong condition that has nothing to do with intelligence, according to Los Angeles-based educational psychologist Nita Ferjo, who has treated Michael since he was 6.

Like some people with dysgraphia, Michael experiences pain while trying to write. His written work is illegible after a few sentences, and even tying his shoes can be difficult.

“Michael used to feel very sad in the beginning, after being diagnosed,” Ferjo said. “But he’s a warrior of sorts, even a bit perfectionistic. He’s been driven since I’ve known him.”

Michael has had tutoring and physical therapy for his condition. When he was younger he sometimes dictated homework assignments to his mother. But when he entered third grade, he was allowed to use a laptop computer in the classroom.

“He changed when he got the laptop,” Ferjo said. “It empowered him to learn and do more on his own. The fact that he can now help others truly empowers him beyond his dysgraphia.”

Michael was inspired to start his nonprofit — which he christened Showing People Learning and Technology, or SPLAT — after participating in school-sponsored volunteer work and observing that some children had little or no access to technology.

After researching nonprofits on the Internet in June, he came up with the name and digitally designed a logo with his father’s help. He then asked a family friend who works on copyrighting issues in the entertainment industry to help him trademark the logo.

In July, after using an Internet service to help him prepare the necessary documents, Michael applied for and received nonprofit status from the California secretary of state’s office and a federal tax exemption identification number.

In August, he decided to approach L.A. Family Housing, which provides temporary shelter and social services to homeless people, to launch his program. The organization, for which he had done his school-sponsored volunteer work, runs the North Hollywood shelter.

Cecilia Ribakoff, L.A. Family Housing’s volunteer coordinator, said Michael “blew her away” when he interviewed for a volunteer position, giving her a written proposal and pitching his nonprofit for the organization’s North Hollywood shelter.,0,2489348.story?coll=la-home-center 

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Dysgraphia: More Than Just Bad Handwriting

Dysgraphia: More Than Just Bad Handwriting

06 February 2008

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

People who have unusual difficulty with reading, writing, listening or working with numbers might have a learning disability. We talked last week about a reading disorder, dyslexia. Today we discuss a writing disorder, dysgraphia.

Writing is not an easy skill. Not only does it require the ability to organize and express ideas in the mind. It also requires the ability to get the muscles in the hands and fingers to form those ideas, letter by letter, on paper.

Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing abilities

Experts say teachers and parents should suspect dysgraphia if a child’s handwriting is unusually difficult to read. Letters might be sized or spaced incorrectly. Capital letters might be in the wrong places.  The child’s hand, body or paper might be in a strange position. These can all be signs of dysgraphia. Spelling problems can also be related to the disorder.

Many people have poor handwriting, but dysgraphia is more serious. Dsygraphia is a neurological disorder that generally appears when children are first learning to write. Writing by hand can be physically painful for people who have it. There are different kinds of dysgraphia. And it can appear with other learning disabilities, especially involving language.

Experts are not sure what causes it. But they say early treatment can help prevent or reduce many problems. For example, special exercises can increase strength in the hands and improve muscle memory. This is training muscles to remember the shapes of letters and numbers.

Children can try a writing aid like a thick pencil to see if that helps. Schools can also provide simple interventions like more time to complete writing activities or assistance from a note taker. Teachers could have students with dysgraphia take tests by speaking the answers into a recorder, or type their work instead of writing it.

Children with dysgraphia might be able to avoid the problems of handwriting by using a computer. Yet experts say they could still gain from special instruction to help them organize their thoughts and put them into writing. Such skills become more important as children get older and schoolwork becomes more difficult.

And that’s the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. Our continuing series on learning disabilities, along with links to more information, can be found at I’m Steve Ember. 

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts more than 1,000 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 115 million people.