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Homeschooling with Dysgraphia: What You Need to Know | An Interview with Kristy Horner

October 30–November 3, 2017   |   Vol. 132, Week 8
Previously aired:   September 11–15, 2016   |   Vol. 128, Week 5

Does your child hate to write or struggle with language processing? These could be signs that your child has dysgraphia.

Learn more about this common learning challenge—including ways to help your child overcome it—on this week’s Homeschool Heartbeat with special needs consultant Kristy Horner.

In this podcast, you’ll learn:

  • What dysgraphia is
  • How to test your child for dysgraphia
  • Tips for helping your child with dysgraphia succeed
  • What dysgraphia looks like practically
  • How to choose the right curriculum for your child with dysgraphia

“There is no cure and no medication for dysgraphia, but through the use of educational therapy, tech tools, and patience, you will see progress.” — Kristy Horner

(This is the second in a three-part series on homeschooling children with specific learning disabilities. Click here to listen to our program on dyslexia, and here to listen to our program on dyscalculia.)

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Does your child hate to write or struggle with language processing? These could be signs that your child has dysgraphia. Learn more about this common learning challenge—including ways to help your child overcome it—on this week’s Homeschool Heartbeat with special needs consultant Kristy Horner.

Diane Kummer: My guest today is Kristy Horner. Kristy is a homeschooling mom and one of HSLDA’s special needs consultants. Kristy, it’s a pleasure to work with you here at HSLDA. Welcome to the program!

Kristy Horner: Thanks for having me, Diane. It is a true blessing to be part of the HSLDA family and share these tips with you today.

Diane: Well, great. We’re glad you’re here.

What is dysgraphia? [0:40]

Diane: Kristy, this week we’re going to talk about dysgraphia. So let’s define this term. What exactly is dysgraphia and what causes it?

Kristy: Dysgraphia is defined as a specific learning disorder in the DSM-5 which affects how easily children acquire written language and how well they use written language to express their thoughts. Students might have impairment in written expression as a result of poor fine motor skills, visual-spatial struggles, or handwriting issues. They also have trouble with word retrieval and verbal fluency. Language processing came to attribute quite a bit to dysgraphia, so it’s important to understand that it is more than just poor handwriting.

Diane: Well, what are some signs a parent can be aware of that may signal a child could possibly have dysgraphia?

Kristy: That’s a great question, Diane. A few signs you might want to keep an eye on are bright kids that hate to write. Struggling to organize sentences and paragraphs and get it on paper despite vivid oral detail, difficulty listening and writing at the same time, messy handwriting, incorrect pencil grip, poor spacing when writing, or when lining up their math problems, or resentment of fine motor activity.

Testing your child for dysgraphia [1:55]

Diane: Kristy, let’s say a parent thinks her child may have dysgraphia. Does the child need to be tested for it?

Kristy: Well, as with any type of learning disability, testing can sometimes be a touchy subject. In a world where labels are increasing, I think it’s important to note that awareness, identification, and specialization are also on the rise. And while it could be premature to draw directly into a diagnosis, it would be wise to do an informal assessment or screening if you’re concerned. Because dysgraphia can occur alongside other learning disabilities including but not limited to dyspraxia or dyslexia, early intervention is most helpful.

Post-screening, if you’re still concerned, you may wish to seek professional help for a formal assessment.

Diane: So how does the testing process work?

Kristy: Well, if and when you’re ready to look at testing you would consult a learning disability specialist that is qualified to administer a full evaluation. Typically, this would be a licensed educational psychologist. Tests might vary in this evaluation but could include an IQ test, overall academic assessment of writing, reading, math and language skills. It would also measure fine motor skills involved in writing and the quality of ideas are expressed. An occupational therapist can evaluate and discuss intervention for fine motor issues—but as I mentioned earlier, there is more to dysgraphia, so don’t stop there.

Helping your child succeed [3:24]

Diane: Kristy, what are some strategies or tools that would be helpful for parents who are homeschooling a child with dysgraphia?

Kristy: If you have a child with dysgraphia, you can cut down the amount of writing that is required of your child, to reduce fatigue and anxiety that can arise. Make sure that they have the right tangible items to work with, like pointed writing board, [a] pencil grip, graphic organizers, raised-line writing or graph paper. It’s also a good idea to do hand of finger exercises like squeezing tweezers or picking things up with clothespins for a minute or two prior to a writing activity. All of these can help with spacing and hand positioning and are very affordable, effective tools.

You could consider occupational therapy, professional handwriting camp, or a tutor in specific areas. If you need help finding a homeschool-friendly service provider, we can help members locate one in their area if they give us a call or by checking under the “Find Help” tab on [HSLDA’s] special needs website.

The last thing I want to mention is a very popular option these days: assistive technology. Tech devices can be a huge help. Things like word processors, speech-to-text, text-to-speech apps, or smart pens have really modernized the ability to accommodate kids with dysgraphia. Audiobooks and recordings can provide a replay option so that they can decrease the stress of not being able to write fast enough and keep up. If you can get kids to think about what they want to say and record and listen to themselves, they hear what they need or want to write before they actually do it. Not only will this help them organize thought, but it can be a great way to cut anxiety and increase confidence so they can be successful.

What dysgraphia looks like [5:13]

Diane: Kristy, does dysgraphia look different for children at different ages—and if so, how should that effect a parent’s approach to teaching a child with dysgraphia?

Kristy: It can vary due to developmental differences. Younger children may struggle with a pincer grasp, holding a spoon to eat, or buttoning shirts. They may need extra excitement to follow through with tasks like cutting, coloring, tracing or drawing shapes. The lack of developing a dominant hand or the inability to use two hands during an activity can also be a red flag. You may see a lower tolerance or a flat out avoidance of these fine motor issues or activities.

Middle and high schoolers might have a hard time taking notes because of the difficulty in organizing the information and actually getting it onto the paper. They may complain of their hands being tired or have poor spelling or grammar. They also have the tendency to avoid writing assignments, and when they do attempt them you might find that it’s not just cohesive.

Diane: What happens if a parent doesn’t catch dysgraphia early on? Can her child still be helped?

Kristy: Absolutely. Early identification and intervention is optimal when it comes to development, but it’s so important to know that it’s never too late to address learning disabilities and the root causes. There is no cure and no medication for dysgraphia, but through the use of educational therapy, tech tools, and patience, you will see progress.

Curriculum options for dysgraphia [6:42]

Diane: Kristy, are there specific curricula for homeschooling a child with dysgraphia and are there ways for parents to determine which of these programs will work for them and which ones won’t?

Kristy: Well, here are a few general things to keep in mind when looking for a program or curriculum.

You would want to look for a program with a multi-sensory approach—and know that all curriculum may be modified to fit your students’ needs, such as alternative assignments that are oral or visual in nature instead of written. You would want to seek structured approaches to writing—think of graphic organizers and charts; those are a great way to do this. Make sure expectations and assessments are identified, modeled, and specific— think check lists, rubrics, and charts and build language. Try to incorporate as much language as possible when brainstorming and writing.

So while curriculum alone cannot fix dysgraphia, our special needs department is always willing to privately consult with members to help find the right fit.

Diane: If there’s one thing that parents of children with dysgraphia need to remember what would it be?

Kristy: Well, to recap, there is no lack of strategies for addressing dysgraphia, Diane. Most importantly, I want to remind parents not to forget to stay positive about what their child can do while working through this process. Self-esteem is precious and an important part of a child’s foundation for learning. Open communication and working together can change the course of dysgraphia.

Diane: Kristy, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show this week. Thanks so much for joining us to shed some light on an issue that many children struggle with. And thanks for tuning in, everyone. I’m Diane Kummer, and I’m cheering you on.

Kristy HornerPhoto of Kristy Horner

Kristy Horner joined the HSLDA team of Special Needs Consultants in 2015. Her passion for homeschooling and bringing Christian education to other families, for the past 8 years, has made advocating home education a priority. She has contagious joy and enthusiasm, and enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family.

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