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Dysgraphia… Dys-what-ia?

Put simply, dysgraphia is a very specific learning difficulty; when the ability to express oneself via the written language is impaired. It has no inpact on intelligence and is frequently seen in people who also have ADHD and an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

The signs are:

  • illegible handwriting
  • cramping of fingers and arm when having only written a small amount
  • pain
  • mixed upper and lower case letters (typically ‘p’ and ‘j’)
  • inconsistent size of letters
  • unfinished (poorly formed) letters
  • poor use of lines and margins
  • handwriting abilities that interfere with spelling
  • trouble with punctuation
  • problems using writing as a means of communication

It was when my son was being invesigated for Asperger’s Syndrome that he was also diagnosed with dysgraphia. It’s been a difficult, old slog. Ensuring a child is supported for ONE issue can be tough. Ensuring a child is supported for multiple, very different issues is draining.

When he was in primary school, I was in regular contact with the SENCO (special education needs coordinator) and each class teacher. The needs of a child with Aspegers can change; they have sensory issues, behavioural problems and a general confusion when things change. But these are text book and awareness is increasing.

As he’s got older, he’s learned to cope miraculously. He’s made excellent subject choices at school and has a fantastically supportive, wonderful group of friends.

The issue of dysgraphia is something that has become more of a problem as he’s gone through the school system. Handwriting is the way that pupils convey their knowledge to their teachers – and once at high school, children do not have the luxury of forming a close bond with one, single understanding teacher as they do in primary. Teachers simply do not have the time to decipher messy scribe. So Mr six and I have been vocal about his need to be supported. A laptop would be the simplest solution; it would allow him to present his work in a far neater way.

The support has never been forthcoming.

But he’s approaching his GCSEs. A critical time in his schooling.

The report was sent home last week and I felt such frustration when I read it:

  • Maths – A* grade, confident and enthusiastic student, detail omitted from work
  • Business – Outstanding knowledge
  • Biology – Very keen biologist, good focus but written work does not reflect this
  • Chemistry – A grade but needs to work on longer answers
  • History – Orally his knowledge is very good but struggles to communicate this in a written format
  • Physics – A*
  • English – Demonstrates perceptive understanding…needs to use capital letters correctly and format handwriting

Last night was parents’ evening. The first meeting was with history. As soon as handwriting and communication was mentioned I broke down(!) The frustration at being failed just over spilled. In a very public arena. His poor teacher was shocked. She had no idea that this was something we have voiced our concerns over since he started at high school. The head of department came over and instantly offered help; she offered to contact the SENCO personally and try to make things easier.

The rest of the evening was good (I was balancing extreme pride at my son’s achievements with my shame at crying – and almost causing a teacher to break down!) until I sat with his English teacher.

She complained about the state of my son’s handwriting. I said he had dysgraphia. She pointed out that he used capitals and lower case letters incorrectly, demonstrating the letter p. I said he had dysgraphia. She also complained about the lack of content in my son’s work. Again, I said he had dysgraphia.

I asked about any help available and she said there was nothing wrong with his handwriting, despite having being critical of it at the beginning of the meeting. I disagree. I find it very hard to read. And here are just two examples from his very recent work (probably some of the neatest I’ve seen, to be fair)

His name is not 'David Fame'...

His name is not ‘David Fame’…

The second what...?

The second what…?

I left telling her that it was an issue that was impacting his entire school life which I felt now needed raising with the LEA.

I’m not proud of my behaviour. I am, however, frustrated beyond all belief. Handwriting is essential. Content is paramount in exams. To fail any child is an educational crime – but when a child has such potential and all he needs is one piece of technology to ensure he can communicate effectively is something that I cannot sit by and allow.