Parents of young children have the privilege and responsibility of helping our children reach and surpass growth milestones. Seeing them conquer the physical and mental aspects of development is thrilling as they grow into amazing little people.
However, it can be extra stressful when your child falls behind others developmentally – especially when they are school-aged, and limitations can be a source of insecurity and frustration among peers.
Today’s post examines dysgraphia in children, including symptoms to look for and how to help with dysgraphia challenges through core strengthening and other exercises.
Dysgraphia is a term that refers to trouble with transcription skills like handwriting, typing, and spelling, which are essential for writing production. Although dysgraphia is not classified as a learning disability, it can occur along with ADHD and other learning differences like dyslexia, written expression disorder, and expressive language disorder.
The most common symptoms of dysgraphia in children include unclear, irregular, or inconsistent handwriting, often with different slants, shapes, upper-and lower-case letters, and cursive and print styles. They may also write or copy things especially slowly.
Parents or teachers may notice these symptoms when the child first begins writing assignments in school. Other signs of dysgraphia can also include:
- A cramped grip that can often lead to a sore hand.
- Difficulty spacing things out on paper or within margins (i.e., poor spatial planning).
- Frequent erasing.
- Inconsistency in letter and word spacing.
- Poor spelling, including unfinished words or missing words or letters.
- Unusual wrist, body, or paper position while writing.
How to Help a Child with Dysgraphia?
Since dysgraphia results from difficulties in mastering the motor skills involved in writing, it’s a physical limitation rather than a mental one – and can be corrected with strengthening exercises – especially the core muscles. Although strengthening the hand and finger muscles may be your first inclination, a surprisingly strong correlation exists between core strength and handwriting ability.
Here’s how – when it comes to handwriting, both a strong core and strong hands are needed to support the dynamics of letter formation, spacing, pencil grip, and holding a pencil for long periods.
Basically, the core stabilizes the head, neck, and shoulders. The shoulders, in turn, support the arms, elbows, and wrists. Finally, the wrists steady and guide the hands and fingers. They all work together – and must be strengthened (with exercise) to overcome the motor skill challenges associated with dysgraphia.
If your child exhibits any of the signs or symptoms associated with dysgraphia, you can help them overcome the motor skill limitations with these exercises from handwriting specialists. They are fun, effective, and easy to practice in the comfort of your home.
- Letter feeling. This dysgraphia activity helps children focus on feeling, rather than seeing, how a letter is made. Start by tracing a letter on their back or palm (with eyes closed!), then ask them to duplicate it on paper.
- BIG writing. Since kids with dysgraphia usually have trouble remembering how to form letters correctly, you can ease the process by having them write bigger, which uses large motor movements and multisensory materials. For example, let them spray big letters on a waterproof surface with shaving cream.
- Clay digging. Clay is a fun and forgiving sensory tool and a perfect companion during dysgraphia activities. Smooth some out on a cookie sheet and have your child etch letters in it with a pencil or pen. The sensory feedback from clay sends more information to the brain about how the letters are formed.
- Pinching practice. Properly holding a pencil is challenging for many kids with writing difficulties. Your child can strengthen his fingers and improve his “pencil grip” using “pinching” tools found around the house, like tweezers, children’s chopsticks (joined at one end), or ice tongs.
- Cross-body training. For a child to write properly, both sides of his body need to work together, i.e., one arm holds the paper stable while the other does the actual pencil work. Physical exercises that require cross-body coordination can help strengthen the many body parts that support writing, such as windmills, jumping jacks, touching alternate toes, and mountain climbers. Have them perform some of these before sitting down to write.
- Building strength and stability. Sitting properly and controlling pen and paper require muscle strength and stability in the shoulders and core, so activities that condition these are instrumental to providing dysgraphia help. Examples include – planks, push-ups, wheelbarrow walking, crab walking, shooting baskets, hanging from monkey bars, and rope climbing. Even reading while lying tummy-down on the floor builds strength.
- Practice speaking. Kids with dysgraphia may have plenty of great ideas, yet writing them down is frustrating. Having them record their thoughts on a smartphone first, then play the recording back when sitting down to write, is a great exercise. It can help with idea organization, one of the dysgraphia symptoms children find difficult.
Professional Help with Overcoming Dysgraphia
Hopefully, today’s post provided valuable insight into how to help someone with dysgraphia. Even though it isn’t considered a learning disability under IDEA, the federal special education law, the challenges with transcription are very real – and children displaying any of the symptoms we covered may benefit from pediatric physical therapy to support and strengthen the muscles necessary for overcoming dysgraphia.
The KidsCare Home Health pediatric physical therapists can provide dysgraphia help for children by focusing on strengthening the core and other muscles that support the motor skills involved in writing – and the best part is that our therapists provide these therapies and support in the comfort and safety of your home.
Contact us today to connect with a professional, caring pediatric physical therapist in your area!