Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dysgraphia: 5th Gr.-High School, Bad Penmanship

VISITOR:Thu, Oct 16, 2008 I am a psychology professor. The reason I am writing to you today is based on my son's need for accommodations and testing. My son has a severe form of dysgraphia. He currently writes at a level of a first to third grader and is in tenth grade. He is failing the writing part of Spanish and has great difficulty in the process of writing itself. His posture, how he holds his pencil/pen and other writing variables appears to be unusual compared to other children and myself. This has always been a problem for him and I noted this before he was five years old. His ability to verbally communicate effectively is not problematic, in fact he has competed as a story teller and been quite successful. His current high school, has a 504 plan in place. however, his writing has not improved, they have failed to accommodate his needs and continue to ignore his writing problems. I have had to push his school to meet his accommodations since fifth grade and finding that they are unconcerned about meeting his needs because he is so "bright." Could you please advise me on what tests are available for him at his intelligence and grade level so he can receive the accommodations he deserves once he is tested appropriately? The school tried to by-pass a number of tests previously and they have used intimidation on him as well as tried to do the same with me. Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

DYSCALCULIA.ORG: Your son needs an IEP (Individual Education Plan); he will use the 504 protections in college. Please take these steps immediately:
(1) Fill out the LD checklist (

(2) Craft a letter to the school principal requesting that your son be tested for a specific learning disability in writing (penmanship)also known as dysgraphia, in addition to all areas checked on the LD checklist.(3) Immediately start keeping a journal. (See instructions on

(4) The school cannot refuse to test your son. They must test him for dysgraphia AND report the results to you within 30 days of your written request.

(5) You should get a consent to test form to sign and return to school either in the mail or sent home with him.

(6) Testing instruments: This author recommends the following thorough testing instruments:

[The source for obtaining the items appears in brackets.]
Slingerland Screening for the Identification of Language-Learning Strengths and Weaknesses. By Carol Murray. (High School & College Levels). [EPS]

Slingerland Screening Tests for Identifying Children with Specific Language Disability. By Beth H. Slingerland. (Grades 1-6). [EPS]

The Pediatric Assessment Systems. By Melvin Levine. Neurodevelopmental Examinations. (Preschool, PRE-1, Grades 2-4, Grades 4-10). [EPS]

Revised Pre-Reading Screening Procedures to identify first grade academic needs. (Auditory, visual, & kinesthetic ). For students with no introduction to reading. [EPS]

Test of Early Written Language (TEWL-2, ages 3-0 to 10-11). By Hresko, Herron, and Peak. [Pro-Ed]

Test of Written Language (TOWL-3, ages 7-6 to 17-11). By Hammill and Larson. [Pro-Ed]

Test of Written Expression (TOWE, ages 6-6 to 14-11). By McGhee, Bryant, Larsen, and Rivera. [Pro-Ed]

Orton advises professionals diagnosing dysgraphia to perform skill tests on both hands and to get a complete developmental history of handedness and academic performance and details of any special training. If the child is naturally left-handed, begin retraining of the left hand for writing, positioning the top of the paper inclined toward the right.

(7) Keep in touch. I'll help you through the process.

You need to establish the disability formally now so that he will qualify for services beyond high school.

(8) DYSGRAPHIA: DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT (excerpt from my paper at

Dysgraphia is the primary problem referred to occupational therapists in the school setting (Fisher, Murray and Bundy 1991). Although most handwriting instruction is the responsibility of teachers, the therapist's role is to determine underlying postural, motor, sensory-integrative, and perceptual deficits (Stevens and Pratt 1989, 321). The OT also analyzes writing readiness skills, and the sensory-motor, cognitive, psychosocial, and environmental factors that interfere with the development of legible handwriting. The OT provides intervention where appropriate (Schlussel 1998) by devising exercises to develop necessary skills, providing teachers with strategies to improve classroom performance, and by suggesting supporting home activities (AOT 1998).The OT will look for prewriting skills, which must be developed before penmanship instruction can begin (Beery 1982b, 1989; Klien 1990).

The basic six skills are: (1) Small muscle ability to control the intrinsic muscles of the hand. (2) Visuomotor integration- the ability to skillfully move the hand under guidance of the eyes. (3) The ability to hold writing utensils. (4) Ability to form smooth basic strokes, lines, circles, etc. (5) Perceptual discrimination, recognition and awareness of shapes, forms and letters; and the ability to deduce the movements necessary for making forms. Ability to give precise descriptions of what is seen. (6) Orientation to printed language, including visual analysis of letters and words along with the ability to discriminate between right and left (Lamme 1979).

Validated by Weil and Amundson in 1994, Beery (1982b) believes ability to copy the first 9 geometric forms of the Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration (VMI) (Beery, 1982a) determines readiness for handwriting. These nine are a vertical line, horizontal line, circle, cross, right oblique line, square, left oblique line, oblique cross (X), and triangle (usually mastered by 5 years 3 months). Unsubstantiated in some studies (Weil and Amundson 1994), Beery (1989) asserts instruction should not begin until mastery of the VMI oblique cross (approx. 4 years 11 months), because it requires drawing of diagonal lines and crossing the midline typical of letter forms.

Klien (1990) lists some different skills necessary for handwriting. (1) The child should have reached the developmental level of constructive play. (2) He must be able to differentiate shapes and sizes. (3) Understand basic abstract concepts. (4) Have good balance to sit independently with arms free. (5) Have shoulder and wrist stability to facilitate distal control of the pencil with a firm but not clamped grasp. (6) Have established dominant writing hand and use nondominant hand to stabilize paper. (7) Have adequate upper body-visual coordination.

Handwriting assessment instruments and therapy programs can be obtained from the Pro-Ed Company of Austin, Texas. Contact them on the Internet at: or at (800) 897-3202.

Another excellent source is the Educators Publishing Service of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Contact EPS on the Internet at: or at (800) 225-5750.

12.Determine the easiest and most natural slant by writing samples and exercises where the patient draws a series of short slanted lines and loops on ruled paper in each direction (forward, vertical, and backhand). For maximum success, follow the student's strong directional slant preference in subsequent training (Orton 1937, 179, 181-183).A profitable method of handwriting instruction is to teach the child the kinesthetic pattern or feel of a letter rather than guiding the child to copy its visual form. The pattern is demonstrated at a distance, and the paper upon which it is reproduced is shielded from easy view.

Once the motor pattern is established exercises are done blindfolded or with eyes closed. Eventually, the hand automatically produces the letter's kinesthetic patterns without visual control. Cramped hand position and pencil squeezing disappears (Orton 1937, 183-184).Sequential forms demand consideration. Even when letters can be formed accurately and quickly in isolation, great difficulty is seen in assembling or sequencing these letters to form words and sentences whether using cursive or manuscript. Copying is easier than taking dictation and propositional writing is hardest of all.

Orton recommends exercises that progress through this sequence of easiest to most difficult (Orton 1937, 184-185). A few children show little improvement with retraining exercises in handwriting. In these cases, it is recommended that the typewriter be employed. During retraining, children should be exempt from all school writing demands so that the effects of the careful practice period are not arrested by the need to write under pressure (Orton 1937, 184-185). In six 2nd, 6th, and 4th grade classrooms studied by McHale and Cermak (1992), 30-60% of classroom activities required fine motor skills, 85% of which were pencil and paper tasks.

13."All young children should have daily lessons. . . . One or two lessons a week are futile and often dangerous. They do not afford opportunity for developing habits" and may plunge the child into deeper discouragement. "Daily lessons are just as indispensable . . . as training in phonics and kinesthetic writing." Lessons should be at least two years in duration to insure substantial and lasting success (Gillingham and Stillman 1964, 22-23).


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  2. I don't think the test is what needed here. Good motivation, support, and guidelines. Maybe will help. If you will give your son a diagnose it would be not a task to solve but an excuse to stop trying. You say he fails only in writing but he is a good speaker. Maybe his thoughts flashing by faster than his motoric functioning, in the way that writing requires more time than speaking. So, when he is about to write his thoughts, they vanish. Try to turn on the recorder and make his speak, then let him write down the records simultaneously. In that way he will master his motoric functioning and will be able to write down his thoughts as fast as he can speak them out)

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  11. I have had to push his school to meet his accommodations since fifth grade and finding that they are unconcerned about ver en repelis his needs because he is so "bright."

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