Margaret J. Kay, Ed.D. Psychologist says on her website about Dysgraphia, “Writing represents a highly complex neurodevelopmental process, which involves multiple brain mechanisms. It requires the simultaneous and sequential integration of attention, multiple information sources, memory, motor skill, language, and higher cognition. Gross and fine-motor coordination, motor memory, and “kinetic melody”, a term coined by Luria, requires balancing, flexing, and contracting movements as well as simultaneously stimulating some muscle groups while inhibiting other muscle groups.In order to self-monitor writing output, visual, proprio-kinesthetic, automatic motor memory, and re-visualization feedback mechanisms must be engaged.”
- Dictation: The student can do the assignment orally and have the teacher or parent capture it in writing. (Software can also do this and I’ll cover that in the next section on Assistive Technologies below.)
- Make it visual: Allow the student to first create a visual of their story. They could bring a photo from home that they want to write about, create a picture collage with clip-art on the computer, or choose images of different objects from an image library (See PECS for image banks that you can print to create an image library; maybe print and cut out a few dozen or so and then file them in an index card box in categories where it would be easy for them to find what they’re looking for.) and put them on a storyboard for inspiration and organization of thoughts.
- Shorten Assignments/Expectations: ADHD children really need this accommodation regardless of whether or not they have a writing disability. Their attention span is not great and requiring them to to do as much as everyone else in the same amount of time usually leads to poor self-esteem when they can’t keep up with their neuro-typical peers. Adding in a writing disorder only magnifies the need for shorter assignments or extended time to complete assignments (I think the shorter assignment is usually a better choice).
- graphic organizersResearch shows that visual learning is one of the best methods for teaching thinking skills. Visual learning techniques – graphical ways of working with ideas and presenting information – teach students to clarify their thinking and to process, organize and prioritize new information. Graphic organizer software provides an interactive and visual guide to plan, organize, and create written output.
Example: Kidspiration for K-5 and Inspiration for upper grades or theeasyessay.com (a free, online, automated information organization program)
- word-prediction programs As you type, word-prediction software interprets spelling and grammar mistakes and offers word suggestions in real time. As a student starts to type a word, the software presents a list of predicted words from which the student can choose. This is a great tool for students with poor typing skills and frequent spelling and grammar mistakes.
- speech-to-text programs
Many children with dysgraphia/written output disorders can tell a story orally but are confused and lost when asked to then put it down on paper. With speech-to-text software, students dictate into a microphone and their words appear on the computer screen.
Example: Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred
DonJohnston.com provides an inclusive list of many technology tools for writing disabilities on their website as well.
There is a whole new world for special education in the form of Apps. “Apps” is just an abbreviation for computer/technology applications. Applications have, of course, been around for a long time, but the term “Apps” became popular with the release of the iphone two years ago. Now there are thousands of Apps for portable technology. For this purpose, I am going to use the term “Apps” to mean apps for the iphone, ipod touch, and ipad, as these are the most widespread.
Apps have been created for just about every purpose imaginable, from finding the nearest sushi restaurant to playing games, to time management, to special education. If you can imagine it, it probably already exists. I plan to write a full article on Apps and ADHD and Learning Disabilities in the coming weeks so I am going to focus solely on Apps for writing disabilities now.
- Sentence Builder and Question Builder– is designed to help elementary-aged children learn how to build grammatically correct sentences. Explicit attention is paid to the connector words that make up over 80% of the english language. Sentence Builder offers a rich and fun environment for improving the grammer of all children.
- Idea Sketch lets you easily draw a diagram – mind map, concept map, or flow chart – and convert it to a text outline, and vice versa. You can use Idea Sketch for anything, such as brainstorming new ideas, illustrating concepts, making lists and outlines, planning presentations, creating organizational charts, and more!
- IWriteWords is an excellent app that allows the child to practice writing letters, numbers and words. The child traces the letter on the iPod or iPad with his/her finger. This program is very well designed with excellent results; some schools in the US have reported implementing them in Kindergarten classes for all students. The progression is based on current research in teaching pre-writing skills, and the hands-on interactive activities are excellent for students who have difficulty writing with a pencil. Originally designed for the iPod Touch, the iPad makes the application even more effective by allowing for more movement when tracing. Kinesthetic and tactile writing activities are especially effective for students with special needs.
Dragon Dictation (remember, we looked at this software for mainstream computers above) is the premiere app in this area. Originally designed as a business tool, it will transfer spoken language into text on any of the Apple hardware, and it allows you to then e-mail your text or send it as a text message. It is a very versatile tool that can be used on a laptop computer or mobile device.
That’s what I’ve discovered so far to help Luke with his dysgraphia/written expression disorder. I am hoping that he’ll be granted special education inclusion in the next couple months and I’m hoping that they have some of this software available to Luke so that he can finally write a story.