Shifi and Shana were neighbors and their mothers had been getting together before they could even roll over. Now the girls were in second grade, they did their homework together.
“Shifi, your ‘d’ is so funny! It looks like a banana,” Shana giggled.“
“It’s not a ‘d,’ Shana, it’s a ‘b.’ And I can’t help it. It just comes out like that!” Shifi responded.
“What do you mean it’s a ‘b?’ It looks like a ‘d’ to me, but Morah says I keep making those mistakes anyway,” Shana said, blushing.
“Yes, but she keeps telling me I need to write neatly. I’m trying, but I can’t do it. Maybe we can trade. I’ll read for you. You write for me!” Shifi said eagerly, handing over her pencil.
Shifi and Shana could be two girls who are experiencing regular struggles with reading and writing. If these issues continue, it is possible that they each suffer from a different learning disability: dyslexia or dysgraphia.
The National Institute of Health defines dyslexia as characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition, by poor spelling and decoding. Dyslexia is a learning disability that is neurological in origin and often runs in the family. Children with dyslexia experience trouble reading when taught through traditional instruction.
Though the symptoms of dyslexia manifest in different ways, some common symptoms for a kindergartener through fourth grader are:
- Difficulty reading single words not surrounded by others.
- Slow to learn connections between letters and sounds.
- Confusion around small words such as “at” and “to,” or “does” and “goes.”
- Consistent reading and spelling errors, including:
- Letter reversals such as “d” for “b.”
- Word reversals such as “tip” for “pit.”
- Inversions such as “m” and “w” and “u” and “n.”
- Transpositions such as “felt” and “left.”
- Substitutions such as “house” and “home.”
Children with dyslexia are often well adjusted and happy preschoolers. Research shows they begin to experience emotional problems during early reading instruction. Over the years, their frustration mounts as classmates surpass them. Often, these children feel they fail to meet others expectations. Teachers and parents see a bright child who is failing to learn to read and assume he’s “not trying hard enough.” This can cause children to feel inadequate.
Children with dyslexia frequently have problems in social relationships. This is because they have difficulty reading social cues or dyslexia affects oral language functioning. Additionally, without proper intervention, these children will fall farther behind their peers.
It’s hard for people to understand children can have a learning disability that affects only writing. Most people assume if you have no trouble reading, then writing should be a cinch. Or, parents assume that trouble with writing is a physical impediment rather than a mental one. Dysgraphia, a learning disability that affects writing abilities, debunks these myths.
Dysgraphia can manifest itself as difficulties with spelling, handwriting and trouble putting thoughts on paper. Children who suffer from dysgraphia often have reading skills on par with other children their age. Dysgraphia is not simply a motor problem, but also involves information processing skills (transferring thoughts from the mind through the hand onto the paper). If your child has trouble in any of the areas below, additional help may be beneficial:
- Awkward pencil grip and body position
- Illegible handwriting
- Avoiding writing and drawing tasks
- Tiring quickly while writing
- Saying words out loud while writing
- Unfinished or omitted words in sentences
- Difficulty organizing thoughts on paper
- Large gap between written ideas and speech
There are different effective strategies. For young children, here are some suggestions:
- Use paper with raised lines so children can feel the lines on the paper, allowing them to stay on track.
- Experiment with different pens and pencils.
- Practice writing letters with exaggerated arm movements. This will help improve the motor memory without the pressure of the paper.
- Encourage proper grip, posture, and paper positioning. If you aren’t sure how to help your child with this – don’t push it off too long! The later you correct these concerns, the harder it is to unlearn the bad habits.
For children in elementary school, consider these modifications:
- Alternate the writing assignments. For some assignments, put the emphasis on neatness and spelling and others put the emphasis on grammar and style.
- Help make a checklist for editing written work based on: spelling, neatness, grammar, syntax, clear progression of ideas, and organization.
- Encourage writing through low-stress opportunities for writing such as letters, journals, and making shopping lists.
- Create a step-by-step plan that breaks writing assignments.
The most important things to remember is that they are not “lazy” or “sloppy.” They are struggling mightily to do what most other children can do easily.