Monday, October 7, 2013

Dysgra-what now?

Writing. It is my bread and butter. It breathe color into my life. I have constant story narration playing in my head. I eat, sleep and breathe writing. My son on the other hand...not so much.

I've known since the moment I started teaching him to form letters that something was amiss. I mean, I saw all those late night commercials with the six-month old babies who can read and write because of some miraculous learning system or website so why then couldn't I get my three year-old to trace successfully the letters of the alphabet?

When he began kindergarten his teacher looked down her pert little nose at me and told me he lacked the hand strength to properly grip the pencil and that I should have him color and model with clay as much as possible to correct the situation. There was only one problem: he hated coloring and Play-doh frustrated him. But I tried to sneak in these activities and work with him on his letter formation as much as possible.

Though he never won any awards for penmanship, he made it through first and second grade without too much trouble. Even then I noticed he avoided adding details to stories so he wouldn't have to write as much and that he consistently mixed up uppercase and lowercase letters, missed punctuation and had trouble spacing words on a page. To be honest, I chalked it up to disinterest and a lack of self-discipline. He's a boy who loves sports so he's never going to love academia, right?

In third grade, our school system switches children from penmanship paper to looseleaf paper. With smaller spaced lines, things really went downhill. Homework assignment after homework assignment came back with the words "I can't read this" or "Please write more legibly" scrawled across them.

I begged, bribed, cajoled and, yes, lost my temper on more occasions than I can count trying to convince my son to take his time with his writing, all to no avail. Homework became a nightly battleground that often ended with one or both of us in tears. I mean, he's a smart kid with a great imagination. It dumbfounded me that he seemed to refuse to use those abilities in school. Little did I know, that wasn't the case.

Things finally came to a head this summer when he was doing a math problem in his fourth grade prep workbook that required him to line up columns of numbers to calculate the correct answer. He consistently came up with the wrong answer because his numbers were so poorly formed and misaligned. I told him that this was precisely what I'd been talking about that if he didn't take the time to be neater, school would become more and more challenging. He replied, "Mom, this is the best I can do." He said it so sincerely and with such a serious expression I knew he meant it. This really was the best he could do. It was time to reach out for help.

After consulting with his pediatrician and his school, it's looking more and more like he has a mild form of dysgraphia. Dysgra-what now? Yeah, I said the same thing. Dyslexia I've heard of, but not dysgraphia. It's basically a neurological disorder where the nerve impulses from the brain that control the complex fine motor skills necessary to write get all jumbled up. It also explains why he struggled with basic milestones such as tying his shoes, doing buttons and zippers by himself and controlling a fork and spoon.

Upon hearing he has an actual physical impediment delaying his handwriting skills, I felt about two inches tall. How had I let my child struggle for years without picking up on the fact that something was genuinely wrong? His doctor kindly let me off the hook and told me that dysgraphia has only been identified in the past decade and it's not widely known. It's not something teachers look for as readily as dyslexia.

The school diagnostician assured me it's not the end of the world. "Though we'll keep working on the manual writing, most people don't write much by hand these days anyway. Typing is a totally different skill and he shouldn't have any trouble with keyboarding."

Okay, so I'm not the world's worst mother and I still find it disheartening that my son struggles with something I dearly love to do, but it helps to know that there are techniques and coping mechanisms we can use to help my son get the brilliant ideas out of his head and onto paper. Legibly :)

Find out more about dysgraphia here:


KB Gardener said...

My younger son (26 now) suffers from dyslexia and dysgraphia. I know how tough it can be. He's presently out of work and is having a tough time because he can't fill out applications, request for aid paperwork and other things necessary for him to get wor or get help.

Cindy Jacks said...

Sorry to hear that, KB. My heart goes out to him. It's definitely a challenge we never expected to face.