Discovering Dysgraphia: Why Can’t My Kid Write?

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You know that mama gut feeling? When it just feels like something isn’t right? That’s been me for the past few years whenever I have talked to my son’s teachers. Worksheets were often mostly blank. If anything was written, it was often backwards or misspelled. What was going on?

Child practicing writingTeachers started asking about his attention and telling us to read to him more. What?! My husband and I would walk away dumbfounded. This is a kid who builds giant Lego sets on his own at seven years old. He loves to listen to us read Magic Tree House books; he has sit patiently while we read countless books about rocks, minerals, and nature. Attention issues?? We weren’t seeing it.

What were we missing?

COVID hit, virtual schooling began, and we starting taking turns trying to navigate the battle of Seesaw.

I vividly remember sitting with him one day attempting a writing assignment. He couldn’t write a thing, not even one letter went on the paper. I asked him what he wanted to write about and started writing it for him; 150 words later there was a fabulously-worded paragraph on horses. If all of this information is in his head, why can’t he even get one word of it written down?

The Search for an Answer

I started my research. Dysgraphia, dyslexia, ADD, other learning disorders… oh my! We did a screener for dyslexia, nope. ADD, nope. Dysgraphia? Bingo! Everything sounded like him: a kiddo who has so much knowledge in his head but struggles to put it on paper.

Now, what to do about it? I have been an occupational therapist for over 15 years, I should know how to help him. However, I hit a wall. How can he get his teachers to see all that he knows if he can’t write, not even one letter?

Dysgraphia Resources

There are countless resources out there to help kids like my son. He’s not the only child experiencing these struggles. He’s not the only kid who avoids writing at all costs, yet can carry on a conversation with anyone about anything.

After some googling, we came across an online program called Lexercise, designed for kids with dyslexia. We signed up the next day and he began 1:1 weekly online tutoring as well as daily lessons.  He was at a kindergarten level when he started; three months later, he can spell horse and is readily reading books he has been trying to read for two years. Writing is still very much a struggle, but he’s learning how to type and dictated a book for his dad last week. These are big wins!

Another Component to the Mystery

One piece of the puzzle seemed solved, or at least we had a name for it and had some supports in place. Yet, something still wasn’t lining up. Dysgraphia explains the struggles with writing, but why is reading also so hard when he’s known his letters since he was 18 months old? Why does he move books in odd directions? Why does he constantly get hit in the face when a ball is thrown at him? He got glasses last year and we thought that would really help, but no such luck.

As an OT, I am aware of the importance of not only visual acuity but all functional vision. I am also acutely aware of the lack of insurance coverage for such tests and the derth of professionals trained in this extremely important area. 

Thank goodness for Dr. Lowery and the folks at Pacific Eye Clinic. We spent the next few Friday afternoons driving to Forest Grove for functional vision testing. As a university clinic, the cost was reduced, the care and attention was phenomenal. At the conclusion of the testing, Dr Lowery pulled my husband and I aside and said, “You have a genius on your hands.”

My heart swelled, my eyes swelled. He spent the next 20 minutes explaining their findings. He validated what we have known for years: he’s a very bright child capable of so much, but he needs help to reach his potential. His eyes can see extremely well but tracking numbers, letters, words is extremely challenging. His eye/hand coordination is also delayed for his age. This explains why reading is so hard. No wonder his math worksheets are often blank but he can verbally answer more complicated math questions without a problem. I left that appointment feeling a sense of relief. Someone out there gets it.

The Next Step: School Supports

Then the dread set in. Is school always going to be hard for him? Will he always dread PE class? Will he ever be able to write a sentence with ease? Will his teachers ever know all he’s capable of? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I do know that we now have some answers and we can help him. Now the quest to get him help in school.

If you suspect your child has learning needs and may need special education, reach out to your child’s teacher. If your gut is telling you something isn’t right, it shouldn’t be this hard for your child, speak up. Let them know your concerns. If you don’t get a response or support, contact the counselors, principal, anyone who will listen. Teachers want kids to succeed; they want to see them grow and thrive and learn. Especially right now, they don’t know your child is struggling unless you tell them. We are our kids biggest advocates and always will be.                                                        

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