Take stock of strategies, AT that can benefit students with dysgraphia

Students with dysgraphia, a learning disability in written expression, may have trouble keeping up with writing tasks in an English class, but chances are they struggle in math and science classes, too.

As your teams consider strategies that would benefit a student with dysgraphia, make sure not to overlook assistive technology in all subject areas.

The written expression required of students in an English or social studies class is relatively simple compared with the written notations that students need to make in math or science, said Shelley Haven, an AT consultant and owner of Technology to Unlock Potential.

“You need to deal with far more symbols, work in two dimensions where the relative position of symbols matters, and align certain things, as well as deal with other elements such as shapes, freehand sketches, tables, circling items, connecting objects with lines, and graphs. Yikes!” Haven said.

Using AT, a student can keep up with notetaking tasks and show his work legibly. Remember, though, that “AT is merely one such intervention,” Haven said.

Consider whether AT is appropriate for task, student

A student with dysgraphia may benefit from typing rather than writing. Depending on the task and the student, however, handwriting can have certain advantages, Haven said.

Even if a student’s handwriting is slow, if his typing is slower, an AT tool that requires the student to type might not be the most appropriate for what the student needs to do, she said. Also, typing might not be as beneficial if a student prefers the kinesthetic feel of handwriting to remember his notes, she said. “For some students, the act of handwriting helps the student encode the information into memory even if no one can read it,” Haven said. Such a student might benefit from a recording tool that links audio to his writing, such as the Livescribe Smartpen, she said. The student can listen to parts of a lesson where his handwriting was illegible or where he couldn’t write fast enough.

Other notetaking strategies include providing a peer notetaker, a scribe, or providing a copy of notes that the student can annotate, Haven added.

Try to meet needs with low or no tech

Consider low-tech tools before jumping to higher-tech options, said Jenn Park, a program specialist with the West San Gabriel Valley SELPA in California. “A student with dysgraphia might be struggling to line up math problems vertically on a page,” she said. Graphing paper with vertical and horizontal lines could be a low-tech solution, she said. A student may also need a larger space to write, Park said. Instead of 10 problems on a page, the teacher could limit worksheets to two problems per page, she said. Or, if the purpose of the assignment is to check for understanding, the teacher might reduce the number of problems for the student or change the assignment so the student can show his understanding without having to write or draw.

“The teacher needs to think through what their asking the student to do and why,” said Haven. “Ask, ‘What’s the underlying academic goal of the task?'”

Provide staff examples of tech tools

In addition to the strategies mentioned above, consider whether other technology could provide access to math and science for a student with dysgraphia.

Keep in mind that students taking elementary math courses will be doing stacked or vertical arithmetic, Haven said. In advanced math courses, a student will be solving multistep horizontal math equations. Make sure your staff understand the difference so they can find the right program for what the student needs to do, she said.

Also, remember that teachers, in addition to the student, need practice using AT, Park said. “Just to show the tool to the student isn’t enough,” she said. “There has to be time for the teachers to learn and play with it so they can help with troubleshooting.”

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504, education technology, and Common Core issues related to special education for LRP Publications.

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