Writing Difficulties in Adults

Dysgraphia is a common term used to describe individuals with writing disabilities. This term means “difficulty with making letter forms” and the reasons for these difficulties are varied. Students with writing challenges may struggle from visual processing difficulties, challenges with working memory, lagging executive functioning skills, or difficulties with the physical motor skills necessary for forming letters.

It is important to note that writing difficulties are common in individuals with ADHD and Executive Functioning challenges.

Understanding Writing Challenges

  • Understood.org has short, targeted articles related to writing difficulties, suggestions for interventions, and the many reasons students struggle with writing.
  • LDonline.org has a page dedicated to articles, resources and video presentations about writing difficulties and writing-related disabilities.

Writing Interventions and Supports

For the physical act of writing:

  • There’s an app for that! Technology can be a saving grace for students with dysgraphia.
    • ModMath is an app that helps students “show their work” without having to physically write. It’s like having digital graph paper. Work can then be easily emailed to a professor as part of a homework assignment. This program has been updated to include higher-level math functions.
    • Dragon Speak Naturally, Siri (on iPhone), and other voice-to-text apps are very helpful for students who struggle with the physical act of writing. Your may have to work on the skill of “speaking” your essays, but this critical skill will also help you in your public speaking and presentation abilities!
  • Find the Right Tool. Many students struggle to write because it is physically taxing. Finding the right “grip” to put on a pencil or pen can take pressure off. Also, a smooth-writing pen can make a difference in the amount of effort the student needs to put out.
  • Use a Computer.  There is little reason for handwriting in our current time.  Use a computer, iPad, or other device to take notes, write essays, and even brainstorm initial ideas.
  • Note-taking: For students who struggle with writing, note-taking is especially difficult. There are a few important strategies:
    • Ask for the professor’s outline. A common accommodation for students from 4th grade through college is to request a copy of the teacher’s notes as an initial outline. During class, the student fills in the remaining details from the lecture.
    • Smart pens: Smart pens record lectures and align the recording with your notes. That way, if you haven’t taken good notes, you can place your pen on the empty spot and hear what the professor was saying at that time.
    • Type notes. A computer, iPad, or other device can be helpful since most people are able to type faster than they can write. There are many excellent programs to help you organize your notes, such as Evernote, which is available for free.
  • Use a Whiteboard. Whiteboards are a savior for many students with writing challenges.  Here are some reasons:
    • They are easy and smooth to write on.
    • The markers are fat and easy to grasp.
    • They erase easily when a mistake is made.
    • They are so many fun colors to use!
    • They allow you to alternate between writing and drawing, and give a large space to fully develop your ideas..

For organizing thoughts and ideas:

  • Use a Graphic Organizer. Most students will be introduced to graphic organizers, mind maps, idea webs, and other ways to brainstorm and organize ideas in class. These are incredibly important for students who struggle with writing. Inspiration.com is a resource for an app that helps visual thinkers organize their writing.
  • Talk it Through. Many students who struggle with writing have the ability to express themselves verbally. Talking through the ideas before committing them to paper has a few benefits:
    • More ideas: When writing is difficult, it can actually impede the creation of ideas. Talking takes away that block.
    • More confidence. Students who struggle with writing may simply feel awful whenever they sit down to write. If you have struggled with the physical act of writing your whole life, you have probably developed a sense that you are “bad” at all of it. Talking through ideas first can help you see that your ideas are solid and the act of writing is a separate task.
    • Organization: While you talk, ask a peer to write down your ideas. When the talking is done, take a look at the notes and make a plan for how to put together the essay.
  • Draw it Out. Many students with dysgraphia are able to draw without complaint. This may be because their primary issue is difficulty with the working memory required for writing, or because in free drawing their pencil does not need to do something specific or “right”. Similar to above, drawing first helps with idea generation, confidence, and organization.  Try using a whiteboard!

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