Many people are familiar with the common traits of Asperger’s Syndrome, but look closer and you’ll often see difficulties beyond the social challenges and repetitive or obsessive behaviour:
Sleep problems. Tummy troubles. Severe disorganizations. Communication challenges. Grooming issues. Concrete thinking. Emotional immaturity. Lack of coordination.
I could go on.
I think I will. I think I will because there’s one problem that is overlooked, ignored, neglected and too-often handled in such inappropriate ways that it can have a profoundly negative effect on the child. I am talking about the common problem of poor handwriting.
If I were Queen of the Asperger’s Universe, I would make certain that every child received keyboarding lessons and their own laptop at the first sign of this learning disability. Called dysgraphia, it is one of the more common school-related issues for many with Asperger’s Syndrome and other Autism Spectrum Disorders. In the many years I have been working with individuals with A.S., I have found the majority struggle to produce written work by hand. The process of holding a writing tool, creating letters, and organizing their thoughts is so onerous, tiring, and sometimes painful that many children just shut down.
When it is time to do written work—what a surprise!–they have a stomach ache. Or a meltdown. Or they start with that relentless negative-self-talk.
But here’s something that may surprise you: it’s not the dysgraphia that’s the problem here. That’s because with technology support, the problem is circumvented.
The real issue here is that schools take a very long time to respond to the needs of children who present with a problem in this area of functioning. It is unfortunate that some boards of education do not act even when an outside professional has deemed a laptop ‘essential’ for the child’s learning!
Rather, the practice is to spend more taxpayer money as special education teachers evaluate his writing vs. keyboarding abilities, analyze the data, make a recommendation, and then…the suffering child waits.
Eight months. A year. Two years… I know a lovely young boy who, in spite of a clear directive in a psychological report from a major teaching hospital that a laptop was ‘essential’ for his learning– and in spite of the fact that school board testing verified that finding a year later–he was well into his third year of waiting before he got his technology just last week.
How very sad.
It may be too little, too late. He stopped producing written work a long time ago. His self-esetem eroded by constant reprimands and do-overs, he’s already feeling “dumb”. Good job, school board. Good job.
It’s pretty common that children who can’t or won’t print or write lag behind in their school work, and that their grades don’t reflect their cognitive abilities. Teachers think they’re lazy; parents may wonder the same thing. The child’s anticipation of written work and the ensuing effort it requires can lead to chronic anxiety, low self-esteem, and even refusal to attend school.
Some educators think all kids have to learn to print and write well, and have no time for the perceived ‘easy road’ that a laptop, a scribe, or oral testing represents. ‘How unfair to the other children!’, those teachers contend. (Ahhh, such a good argument for making special education courses a mandatory and significant part of the qualifications teachers must have before being allowed in a classroom—‘cuz right now, they aren’t required to know much at all in this area.)
When I go to schools, I hear teachers telling me that ‘Bobby’ needs to try harder with his handwriting…that he’s a nice kid and a smart kind but he’s lazy.
I see kids with A.S. walk through the front door of their home after school with that characteristic slouch and lumbering gait, shoulders sloped, head down–defeated. In their backpacks, I have found worksheets circled in red: “What does this say? I can’t read it. RE-DO by tomorrow!”
Egad, teachers. Really?
Let’s refocus on the needs of the child as required by PPM #8, which defines programming and services for students with learning disabilities, and PPM# 11, which MANDATES early identification of a student’s learning needs. To that end, information to help teachers identify dysgraphia in their students ought to be widely shared. Let’s help them to help our children.
Here’s a quick lesson for the time-strapped educator who cares enough to seek understanding:
Dysgraphia is a learning disability that frequently accompanies a diagnosis of Asperger’s. If you suspect someone you love or someone you teach has dysgraphia, please do your part to help them out. Here are some things you may notice:
* Handwriting that is illegible or just very difficult to decipher
* Handwriting that is well-formed but takes a great deal of effort to produce.
* The child/teen/adult may hold his pen or pencil in an unusual grip and have odd body posturing as he works.
* They might seem to get fatigued very quickly when writing.
* They can have difficulty organizing themselves on paper.
* The quality of the written work lags far behind the comprehension demonstrated when she tells you a story or explains the work.
* The child/teen/adult may approach written tasks with increasing resistance.