June 14, 2014
Dysgraphia, It seems like a new word. It is a relatively knew concept but I do not know how new. The condition that it describes has been around for a long time.
I am not a psychologist, but having this condition or symptoms of it, I feel like I know it intimately. Dysgraphia according the sources I read is a transcription disorder. Thoughts and ideas in transcription disorders have a hard time making it from the brain into another media like writing or speaking. Dysgraphia is particular to print/typed/or written media, some kinds of stuttering seem very similar.
Students with dysgraphia often have a hard time printing or handwriting legibly. The real problem seems to lie in the fact that printing or handwriting, or even typing takes up or takes over so much processing power that other thinking cannot happen at the same time. Now 58 years of age, I still can have to fill out a simple forms sometimes 5 times in order to get simple questions answered without spelling errors or putting them into the wrong spaces. In order to succeed, I need a quiet space, a lot of motivation, and a clear head. Any distractions will get my address on the “city” line or my signature in the ” print name here” space. I frequently misspell my first name.
Clearly, not being able to compose a paper well is not the same as not being able to print well, but if you have dysgraphia and are 8 years old unless someone knows what troubles this condition can cause they are likely to conflate the two problems. I now can write some, but only because I have taught my fingers to type as I speak. They run nearly on auto pilot. I speak quietly to myself and let my fingers mimic with the keys. It is what I am doing right now as I write this. On occasion, I can dictate something I really have prepared well in my head to my fingers to print. I have gotten good enough at this now that I can read my own writing.
More accurately, what I do is compose a sentence and store it as sound, as speech, and then repeat audibly as my fingers try to keep up with my mouth.
As a child, rewriting was painful. My hands hurt from writing, from trying to force them into neatness. Often I ended up with many more errors on a simple “copy without the spelling errors rewrite” than I started with. I am still fearful of forms that require filling in. Typewriters helped with this but the same transcription problems exist with me and typing. Either I am concentrating on what I am saying or I am concentrating on the typing. It is nearly impossible for me to do both. Spelling correctly as I work on a sentence can be near impossible. I never even try to write something significant when I am the least bit tired. Forms, yes these exist, that need to be printed out and filled in by hand, are my nemesis.
Consequently, even the typing class I took in 8th grade was a failure. Trying to type without error kept my speed way down. It still would be at less than 20 words per minute now if I needed it to be near error free. I don’t know how many words I can get through in a minute if I am not worried about errors but it is way faster. The speed allows the ideas to flow, and more importantly my fingers to flow without effort, but I suspect that training my brain to compose slower also has had an impact. My ability to record my thoughts grows steadily.
Nobody today that knows me well would think that I am not smart. But I still have a hard time finding vocabulary as I speak. Many of my ideas often seem to difficult to put into speech. It can take me years to figure out how to say them. Until then it can the exist in my head in something I think of as “blob state”. The large disconnect between my knowledge and ability to express it has existed since I was a child. Often the ideas associated with these troubles are very abstract, and it is no wonder that it is hard. But I should be able to do this more easily. I am still bitter about being laughed at and discounted for not being understood. Now I quickly figure out when this is happening. It has not made life happier.
My earliest experience with the inability to verbalize was in my ability to make complex decisions based on probability and chance. A childhood friend was awed by some of this ability and asked me how I was doing it. I answered him about a half of a year after he asked when I could verbalize it. It took that long to develop the verbal ability to express it.
I am convinced that the continual harping about spelling, grammar, and neatness prevents many people from ever discovering that they could learn to write well and that they do have significant things to say. It is not that spelling or grammar are not important, but even I find myself correcting them early in students papers. It is easy to do, so you do it first. Content commentary and criticism is harder.
Many things have helped get me to overcome my problems. The computer, spell check, and recognizing that the grammar and spelling police conflate content with BS. I do recognize that these things do make things easier to read, but they have nothing to do with content and worry about them while composing displaces content. In those with dysgraphia the displacement the writing police inflict can be complete, and what you get is well spelled nothingness.
There are lots of people who say that if you cannot express yourself well, you have nothing to say. At best this is sloppy thinking. It is often deliberate sloppy thinking. Ideas often exist without the ability to express them. Expression is a skill and ability. Expression is separate from ideation. One would never think that Helen Keller had “nothing to say” until she learned to sign, yet we say things like this in our society all the time. I am fed up with this mistaken idea.
What I find in helping students with artist statements is that some of the people who have the hardest time getting things out on paper often have the most profound things to say. And at least some of this makes sense. If you have to think long and hard before you speak it seems more likely that what you say will be new and original and well thought out. Also as these sometimes already exist in some organized structure in someones head, that once the idea is tripped or allowed to emerge in another medium like speech, it sometimes properly it flows out in paragraphs, outlined as thesis, argument and discussion, conclusion. I try to type it into my computer as students talk about their work. It helps.
All in all, I think that this condition and its nonrecognition does us great harm. We loose meaningful input of people often of high intelligence. And if you have read this far, think about the idea that my ability to write it down may have never developed. Dysgraphia is real. It has a big impact on people’s lives. It is often very easy to accommodate a dysgraphic persons needs and to help them overcome. Don’t rely on me as an expert. Look it up.