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Dysgraphia
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Dysgraphia

What is Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia is an inability to write legibly, but it is more than just having bad handwriting. It is classified as a Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD). People with dysgraphia can have trouble organising letters, numbers, and words on a line or page. This can result partly from Visual-spatial difficulties: trouble processing what the eye sees; and partly from Language Processing Difficulty: trouble processing and making sense of what the ear hears.

Researcher RK Deuel has broken dysgraphia into three subcategories, depending on where the writing difficulty lies. Someone with dysgraphia may have one, two, or three of these subtypes:

Dyslexic Dysgraphia - characterised by unusual spelling and poor legibility in spontaneous written work. If the work is copied, legibility improves dramatically. Finger tapping speed (measured by neuropsychological testing) is normal. A person can have dyslexic dysgraphia without actually being dyslexic.

Motor Dysgraphia - People with this subtype often spell reasonably well, but still have poor legibility in spontaneous as well as copied written work. With extreme effort, writing may be OK in short samples, but in longer samples, problems with letter formation, letter size, and letter or word omission become increasingly worse. Writing is very time consuming for those with motor dysgraphia, and becomes unsustainably painful after a short period of time. Finger tapping speed is below normal.

Spatial Dysgraphia - characterised by difficulties with the space allotted for writing. Spontaneous and copied written samples are poor or illegible, spelling is normal, and tapping speed is normal.

IMPACT ON LEARNING SKILLS & DEVELOPMENT

As with all specific learning disabilities (SpLD), dysgraphia is a lifelong challenge, and how it manifests may change over time. Here is a list of common symptoms of dysgraphia that may be noted at different ages and stages:
In the Early-years learner

  • Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position
  • Avoiding writing or drawing tasks
  • Difficulty forming letters shapes
  • Inconsistent spacing between letters/words
  • Poor understanding of upper and lowercase letters
  • Inability to write or draw in a line or keep within margins
  • Tires quickly while writing

In Young Students

  • Illegible handwriting
  • Mixture of cursive and print writing
  • Saying words out loud while writing
  • Concentrate on writing so much that they don't comprehend what they've written
  • Difficulty thinking of words to write
  • Unfinished or omitted words in sentences

In Teenagers and Adults

  • Difficulty organizing thoughts on paper
  • Trouble keeping track of thoughts already written down
  • Difficulty with syntax structure and grammar
  • Large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech

Learning Strategies and Supports

A student with dysgraphia can benefit from specific accommodations in the learning environment. Extra practise in learning the skills required to be an accomplished writer can also help. Ways to help a person with dysgraphia fall into three main categories:

Accommodations: providing alternatives to written expression e.g.

Use a computer - Older children may find the use of a laptop beneficial. They will be able to get their thoughts down and think about how work should appear,  readily changing order and sequence - rather than be frustrated by the physical challenges of hand writing. 

Voice recognition software such as Dragon is increasingly popular and although it won't improve your child's handwriting it will help them to get their thoughts on paper.

Cursive (joined-up writing) is often easier for the dysgraphic child - speak to your child's teacher if this strategy hasn't been suggested.

Use paper with guide-lines

A sloping desk is often recommended by Occupational Therapists and is especially helpful for children with poor muscle tone. 

Modifications: changing expectations or tasks to minimise or avoid the area of weakness

Don't over-do it, give your child rest breaks.

If homework is tricky suggest to the teacher that you and your child alternate the writing - your child writes a sentence or answers a question, you write down their answer to the next question, they write the next one and so on.

Build in rewards - Younger children love to be rewarded for their efforts, so have plenty of gold stars and 'good-work' stickers.

Remediation: providing instruction for improving handwriting and writing skills

Practise letter formation It doesn't always have to be pen and paper; use a steamed up mirror or trace letters in sand or sugar.

Improve coordination by colouring in and trying to stay between the lines. Use tracing paper to trace pictures and letters (you can buy sheets of letters).

Try out different pencil grips (such as a triangular, air or stubbi pencil grip) and different pencil widths till you find one that is comfortable for your child.

Don't avoid hand-writing, encourage it -  grandparents love 'thank-you letters' no matter how legible - use notelets, stickers, pictures or photos to make the task simpler and inject fun.

Supports available

To qualify for additional supports assessment is required. Parents of infants, toddlers and young children with disabilities can access the HSEʼs Early Intervention Teams. These multi-disciplinary teams consist of a range of professionals with expertise in child development including medical professionals, psychologists, social workers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. They provide assessment and intervention services to the 0-5 age group.

If a parent has concerns regarding their childʼs developmental progress, they may seek to have the child referred for an Assessment of Need by the HSE. The assessment may screen for concerns in relation to the childʼs physical, cognitive, emotional, social and adaptive behaviour and identify areas of need. Following the assessment, a HSE Liaison Officer is required to prepare a service statement within a month of the assessment being completed. This service statement will state what services the child will require and an action plan will be developed to deal with how these are to be provided subject to resources.

Parents seeking an Assessment of Need can ask their GP, Public Health Nurse or the childʼs Consultant to refer the child or they can make a parental referral by contacting their local HSE clinic.

At Primary Education Level:

Children with Dysgraphia attend mainstream primary and secondary schools with their peers, unless they have additional needs requiring a special placement. Whilst having the same level of ability as their peers, children with dysgraphia can be at risk of underperforming.

School-based learning support will not be provided unless the child is performing in the lowest range at school. The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) is responsible for providing assessments within schools. The School can commission a small number of assessments each year through the NEPS but waiting lists are lengthy and private assessments by NEPS approved psychologists will be accepted for this purpose.

If the child meets the assessment criteria, they may be awarded a set number of hours of resource time per week and may also be eligible for a Special Needs Assistant. It is important to discuss any support concerns with the school principal in the event that an assessment is warranted.

The Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) is an officer of the National Council for Special Education with responsibility for allocating resources to pupils with special needs and related issues in schools see www.ncse.ie  for a list of SENOs in each county.

At Secondary Education Level:

A student who has been receiving special education support or resources while in Primary School is eligible for continuation of support at secondary level, once they continue to have a special educational need.

The same general provisions he/she received in primary school apply at Secondary Level. This typically includes specialist teaching from a Learning Support or Special Education Resource teacher (both now referred to as Special Education teachers).

This support is provided based on need, with the number of hours of support determined by the Individual Education Plan (IEP) drawn up in the last year of primary school.

At Third Level and Further Education:

Research findings from AHEAD released in 2015 showed 395 (4.1%) of the total disabled student population 2013/14 have DCD (Dyspraxia/Dysgraphia).

Dysgraphia is one of the developmental co-ordination disorders covered under the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) system.  

DARE - Disability Access Route to Education - School leavers with DCD (Dyspraxia / Dysgraphia) who are under 23 years old (at 1st January of the application year) can apply for a college place through DARE:

Applicants complete the CAO application by 17.15pm on 1st February. CAO opens for applications on 5th November at 12.00 noon. See www.cao.ie

By 1st March, applicants must answer YES to Question 1 ('Do you wish to be considered for DARE?') on Section A of the Supplementary Information Form (the SIF is a part of your CAO application). 

Applicants with DCD are required to provide:

Evidence of their disability (Full psychoeducational assessment AND Evidence of Disability Form 2016 OR Existing report from a Psychologist AND Occupational Therapist (less than 3 years old) OR Neurologist OR Chartered Physiotherapist (No age limit).

Educational Impact Statement - must be completed by the applicant and your School Principal, Teacher or Guidance Counsellor and returned to the CAO by 17.15pm on 1st April.

Students should refer to the detailed DARE application criteria and procedures which are outlined here.

Research findings from AHEAD released in 2015 show that of the total disabled student population (9,694) at Third Level 2013/14 represented in the research, 395 (4.1%) have DCD (Dyspraxia/Dysgraphia). The full report is available here.

An assessment is required from an appropriately qualified Psychologist AND Occupational Therapist OR Neurologist who is a member of their respective professional or regulatory body. Report from Psychologist must be less than three years old i.e. for 2014 entry - must be dated after 1st February 2011. No age limit on report from Occupational Therapist/Neurologist

Common Educational Supports - a range of common educational supports are in place at Third Level for students with specific learning difficulties. These include:

  • Priority registration
  • Reader service
  • Use of audio-tape to record lectures and tutorials
  • Assistive technology
  • Materials in alternative formats
  • Word-processing facilities
  • Photocopying Facilities 
  • Copies of lecturer's notes and/or overheads 
  • Notetaker
  • Time extension on out-of-lecture assignments
  • Special Library Arrangements
  • Counselling and Medical Services
  • Study skills courses
  • Examination provisions 

These and other supports available are outlined in detail in our 'Third Level Supports' area.

In the Workplace:

Many organisations now make public claims to be an "equal opportunities employer". This suggests the existence of an equal opportunities policy (EOP), which is a policy statement adopted by the organisation declaring an intent not to discriminate and, further, to promote equality by taking steps to aid disadvantaged groups. Such employers are in effect promising to avoid discrimination on grounds of sex or marital status, and may also make such a commitment in relation to people with a disability and racial and ethnic minorities.

Impact on Career Choice

Skills for workplace success fall into two main categories: hard skills and and soft skills. Hard skills are job-specific and they vary, depending upon the industry or field in which you want to work. For example, a graphic artist must have the computer skills that go with that job.

Soft skills are the personal characteristics that go with a variety of jobs - they include social skills, problem solving, communication, time management, and organisation. For example, a person who prefers to work alone might find a research job particularly appealing. Explore Career Skills in more detail here.

In today's world of texting, e-mail, smart phones and IT systems, dysgraphia no big deal in the workplace.  Choosing a career which involves less writing or academic input and more practical or action-based work may be attractive. Careers in the Creative Arts, Music, Communications, Photography, Animation, Graphic Design, Interior Design, Copywriting, Web page design, Event Management, Radio DJ, T.V. Presenter, Sports/gym instructor, Travel & Tourism representative - all are accessible for the person with dysgraphia.

Focus on your strengths, personal interests and abilities and look at career options based on these. 

Famous people with Dysgraphia

Mystery Crime writer, Agatha Christie.


Disability Access Route to Education
Higher Education Access Route
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