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Q: My third-grader was having difficulty in school. After researching various learning disabilities, I suspected she may have dysgraphia. I presented the information to her teacher, who agrees but doesn't know much about it. Who would be able to help us get a diagnosis and find ways to help my daughter?
A: An occupational therapist should be able to evaluate your child to see if she needs services by a specialist who deals with fine-motor and/or graphomotor dysfunction. Ask your pediatrician for a referral or ask for one at your local hospital.
Many times, however, I have seen children who appear to be dysgraphic because their handwriting is barely legible but who really just need direct instruction in handwriting. An excellent program designed by an occupational therapist to teach handwriting skills is Handwriting Without Tears by Jan Z. Olsen, OTR. You can get more information about the program on Olsen's website or call 301-983-8409.
Has your daughter made the switch from printing to cursive? It's important for her to start off with good instruction when she makes this transition. Handwriting Without Tears comes in both print and cursive versions. Another good handwriting program is Phyllis Bertin and Eileen Perlman's Handwriting Program for Cursive. It's available from Educators Publishing Service at 1-800-435-7728.
Also, third grade is not too early to begin teaching your daughter touch-typing skills to bypass handwriting difficulties. I like Diana Hanbury King's Keyboarding Skills program, also available from Educators Publishing Service. Once your daughter has learned the placement of the keys through King's "alphabetic method," then she can use a more conventional typing program that is computer-based, like Ultra Key. It is available from Meizner Inc.1-800-342-3475 or from Scholastic at 1-800-724-4811.
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For more than 20 years, Eileen Marzola has worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, and with their parents and teachers. She has been a regular education classroom teacher, a consultant teacher/resource teacher, an educational evaluator/diagnostician, and has also taught graduate students at the university level. Marzola is an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. She also maintains a private practice in the evaluation and teaching of children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.