How to Help your Students Overcome Written Expression

DSM-5, Motor Dysgraphia | 0 comments

Written by Cheri Dotterer

January 4, 2021

For far too long, dysgraphia has been a vague subject. Digging into this topic lead to much more confusion than understanding as I began my research. What is dysgraphia, and why does it matter? Simply put, dysgraphia is difficulty writing by hand. What does that look like? Does that mean a person can’t hold a pencil? Does that mean that words look like chicken scratch? These questions are true, but there is so much more.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), writing includes spelling and written expression. Spelling errors include the addition and subtraction of letters within words or substituting letters that don’t belong. Written expression is not defined. However, a lack of written expression includes punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, organization, and clarity. Stepping outside the DSM-5 into Merriam-Webster, an expression is a logical symbol or meaningful combination of symbols or a significant representation mode. To be written is to be placed on paper. Therefore, written expression is a meaningful combination of symbols placed on paper.

Breaking written expression into pieces or decoding it includes diving paragraphs, sentences, and words into smaller parts; ultimately, symbols or letters. Putting them back together in the process of encoding them. Many teachers express spelling as encoding. However, this neurological process is much more involved than taking symbols apart and putting them back together to form words.

Encoding is a three-step neurological process. McDermott and Roediger (2018) describe these steps as learning something and relating them to past knowledge, storing information, then making it accessible to relate to new material. Yes, spelling is included in this three-step process, but it is way more involved neurologically and functionally. Sentence and paragraph structure should also be included.

Neurologically, the brain and nervous system work together to store data for short-term and long-term use. Every millisecond of data is combined with emotion. If the emotional component is positive, you are more likely to want to do that task again. If the emotion is negative, your instinct will be to reject it.

If your instinct is to reject writing, your body will manifest ways not to engage in the process. One such manifestation can be hand pain. Another manifestation could be poor postural control.

Hand pain and poor posture fall into the category of Motor Dysgraphia. Motor Dysgraphia is the second of six categories. The remaining categories include Visual-Spatial Dysgraphia, Memory Dysgraphia, Word Formation Dysgraphia, Sentence Formation Dysgraphia, and Paragraph Formation Dysgraphia.

Improving neuromuscular physiology helps improve this category. Anatomically, the triceps occupy 55% of the upper arm, the brachial radialis 15%, and the biceps the remaining 30% (Holzbaur, K., Murray, W., Gold, G., & Delp, S., 2007).

Being the largest muscle group, it is also the most forgotten part of the upper arm. The radial nerve controls the triceps and wrist extension. Hand pain is often attributed to poor wrist extension. My hypothesis to improve written expression is to strengthen the concentric/eccentric contraction of the triceps.

Leave a comment about your thought on this hypothesis.

Next week we will dive into this concept further.

Holzbaur, K., Murray, W., Gold, G., & Delp, S. (2007). Upper limb muscle volumes in adult subjects. Journal of Biomechanics, pg. 742-749 doi:10.1016/j.jbiomech.2006.11.011

McDermott, K. B., & Roediger, H. L. (2018). Memory (encoding, storage, retrieval). In R. Biswas-Diener, & E. Diener, Noba Textbook Series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF Publishers.

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