By Kathy Kuhl
 [Part 3 on helping struggling writers. Part 1 is here, and part 2 here.]
A woman told me her son had been accepted into a good college even though he had the handwriting of a six-year-old. Happily, this sharp young man and his mother knew how to get accommodations to get his thoughts on paper.
Can you imagine the effect on this child if his mother had said:
“Sorry, dear. Until you stop reversing your Es, I’m not going to teach you to write.”
“Until you pay attention and print more neatly, I’m not teaching you any new words.”
Many gifted people have dysgraphia, dyslexia or other learning disabilities. We should work on the problems, as I discussed last week. But we also work around them. That means you accommodate the student’s areas of weakness.
Accommodate doesn’t mean coddle. It does mean you give help that gives them a fair chance to develop their abilities. It means you don’t let a disability hijack your homeschool.
Though we work hard to strengthen weaknesses, it is vital not to focus on them. We build lives based on strengths, not weaknesses. We don’t look at Charles Schwab, Richard Branson, or MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award winner Mimi Koehl, and think of learning disabilities. They built their careers on their strengths.
We don’t build our lives on what we do poorly. Neither should our kids.

Learn to type

The first accommodation you may think of for a child who struggles with writing is teaching your child to type.
How do you know if your child is old enough to touch-type? Pediatric occupational therapist Laurie Chuba told me this trick: ask your child to close her eyes and see if she can touch her left thumb each of her other left fingers in turn. Then repeat with right hand. If she can, she’s ready to learn touch-typing.

Not every keyboarding program is well-suited to children and teens with learning disabilities. For instance, the first one we tried used a small font size on screen. It was hard for my son, who has dyslexia, to read.

[Disclosure: I was given, but have not used, a sample of Keyboard Classroom and the finger guides. My review is based on trying a free demo. Typing programs vary and kids vary. I recommend trying demos and reading reviews to see what’s best for your child.]

Photo of student using Keyboard Classroom with its plastic finger guides.

There are many typing programs, but Keyboard Classroom is unusual. It’s a typing program designed at the Ben Bronz School in Connecticut, a school especially for students with learning disabilities. It keeps practice exercises to one minute, building fluency without as much stress as longer exercises.
It was researched with students with learning disabilities for twenty years. By keeping its plastic finger guides between the middle and ring finger of each hand, the learner’s hands don’t drift out of place.

I met Keyboard Classroom President Carrie Shaw at LEAH Homeschool Convention a few years back and got to try out the program. I was intrigued. You can see a demo and explanation of Keyboard Classroom here. 
Carrie wrote, “I reduced the prices on all my licenses so it would be more affordable for homeschoolers.” At their site, you can contact Carrie Shaw and learn more.
If your child is not ready to touch-type, let her record answers with a digital voice recorder or into your phone. You can also have her dictate to a sibling who can type.

Word Prediction Software

Dictation software is notorious for goofy transcribing errors. WordQ does a superior job, providing a drop-down list of words to choose from. Even better, at the end of each sentence, WordQ reads the sentence aloud, which can help your student notice when words are incorrect or are omitted. Get a free trial of WordQ from Quillsoft here.

Dictation software

SpeakQ dictation software is an add-on for WordQ that turns it in to a powerful dictation program. Designed for folks with learning disabilities, it is easier for your child to train to his or her voice than other programs, like Dragon. WordQ and SpeakQ both offer a free trial.

Dragon Naturally Speaking also takes diction from you or your student. See www.Nuance.com for details and a demonstration.
[The advantage of SpeakQ over Dragon is that, to train the software to recognized your child’s voice, Dragon provides paragraphs that may be difficult for your challenged learner to read. But SpeakQ lets you upload anything your child can read well, and use that text to train the software.]
  Not everyone who struggles with writing struggles with handwriting. Other writing problems require different solutions. Next month we’ll look at some. This series continues here.