Thursday, April 15, 2021

How to Help Hyperlexic Kids with Writing

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Many hyperlexic kids need support with writing assignments. Here's how to help kids with writing.

There are many language skills that hyperlexic kids need extra support with and one particular area that requires attention is expressive language. Both spoken and written.

So given their challenges with expressive language, it's really not surprising that many hyperlexic kids need support when it comes to writing activities and school writing assignments.

For many years, writing's been an area of struggle here for us too, so you're not alone.

So let's talk about hyperlexia and writing skills and what you can do to help.

How to help hyperlexic kids with writing

How to Help Hyperlexic Kids with Writing Assignments

Heads up that there's a lot of information below on how to help kids with writing. So let's dive right into those strategies that will help hyperlexic kids the most.

1. Use graphic organizers to plan out writing assignments

Graphic organizers are a visual tool to help kids plan out and organize ideas and information. Think concept maps, Venn diagrams, charts, tables, and that sort of thing. Really anything a child can fill in to help them brainstorm, plan out paragraphs, and organize their thoughts when it comes to writing skills.

There are a wide variety of graphic organizers that can help build good writing skills and you can even find some that are tailored to specific types of writing like persuasive writing or creative writing. You can use them for outlining a story, adding more details, character development...really anything!

For example, you can use the hamburger graphic organizer or this Mario graphic organizer for paragraph writing. 

Since part of good writing is to include lots of details, you could try this graphic organizer to help your child expand or stretch their sentences. Or try using this 5 senses graphic organizer to encourage your child to add more sensory details to their writing.

2. Use picture prompts for easy writing ideas

Some hyperlexic kids need help with not only picking a topic, but visualizing what their characters, settings, and whatnot look like. So it can be helpful to use picture prompts.

For instance, a teacher can provide a picture for your child to write about instead just providing a written prompt.

Or if your child is doing a creative writing assignment, they can do a google image search to help them come up with sensory details, adjectives, and other descriptive words that they can include to enhance their writing. For example, if your child is writing a short story about a cat, it might be helpful to look at pictures of cats until they find one that they like and use that image to help them describe their cat in their writing. 

You might also ask leading questions about the pictures they look at. For instance, you might ask something like, "What color is your cat's hair?" Then they can revise their image search to look up that specific color of cat. The idea is to encourage them to include as many details as possible so that whoever is reading their story can visualize the exact same cat without seeing the picture themselves.

3. Provide sentence starters

Sometimes your child might easily come up with their topic for their writing assignment, but then struggle to express themselves and put their ideas down on paper. Again, not surprising considering that many hyperlexics struggle with expressive language. 

However, providing a list of possible sentence starters is a great strategy to try. They simply have to fill in the blank with their ideas and then go from there. It's no different than say how most fairy tales start off with "Once upon a time..."

4. Allow them to write about or include their interests or passions into their creative writing efforts

It's so much easier to write about something when it's a topic you actually like and/or know a lot about. So it's nice to include free choice as an option to allow hyperlexic kids to write about something they're more interested in.

5. Provide concrete and specific topics or prompts to write about

Okay okay, I know I just said to include a free choice option, but sometimes that's too overwhelming for hyperlexic kids (that's the case for my son). Many hyperlexic kids find it hard to make choices to begin with so the idea of picking just anything out of thin air to write about seems like an impossible task. They'll likely get stuck and/or avoid starting the assignment simply because it's too broad.

Therefore, it can be helpful to brainstorm or provide a very specific prompt or topic for your hyperlexic child to write about. Ultimately, we don't want writing tasks to be stressful here so narrowing it down to something more concrete can really be helpful.

Pro tip: you could always try a random story generator to come up with more specific writing prompts for your child.

6. Create an idea bank for free choice writing assignments

Annnnd back to the topic of free choice we go! It's inevitable that your child will be given free choice writing assignments so you might as well plan for them, right?

One thing you can do is brainstorm possible topics with your child ahead of time to create an idea bank. They can keep this idea bank handy for when they're given open-ended free choice writing assignments. And then they can simply pick an idea from their list when it's time to write.

Another thing that can be done here is to brainstorm ideas at school as a class with your child's teacher's help. Hearing other kids' ideas - no matter how silly or ridiculous some of them might be - can be helpful for your hyperlexic child for a couple of reasons. One, they'll see that there is no wrong answer and you can literally write about whatever you want. Two, they might get inspired by something another child says that they might not have considered.

7. Break the writing assignment down into smaller steps

Consider short stories for a second. You need to think about setting, plot, problem and solutions, characters, and so many other things. 

So it can be helpful to break writing assignments down into these smaller parts or more digestible steps for your hyperlexic child. That way they only have to focus on one thing at a time.

For example, maybe one step is to pick a character and fill in a character map graphic organizer with details about who their character is, what they look like, who's in their family, etc. Then you can do the same thing for the setting. Then the problems. And so on and so on.

Doing this makes the task of writing less overwhelming - especially if it's a longer writing assignment - and helps your child think about as many details as possible to incorporate into their short story.

But you can obviously do this with any kind of writing assignment, not just short stories.

8. Set clear guidelines and expectations for the writing assignment

Provide the hyperlexic child with clear, specific guidelines and expectations. That might mean providing information about:

  • How many paragraphs are expected
  • How many pages long the assignment should be
  • How many sentences make up a paragraph
  • Word limits
  • Which font to use
  • Font size
  • Line spacing

The key here is to be specific. Remember instructions like "write four paragraphs" is still pretty vague and open to lots of interpretation. A hyperlexic child, for instance, might think it's okay to write one sentence per paragraph and think it meets the expectations because, well, they wrote four paragraphs. Or they might see instructions such as "write two pages," bump up the font size to 30 to make it fit two pages, and call 'er done.

Honestly, one of my son's favorite types of writing assignments were ones he did in grade 5 called 100 word challenges or something. The goal was to write exactly 100 words about a given topic, no more, no less. It had to be exactly 100. You can see why this would be a perfect assignment for a kid with hypernumeracy though, right? 

9. Provide writing samples and/or templates

In line with setting clear guidelines, it's also helpful for hyperlexic kids to see examples of what is expected for the final writing assignment. You know, the end result. For instance, you could show them a bunch of different haiku poems before asking them to write a haiku of their own. 

Templates can also be helpful (they're basically like graphic organizers!) for things like writing poetry or writing a letter. So that's always another option to try too.

10. Provide checklists and rubrics for checking and evaluating their work

Similar to points 8 and 9, providing checklists and rubrics can help hyperlexic kids see what is expected for the assignment. 

For instance, you might provide a checklist that shows how to check your writing assignment over before handing it in (checking spelling, capitalization, periods at the end of sentences, and whatnot). Or you provide them with a rubric to see exactly what the teacher will be using to grade their work.

11. Teach them the writing structure they'll need to use

This is kind of similar to tip #9 about providing examples or using templates. 

Different types of writing assignments follow different structures and explicit writing instruction on these different types of writing can make a huge difference for hyperlexic kids. It helps to take out a lot of the guesswork for hyperlexic kids, outlines clear expectations, and gives them something concrete to work with.

Let's take a look at poetry, for instance. A haiku is three lines of text with each line having a set number of syllables, while a limerick is five lines and requires a specific rhyming scheme. 

Or how about writing a letter? That follows a very specific pattern as well as it usually starts with "Dear..." and ends with "Sincerely..." 

So be sure to specifically teach these rules and formulas as it can be super helpful for hyperlexic learners.

12. Build background knowledge on the topic beforehand

Sometimes writing about a topic is tricky for our kids because they simply don't know enough to write about it. So taking time to build some background knowledge and doing some research before writing can be a great way to give them more to write about.

13. Use assistive technology or other supports and accommodations

Some hyperlexic kids might have motor issues that make the physical act of writing difficult. So be sure to use other supports, accommodations, and technology to help them complete their assignment. 

Assisted writing strategies such as using voice-to-text to dictate their writing assignment might be a great option (my son did not like this). Or maybe they can type it up instead of writing it by hand with a pencil. 

To Recap...Here are 13 Ways to Support Hyperlexic Kids with Writing

I know that was a lot of information about helping hyperlexic kids build strong writing skills so here's a quick recap of everything I said above.

  • Use graphic organizers to plan out writing assignments
  • Use picture prompts
  • Provide sentence starters
  • Allow them to write about or include their interests or passions
  • Provide concrete and specific topics or prompts to write about
  • Create an idea bank for free choice writing assignments
  • Break the writing assignment down into smaller steps
  • Set clear guidelines and expectations for the writing assignment
  • Provide writing samples and/or templates
  • Provide checklists and rubrics for checking and evaluating their work
  • Teach them the writing structure they'll need to use
  • Build background knowledge on the topic beforehand
  • Use assistive technology or other supports and accommodations to make the writing process easier

Now that you know how to help kids with writing, it might be worth getting some of these strategies written into your child's IEP/IIP. 

A list of strategies and tips for helping hyperlexic kids with writing assignments

Other Hyperlexia Resources You'll Love

Free Hamburger Graphic Organizer for Writing

Free Stretch a Sentence Poster & Graphic Organizers

Free 5 Senses Graphic Organizers

Tips and strategies for how to help hyperlexic kids with writing assignments