What is Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia is a neurologically based lifelong learning disability. It affects written expression. People with dysgraphia tend to have trouble forming letters, spelling words correctly and may struggle with putting their thoughts on paper. They can also struggle with organizing words, pictures and numbers on a page.

Causes of Dysgraphia:

Dysgraphia stems from problems with one or more of the seven types of skills required for putting our thoughts on paper. People with dysgraphia can struggle with attention, spatial ordering (organizing letters on the page), sequential ordering (of both letters and ideas), language, higher order cognition (creative thinking) and graphomotor (coordinating the muscles of the fingers to form letters correctly).

What causes these problems has yet to be clearly defined by scientists, though it is more likely to occur in people who have dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Asperger's Syndrome.

Read more about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Read more about Asperger's Syndrome.

Symptoms of Dysgraphia:

There are more symptoms to dysgraphia than just messy handwriting. In fact, messy handwriting alone does not indicate dysgraphia. Other symptoms include:

In the primary grades:

  • Tight and/or awkward pencil grip
  • Awkward posture for writing
  • Avoiding drawing and writing
  • Inconsistent spacing between the words or letters
  • Insistent use of upper and lower case letters
  • Inability to write in a line on paper
  • Inability to draw within margins
  • Tiring easily when writing or drawing
  • Pain while writing

In the middle grades:

  • Leaving out key words in sentences
  • Leaving words unfinished
  • Illegible writing
  • Mixture of print and cursive words
  • Saying words out loud while writing
  • Inability to think of what to write
  • Poor spelling of familiar words
  • Difficulty planning and/or completing writing tasks
  • Hard time organizing ideas
  • Focusing so hard on the act of writing that comprehension of the written words is missed
  • Needing lots of extra time to copy from the board

In teenagers and adults:

  • Continued trouble organizing thoughts and ideas on paper
  • Big gap between spoken ideas and written thoughts
  • Hard time remembering proper syntax and grammar
  • Trouble remembering what has already been written down
  • Poor handwriting

Diagnosis of Dysgraphia:

While a parent or teacher may suspect dysgraphia, the diagnosis should be made by a doctor or psychologist trained in testing for learning disabilities. The school psychologist, for example, can assess the student's IQ and reading, writing, math and language skills. Then s/he will evaluate the motor skills related to writing as well as writing samples. Finally, the doctor or psychologist will test the student's ability to copy designs.

The assessment is not only about the end product, but how much the student struggled to create that product. In some cases, parents, teachers, occupational therapists and/or special education teachers may fill out observational checklists related to the student's writing.

Treatment of Dysgraphia:

There is no cure for dysgraphia, but there are many ways for a student with dysgraphia to achieve success.

Accommodations:

  • Use a word processor or computer for school work
  • Assign oral reports and visual projects to test knowledge
  • Allow students to dictate their answers to a peer or teacher
  • Encourage students to use printing or cursive, whichever is more comfortable for them

Modifications:

  • Allow extra time for writing assignments
  • Shorten writing assignments
  • Provide worksheets where students can fill in answers instead of copying the entire problem or question
  • Provide pencil grips
  • Do not include neatness and spelling as part of the writing assignment's grade
  • Have students complete writing assignments in small steps
  • Use large graph paper to organize math calculations
  • Focus on original work, not copying from the board
  • Allow tape recorders to supplement note taking
  • Take a break before proofreading work
  • Encourage the use of spell check
  • Provide paper with raised lines
  • Provide a slightly inclined plane for writing

Remediation:

  • Use a multi-sensory handwriting curriculum
  • Practice kinesthetic writing (writing with eyes closed)
  • Write in the air - use arms, hands and fingers to trace letter shapes in the air
  • Focus on proper letter formation
  • Practice writing daily
  • Be positive and encouraging

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:

Learning Disabilities

Special Needs Parenting

Dyscalculia

Additional Resources:

National Center for Learning Disabilities - An overview and comprehensive list of ways to help those with dysgraphia.

Davidson Institute - Reprint of an article about dysgraphia from the Twice Exceptional Newsletter.

International Dyslexia Association - A PDF fact sheet about dysgraphia.

ADDitude Magazine - A how-to article on handling your child if you suspect dysgraphia.