Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that appears when children begin to write. Children with dysgraphia struggle writing, often causing them to experience emotional stress and anxiety. Because they have good verbal skills, their parents and teachers expect them to write with equal quality as they speak; when they don’t, they may be mistakenly thought of as lacking motivation or careless. Dysgraphia can occur alone, or in children who also have dyslexia, other language disorders, or ADHD.
Dysgraphia is a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in writing that causes impaired handwriting and/or spelling in children of average to above average intelligence. It may include language problems such as omitting words, incorrect word usage, as well as non-language issues such as poor pencil grip, weak fine motor coordination, difficulty forming letters, or spacing letters even if letter formation is adequate.
Signs of dysgraphia include:
- Awkward pencil grip
- Poor fine-motor coordination
- Unusual position of the wrist or paper
- Tires quickly when writing, hand hurts
- Poorly formed or inconsistently formed letters
- Poor spatial planning on paper
- Spells well on spelling tests but not in actual usage
- Lack of punctuation and capitalization
- Mixture of lower case and capital letters in sentences
- Failing to finish words or omitting words from sentences
- Difficulty following spelling and grammar rules in writing
- Poor sequence/organization of words in sentence
- Produces very little content on a page despite oral ability to explain ideas
- Avoids writing
Source: Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities, Dysgraphia: An Overview | Smart Kids,
- Dysgraphia with Dyslexia – often illegible written text; poor spelling; drawing/copying are not affected; finger tapping speed, a measure of fine motor skills, is normal
- Motor Dysgraphia – fine motor skills strongly affected; finger-tapping speed is highly abnormal; all forms of writing are close to illegible; drawing and tracing skills are far below average; spelling skills are usually normal
- Spatial Dysgraphia – spatial relationship between writing and the medium on which it is written is affected; all forms of handwriting and drawing are difficult; finger-tapping speed and spelling skills are close to normal
Source: Attitude: Inside the ADHD Mind, Dysgraphia: Signs & Symptoms of Writing Learning Disability
Dysgraphia is diagnosed by educational psychologists, school psychologists, psychometrists, or diagnosticians by conducting a thorough evaluation for a learning disability. Tests of intelligence, achievement, and fine motor skills will typically be administered with a particular focus on writing tests. This condition is usually not diagnosed before eight years old to allow for ample writing instruction . Understood.org offers a brief explanation of various tests used to diagnose dysgraphia.
A good evaluation requires parents be informed, prepared, and knowledgeable as to what the results mean and how to use the information to assist your child in learning. The following links will help facilitate this.
- Evaluation process
- Assessment and testing information
- Details on Intelligence tests
- Misconceptions of IQ and preparing your child for testing
TIP: Dysgraphia & ADHD
Although poor handwriting is a symptom of ADHD, dysgraphia and ADHD often co-exist. However, what appears to be dysgraphia may be a result of the child’s impulsiveness as he rushes through his assignments. Take careful note of other symptoms such as poor spatial planning (running out of space on a line, writing down the page rather than staying on the lines), and poor sequencing of words in a sentence to help determine if what you are seeing might be dysgraphia. A thorough evaluation may be needed in order to differentiate between ADHD and dysgraphia.
Teaching strategies will fall into three categories: remediation (working to improve the skill), modification (changing the expectation or requirement of the assignment), and accommodations (alternatives to writing).
Learning to form letters:
- playing with clay to strengthen hand muscles.
- keeping lines within mazes to develop motor control.
- connecting dots or dashes to create complete letter forms.
- writing letters using large, gross motor skills first before using fine motor skills and a pencil
- Chalk on sidewalk
- Soap on mirror
- Stick in dirt
- Markers on windows
- tracing letters with index finger on sandpaper or other textures; copying letters from models.
- imitating the teacher modeling sequential strokes in letter formation; and copying letters from models.
- automatic letter writing, using the following steps to practice each of the 26 letters of the alphabet:
- a). studying numbered arrow cues that provide a consistent plan for letter formation
- b). covering the letter with a 3 x 5 card and imaging the letter in the mind’s eye
- c). writing the letter from memory at intervals that increases in duration over the handwriting lessons
- d). writing letters from dictation (spoken name to letter form)
Developing handwriting speed by writing letters during composing daily for 5 to 10 minutes on a specific topic.
Explicit instruction in spelling:
- initially in high frequency words;
- subsequently longer, more complex, less frequent words; and
- at all grade levels, the most common and important words used for the different academic areas of the curriculum.
Strategies for composing:
- planning, generating, reviewing/evaluating, and revising
- compositions of different genre including narrative, informational, compare, and persuasive
- self-regulation strategies for managing the complex executive functions involved in composing
Helpful tools: pencil grips, shorter pencils, graph paper, white board instead of paper and other assistive technology
Hire an occupational therapist or use OT strategies at home.
Learning Disability Resources Foundation Action, Top Assistive Technology Tools For Dyslexia And Dysgraphia – LDRFA,
TIP: Handwriting vs Composition
Teaching the skill of handwriting is important in developing fine motor skills and can be best achieved through cursive writing. However, children that have dysgraphia should also be allowed to compose stories and complete other writing assignments using technology, because the actual act of handwriting is often painful, laborious, and frustrating. They may be able to compose very creative stories using a computer, but will be thwarted when required to hand write the entire piece. Be careful to find a balance and use good judgement concerning the needs of your child.
- Attitude: Inside the ADHD Mind, Dysgraphia: Signs & Symptoms of Writing Learning Disability
- International Dyslexia Association, Understanding Dysgraphia
- Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities, Dysgraphia: An Overview | Smart Kids
- Dyslexia Help, chart of reading & writing program components, Reading program components
- Learning Disabilities Resources Foundation Action, LDRFA | Learning Disability Resources and Tools
- OT Tool Box, a website created by occupational therapist, provides specifics on teaching handwriting in the Tool Box
- Skills 4 Life, created by pediatric occupational therapist, is full of practical strategies to teach handwriting, directionality, organization, and study skills. VERY Helpful! Resources
Handwriting without Tears, recommended by occupational therapist and special educators,
How to Teach Cursive Writing, 31 days of free lessons created by a group of Occupational and Physical Therapist; research on importance of cursive writing is also found on this website.