Dysgraphia Q & A
2e Newsletter
May/June 2011

This article contains answers to commonly asked questions about dysgraphia.

This article was reprinted with permission from the May, 2011, issue of 2e: Twice-Exceptional Newsletter (http://www.2eNewsletter.com).

Q. What is dysgraphia?

A. Dysgraphia is a learning disability that involves difficulty with writing. This processing disorder can affect one or more of these abilities:

  • Forming letters, numbers, and words by hand
  • Spelling correctly
  • Organizing and expressing thoughts on paper.

Q. Does having bad handwriting mean that a person has dysgraphia?

A. Not necessarily. Some individuals with dysgraphia can print very neatly, but it takes them a great deal of time and effort to do so.

Q. How can you tell if your child has dysgraphia?

A. The child will probably be much better able to communicate ideas through speech rather than through writing. Other signs may include:

  • An awkward pencil grip
  • Unusual position of the wrist, body, or paper
  • Quickly becoming tired from writing and/or complaining of discomfort
  • Poorly formed and inconsistently formed letters
  • Copying or writing that is slow or labored • Avoiding writing or drawing tasks
  • Saying words out loud while writing or carefully watching the hand that is writing
  • Failing to finish words or omitting words from sentences
  • Difficulty following spelling and grammar rules
  • Poor spatial planning on paper, with uneven spaces between letters or words, difficulty keeping writing on the line, or difficulty maintaining left and right margins
  • Orienting letters incorrectly
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts on paper
  • Inability or difficulty performing tasks that require thinking and writing at the same time, such as taking notes.

Q. What are the effects of dysgraphia on a child?

A. Children with dysgraphia often suffer emotional stress. They are likely to feel frustration over their inability to do what their classmates can do and may be unfairly criticized for being sloppy, inattentive, careless, or lazy in their work. Students are also likely to fall behind with school work, which may lead not only to poor grades but also to anxiety or depression.

Q. What causes dysgraphia?

A. Writing is a highly complex process that involves various senses, muscles, and parts of the brain. Problems in any of these can result in writing difficulties. In his book, Developmental Variation and Learning Disorders, Dr. Mel Levine identified seven types of neurodevelopmental problems that can cause writing difficulties, as shown below.

Q. How is dysgraphia diagnosed?

A. Dysgraphia is typically diagnosed by a professional, such as a physician or licensed psychologist, who specializes in the as-sessment and diagnosis of learning disabilities. Other professionals, such as an occupational therapist, school psychologist, or special educator, may also be involved. Among the tests often included in an evaluation for dysgraphia are:

  • An IQ test
  • Academic assessment that includes reading, arithmetic, writing, and language tests
  • Measures of fine motor skills related to writing
  • Writing samples evaluated for spelling, grammar, and punctuation as well as the quality of ideas presented
  • Tests that involve copying designs.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, children who are twice exceptional — gifted and dysgraphic — are especially under-diagnosed and underserved because teachers mistakenly assume that if a student is bright and cannot write it is because the student is not trying.

Q. What can be done to help a child who has dysgraphia?

A. Three common options are:

  • Handwriting instruction using multisensory approaches, like the programs Handwriting without Tears® (http://www.hwtears.com/hwt) or the Orton-Gillingham Method, commonly used with children who have dyslexia (http://www.orton-gillingham.com)
  • Therapy from an occupational therapist trained to address children’s writing problems
  • Accommodations, mainly using a keyboard or other electronic technology to write instead of writing by hand.

Children with dyslexia can also benefit from direct instruction in spelling, grammar, and composition.

Q. Is it common for children with dysgraphia to have other learning disabilities as well?

A. Dysgraphia may occur alone, but it’s not unusual to find it with these other learning disabilities:

  • Dyslexia (reading disability)
  • Oral and written language learning disability (also referred to as selective language impairment)
  • Attention-deficit disorder (inattentive, hyperactive, or combined subtypes)
  • Asperger Syndrome.

Q. How common is dysgraphia?

A. According to Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide in their book The Mislabeled Child, as many as one in five children (more commonly boys) have difficulty expressing themselves through writing.


The following resources were consulted for this article:  

This article is reprinted with permission from the 2e Newsletter and the author.

This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit http://www.davidsongifted.org/.


Contributed by: Parent on 11/25/2015
Our son, now 48, had problems that led me to believe he had dysgraphia. It took forever to teach him to print his four-letter name, and the letters were all over the page. He couldn't draw a telephone pole or a stick figure that resembled either. In school he couldn't copy notes or assignments from the board, but he could work math problems that that were in large print. He was a good reader. He almost never learned to tie his shoes, and never learned to tell time from a dial watch or clock. There seemed to be a disconnect from his eyes to his brain to his hand. However he did well on achievement and SAT tests, etc. and graduated from a major university in upper 3rd of his class. He was never able to take notes from a teacher/prof. He was never officially diagnosed with dysgraphia, but after I learned about dysgraphia, I felt certain that was the problem. Oh, and his handwriting was, and still is, terrible.

Contributed by: Parent on 10/28/2015
My son is 8 years old. Diagnosed with ADHD several years ago. Everything seemed to be going ok once we medicated him however things have changed. He is now so smart verbally but when it comes to writing things down it is such a struggle for him. I have never felt such a failure until now. I want to help him succeed but am looking for everything I can to help him.

Contributed by: Parent on 10/15/2015
My son is 14 with and was diagnosed with ADHD in 2nd grade. He has always struggled with taking notes, reading and putting thoughts on paper. I have been in the school for countless meetings. I constantly heard, he's lazy, doesn't want to do the work, he gets frustrated and shuts down, and he should know the material. After going back through all his prior writing since second grade and IEP comments-I couldn't believe no one ever questioned Dysgraphia. He is a poster child for this. I recently asked about testing for this and was told his assessment he had previously taken would have showed this. He is currently on an IEP but I would like to know besides the standard educational evaluation like woodcock Johnson, is there other more specific testing for this?

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