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 (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® (www.hwtears.com) or the Orton-Gillingham Method, commonly used with children who have dyslexia (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:
- “Diagnose and Treat Dysgraphia: Specific Learning Disability in Writing,” Suite101.com, www.suite101.com/content/dysgraphia-a46051#ixzz1LDarKNeK
- Learning Disabilities Association of America, www.ldanatl.org/aboutld/parents/ld_basics/dysgraphia.asp
- The Mislabeled Child: How Understanding Your Child’s Unique Learning Style Can Open the Door to Success, by Brock and Fernette Eide, Hyperion, 2006
- Misunderstood Minds, www.pbs.org/wgbh/misunderstoodminds/writingdiffs.html
- National Center for Learning Disabilities, www.ldonline.org/article/12770
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/dysgraphia/dysgraphia.htm
- “Understanding Dysgraphia,” www.interdys.org/ewebeditpro5/upload/Understanding_ Dysgraphia_Fact_Sheet_12-01-08.pdf.
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 3/14/2015
Thank you very much for this article. It provided much-needed insight for our newly diagnosed family.
Contributed by: Student on 12/10/2014
I am 19 years old and currently attending a university. I have a problem spelling and putting my thoughts into sentences. Recently I started to forget how to spell simple words. When the spelling of the words does not seem correct and the letters are arranged the opposite way, do I have dysgraphia?
Contributed by: Parent on 10/2/2013
My son is 20 and currently enrolled in college. He recently transfered from a CC to a University w a 3.65 gpa. He graduated from HS w honors and is a good student.
He was diagnosed in second grade with dysgraphia. His HS Principal was great we never needed an IEP or 504 plan because the accomodations were simple let him use a computer or give him a lot of time if hand writing is required.
In case you think college is better at the Disability thing, think again. For those sending a child off be prepared for the same fights you had before. And be warned that having an IEP or 504 doesn't qualify you in college as disabled. You need the entire battery of tests (at your exp) and if you have a normal IQ and excel in school be prepared to get even more tests so you meet the definition of ADA.
Really it just time or a computer how hard is it to understand.
We are attempting to see if an OT evaluation would be more appropriate for age and need is acceptable.
The good news for all you parents and students just starting to deal with dysgraphia is you can do it. There may be some crying, he/she is just lazy comments, broken pens, broken pencils and the occasional thrown book but you can do it.