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 (https://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:  

Permission Statement

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


Contributed by: Other on 5/16/2016
I am now 58, and I have suffered profoundly due to dysgraphia. I've always assessed in the 99.99 or higher percentile of intelligence, but I barely passed all through public school. Everyone insisted that I was just lazy, wasn't applying myself, or was being obtuse. My parents tried every way to force me to comply, and I was simply unable, due solely to inability to write legibly. No amount of practice or exercises helped. Taking class notes was out of the question; fortunately, I am an auditory learner. I KNEW what was wrong, but no one would believe me (the diagnosis did not exist back then). I now have a Ph.D. Until the diagnosis existed, the "system" did nothing but destroy my self-esteem and try to make me like everyone else. I have a serious philosophical problem with calling dysgraphia a "learning disability." All along, I was learning the material just fine (better than most), I was just unable to conform to the arbitrary, written performance standard. I could easily demonstrate my learning verbally, but that was unconventional. I hope no one gets treated that way anymore.

Contributed by: Parent on 2/27/2016
I have awful handwriting. I exclusively type now, though I still get words wrong - but that is the beauty of computers - I can easily correct my space. My IQ puts me in the top 0.1% of the population, I excel at maths, have a large vocubulary but struggle with writing. My hand hurts after writing for more than a couple of minutes, I find I press too hard on the paper and grip the pen too hard. I get easily frustrated especially when copying something by hand as I make mistakes constantly! My teachers dismissed it as me not trying hard enough to write neatly. But writing neatly was always a very slow and laborious process for me. I really struggled to take notes.

Contributed by: Other on 2/25/2016
I am now 55. I always struggled with handwriting in school. Some teachers said I was lazy. Better ones realized I had some sort of problem, but were rather hit-or-miss with solutions. Drawing endless circles may have helped a bit with motor coordination, but ramped up the frustration till I tended to avoid writing as much as possible, cutting corners and such. To this day, writing is a struggle. It takes me several times longer to write a legible note than most people. I haven't written anything in cursive in decades. I don't count my signature, as that's just a squiggly line anymore. Typing is better, but still slow and fraught with errors. I test at genius level, won the school spelling bee, and have prodigious math skills. I sure wish someone had understood the problem and provided better targeted help with it.

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