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Dysgraphia Q & A

Gifted Parenting and Strategies
This article contains answers to commonly asked questions about dysgraphia.

Publisher: 2e Newsletter
Year: May/June 2011

This article was reprinted with permission from the May, 2011, issue of 2e: Twice-Exceptional Newsletter.

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® or the Orton-Gillingham Method, commonly used with children who have dyslexia.
  • 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:

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Permission Statement

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


Laura McNicol

I am 92 yrs & have suffered all my life. I can still remember trying to write in 1st grade. I just found what my struggles were last year

Janet McCutchen

I am an occupational therapist that works with school age children. Two I believe have dysgraphia. Can you please tell me how you managed to get through school without all the accommodations and technology that students have today.

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