Dysgraphia is a learning disability characterized by writing difficulties, such as impaired handwriting, poor spelling, and problems selecting the correct words to use.
Dysgraphia can affect children or adults. Children with dysgraphia may sometimes have other learning disabilities or disorders. When it occurs in adulthood, it usually follows a trauma, such as a stroke, and doctors may refer to it as agraphia.
In this article, we discuss the symptoms and diagnosis of dysgraphia and suggest treatments and management techniques.
With this form of dysgraphia, written words that a person has not copied from another source are illegible, particularly as the writing goes on. Copied writing or drawings, on the other hand, may be clear.
Spelling is poor even though an individual’s fine motor skills are normal. Despite the name, a person with dyslexia dysgraphia does not necessarily have dyslexia.
This form of dysgraphia happens when a person has poor fine motor skills. Someone with motor dysgraphia may also have poor dexterity.
Written work, including copied work and drawings, tend to be poor or illegible. With extreme effort from the student, short writing samples may be somewhat legible. Spelling abilities are usually within the normal range.
Spatial dysgraphia results from issues with spatial awareness. This may show as difficulty staying within the lines on a piece of paper or using a correct amount of spacing between words.
All forms of handwriting and drawings, from individuals with this type of dysgraphia, are usually illegible. Spelling skills are not typically impaired.
Dysgraphia can cause different symptoms at different ages in children.
Symptoms also depend on the type of dysgraphia a person experiences. Some people may have only impaired handwriting or only impaired spelling, while others will have both.
Signs and symptoms may
- poor or illegible handwriting
- incorrect or odd spelling
- incorrect capitalization
- a mix of cursive and print writing styles
- using incorrect words
- omitting words from sentences
- slow writing speed
- fatigue after writing short pieces
- inappropriate letter sizing
- inappropriate letter spacing
- difficulty with grammar and sentence structure
- unusual position of the body or hands when writing
- saying words aloud when writing them down
- watching the hands while writing
- tight or unusual pencil grip
- avoiding tasks involving writing or drawing
- difficulty taking notes at school or work
Those with dysgraphia often have other learning disabilities or mental health issues. Sometimes, the challenge of living with dysgraphia can lead to anxiety and low self-esteem.
A doctor will need to rule out other conditions that could cause writing difficulties. Once they do this, a psychologist who specializes in learning disorders can diagnose dysgraphia. To do this, they may
- academic tests
- fine motor skill challenges
- IQ tests
- writing tests, such as writing sentences or copying words
During these tests, the specialist will observe the person’s pencil grip, hand and body position, and writing process. They will also examine the finished piece for signs of dysgraphia.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) sets out criteria for diagnosing specific learning disorders, such as dysgraphia.
One of the criteria is that the set of symptoms should be present for at least 6 months, while appropriate interventions are in place.
There is no cure for dysgraphia, but people can learn to manage their symptoms to make school and life less challenging.
Treatment and management techniques can include:
Medications for co-occurring conditions
Through occupational therapy, people can learn specific skills and techniques to make writing easier. They can learn to improve their fine motor skills and may relearn how to hold a pen or pencil to facilitate better writing.
Management strategies for learning
Both children and adults with dysgraphia can benefit from learning strategies to manage their condition. The strategies a person learns may depend on their age and abilities.
The following strategies may help people of all ages to learn when taking notes in class:
Strategies involving classroom materials
Students can benefit from several classroom adjustments to help them write, including:
- trying different types of pens, pencils, and pencil grips
- using paper with raised lines to help stay within the lines
- using printed lesson outlines in class to ease note taking
Strategies for giving instructions
The way a teacher delivers a lesson or introduces an assignment can impact understanding and outcome. Students can make their teachers aware of the following helpful methods:
- allowing plenty of time to complete assignments
- prefilling in the name, date, and title of assignments
- thoroughly explaining how each element is graded
- sharing previous assignments and grades
- offering alternatives to written assignments
Strategies for completing assignments
Students can use technology and support systems to help them complete assignments to the best of their ability, including:
- using dictation software when writing
- asking for a proofreader to check work
- using a computer to type up an assignment
- asking for extended time on tests
Diagnosis of dysgraphia and other learning disabilities allows the individual to access treatments, support, and teaching accommodations.
Support from loved ones, teachers, and work can make a big difference in the lives of those with dysgraphia. Many schools, for example, offer special accommodations in teaching and assessment of those with dysgraphia.
The earlier a person receives a diagnosis, the sooner they can receive treatment and implement strategies to reduce the impact on their learning and daily life.
Untreated, dysgraphia can affect a person’s prospects, self-esteem, and mental health.
Some people with dysgraphia will improve their writing ability with treatment. For others, the disorder will persist, but management strategies can reduce the impact it has on their lives.
Individuals should see a specialist if they believe they or a child shows signs of dysgraphia.
It may be necessary to see a family doctor first who can provide a referral to a specialist. Or, children may be able to access specialist help directly through their school.
Dysgraphia is a learning disability that causes issues with handwriting and spelling. It can have a significant impact on the lives of individuals.
However, treatment and appropriate interventions can help people manage their symptoms and reduce the impact of dysgraphia on their lives.