Do you know what dysgraphia is?
If you think that dysgraphia = bad handwriting then you’d be wrong.
‘Dys’ means ‘difficulty’ and ‘grahia’ relates to ‘writing’.
Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder linked with significant motor or sensory-motor challenges, such as poor handwriting and problems with spelling. Children with dysgraphia are able to express themselves fluently orally, but they have difficulties getting their thoughts onto paper. Dysgraphia can occur alone, or in children who also have dyslexia, other language disorders, or ADHD. It might be surface dysgraphia or deep dysgraphia.
So, first and foremost, this is a disorder with written expression and so having bad handwriting doesn’t automatically mean you have dysgraphia. Children with dysgraphia have problems producing writing, but they are cognitively bright.
Don’t say its either a learning disability either – it’s a learning difference.
Types of Dysgraphia
Dysgraphia manifests in three main ways (although some argue dysgraphia falls into six categories), each one requiring its own plan of action:
1. Dyslexic dysgraphia:
With this type of dysgraphia, spontaneously written text is most strongly affected, and is often illegible. Oral and written spelling is extremely poor. Drawing and copying are not affected. Finger-tapping speed, a commonly used measure of fine motor skills, is in the normal range. A child with dyslexia dysgraphia does not necessarily have dyslexia.
2. Motor dysgraphia:
Motor dysgraphia may be caused by poor fine-motor skills, poor dexterity and/or poor muscle tone. All forms of writing (either spontaneous or copied) are close to illegible, even if it is copied from another source. Drawing and tracing skills are far below average. Spelling skills are usually not impaired.
3. Spatial dysgraphia:
This type of dysgraphia most strongly affects the spatial relationship between the writing itself and the medium on which it’s written. This means all forms of handwriting (particularly drawing) are highly problematic. Finger-tapping speed and spelling skills are close to normal.
NB: there is no commonly agreed definition of dysgraphia. The term may be used differently by different professionals so it is important to check what is meant by the term in any one context.
Signs of dysgraphia can vary then and include:
- Omitting words
- Incorrect word usage
- Awkward pencil grip
- Poor fine-motor coordination
- Unusual position of the wrist or paper
- Tires quickly when writing, hand hurts
- Difficulty forming letters or inconsistently formed letters
- Poor spatial planning on paper
- Spells well on spelling tests but not in actual usage
- Lack of punctuation and capitalization
- Mixture of lower case and capital letters in sentences
- Failing to finish words or omitting words from sentences
- Difficulty following spelling and grammar rules in writing
- Poor sequence/organization of words in sentence
- Produces minimum content on a page despite oral ability to explain ideas
- Avoids writing
What to do?
It is important to identify the underlying problems resulting in dysgraphia (the type) as there could well be more than one. Brain scans show dyslexia and dysgraphia require different types of treatment. The accommodations, modifications and remediations we can make for dysgraphic children include: reducing the writing load in class (and homework), allowing extended time to produce written work, and using assistive technology to allow dictation.
For a child with dysgraphia, producing written language is a struggle that can drastically affect performance at school and get in the way of individual written expression.