Do you read really well and understand exactly what your teacher is saying in class — but have a really hard time writing or getting your thoughts down on paper?  Are you working hard and paying attention but struggle with written classwork or homework?  If so, and an auditory processing disorder has been dismissed as the cause, you might have dysgraphia, a little-known but significant learning disorder which have a big impact on how well you do in school.  Read on to find out more.

What is Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia is a specific kind of learning disability that interferes with the way a person is able to write, acquire written language and use it to express their thoughts on paper.  Often, children with dysgraphia have impaired handwriting and sometimes spelling. If not treated, this learning disability can have a serious impact on a child’s self-esteem and academic performance.

What are the Different Kinds of Dysgraphia?

There are three major kinds of dyslexia. They are:

  1. Dyslexic dysgraphia, where a child is able to draw and copy normally, but in which written text is illegible and spelling poor
  2. Motor dysgraphia, where a child’s handwriting and copying are both illegible but spelling is normal; drawing skills can be problematic.
  3. Spatial dysgraphia, where a child’s drawing and handwriting are illegible but spelling is normal

What Causes Dysgraphia?

There are several things which can cause dysgraphia. These include:

The most typical combination of causes for dysgraphia is a fine motor skills delay, an inability to re-visualize letters and an inability to remember motor patterns to form letters.  This last skill is known as orthographic coding: this allows children to be able to store unfamiliar written words in with working memory and be able to recall them later and link them to pronunciation and to meaning.

How Do You Know If Someone has Dysgraphia?

The most typical signs and symptoms of dysgraphia include:

  • Illegible handwriting
  • A pencil grip that is awkward, too tight or pinched
  • Poor or awkward posture while writing
  • Speaking words out loud while writing
  • Getting easily fatigued while writing
  • Unfinished sentences or omitted words
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts while writing
  • Difficulty with syntax, grammar and structure of words

How is Dysgraphia Diagnosed?

If your doctor thinks that you might have dysgraphia, he will send you to a clinician who is qualified in testing for learning disorders. This reading/writing specialists will give you a writing test which might include writing sentences and paragraphs and how you copy text down. These tests will look at things like your posture and grip (in other words, how you position your body and hold a pencil while you are writing), whether you get tired easily while writing and if you are having problems with muscle cramping or tremors in your hands.

How Can You Treat Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia cannot be cured, but it can be treated successfully to help a child succeed with their writing abilities. In principle, there is a three-part nature to treatment which includes:

  • Accommodation: this means making an allowance for the disability and finding ways to work around it
  • Modification: this can involve changing tasks or work to minimize the need to write and allow for alternative means of communication
  • Remediation: Instruction on and activities for improving reading and writing skills

More specifically, tips for treating dysgraphia include:

  • Encouraging children to play with Play-Do to strengthen their hand muscles
  • Playing maze games and keeping within the lines while tracing through the maze
  • Connecting dots or dashes together to form letters
  • Using arrow cues to form letters
  • Writing letters from memory or dictation
  • Using a paper with raised lines or graph paper to help keep handwriting neat
  • Use of modified pens and pencils to modify and improve grip
  • Tracing letters in the air to practice forming them
  • Exercises to improve grip and posture
  • Use of computer or word processor whenever possible
  • Break writing tasks down into small steps

So if you think you might have dysgraphia, talk to your teacher or parents and schedule an appointment with your doctor.  The earlier you get a diagnosis, the earlier your treatment can begin and the better off you will be at school. Because while this disability cannot be cured, the right therapy can give you the skills you need to be successful with your writing.