Dyslexia Series: Dysgraphia


The development of writing requires and utilizes a complex array of motor and information processing skills. In terms of brain processes and energy input, writing is a very complicated skill we have developed and added to our repertoire as sophisticated human beings. However, this skill is not as easily learned for some as it is for others—in fact, for those with dysgraphia, it can be downright nasty work.

Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects fine motor skills and handwriting as well as “finger sequencing” (the coordination of finger muscles) and orthographic coding (the comprehension of words and letters). The origins of the term come from the Greek “dys-” and “graphia”, which together mean “writing badly by hand”. Children with dysgraphia exhibit physical and mental struggles with the process and concept of writing and often suffer from a lack of understanding of how to express and transcribe the thoughts in their heads. However, as the skill of writing is a fundamentally developmental process, dysgraphia is often overcome well enough with steady help and practice to write at a proficient level.

Implications of Dysgraphia in the Classroom

In children with dysgraphia, there is typically a wide gap between academic understanding demonstrated in writing and comprehension shown in other ways (for instance, through speech). Dysgraphia is often seen through a student’s illegible handwriting, spelling difficulties, poor spatial awareness on paper, and problems with multi-tasking—typically in thinking and writing at the same time. It also manifests itself in some cases through unusual posture, wrist movement, or positioning of the paper on the desk. Students may display a tight, awkward grip on a pencil, speak out loud while writing, or leave words or ideas unfinished in their sentences. Writing is often slow and laborious for the student, and he or she typically tires easily.

This kind of differentiation may depress self-confidence in students and cause anxiety about writing assignments or classes. Other children may tease or stigmatize students with dysgraphia, even leading to behavioral problems or the decrease of a sense of self-worth in the classroom.

Students with dysgraphia often struggle with

  • Writing legibly by hand (in print as well as in cursive)

  • Gaining a grasp of spelling

  • Staying consistent with print or cursive, upper and lower case, letter size, etc.

  • Concentrating until the end of a writing assignment

  • Spatial awareness on paper

  • Visualizing letters or translating them into writing

  • Organizing thoughts on paper

  • Comprehension of syntax, grammar, and sentence structure

  • Thinking and writing at the same time

Effective Strategies

Use a word processor, tape recorder, or note-taker to help handle written work. Allow the student to use a spell-checker or another person to review written material.

Always avoid scolding the student for what looks like sloppy work.

Allow extra time for assignments or allow the student to start early.

Encourage the development of keyboarding skills.

Provide the use of oral exams for the student.

Provide notes or outlines of the lesson to reduce the amount of writing. Print handouts of math problems for the student instead of having them copy them down.

Allow the use of wide rule and graph paper.

Bring pencil grips or specially designed writing aids for the student.

Provide alternatives to written assignments—(for example, video or audio reports)—in order to reduce the impact that writing has on demonstrating learning.

Helpful Resources

If your child is struggling with dysgraphia, here are some additional resources that may be able to help:

  • Teaching Students with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia: Lessons from Teaching and Science by Virginia W. Berninger and Beverly J. Wolf

  • DysTalk: www.dystalk.com

  • The Dysgraphia Sourcebook: Everything You Need to Help Your Child by Ben Bryce and Bill Stephens

  • Dyslexia Action: www.dyslexiaaction.org

  • Learning Disabilities Online: www.ldonline.org/

Tennessee Dyslexia Centers is here for you and can help your struggling reader. We are equipped to work with all ages and have the ability to increase your child's reading skills drastically. Contact our office for a free consultation today! 615-236-6483 | tndyslexiac@gmail.com

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