What Is Dysgraphia? 8 Signs And Symptoms

Caucasian kid writing a Christmas wishlist
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Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that causes problems in writing. It affects comprehension and motor skills hence disrupting the efficient way a child can learn and write.

However, not all children with bad handwriting have dysgraphia. After all, they just started to write and are learning how to master the craft. But when a child is falling behind in learning writing than most of their peers, chances are, they’re suffering from the disorder. Dysgraphia is a learning disability that increases a child’s writing difficulties. The learning disability affects written expression and written language tasks.

In this article, you’ll find in-depth answers to your question, “What are the signs and symptoms of dysgraphia?” the types of this learning disability, what causes the learning disorder, and more.

Difficulty Forming Letters

A child with dysgraphia will generally have problems with creating letters of the alphabet correctly. They’ll have difficulty writing small letters even more than capital ones because they’re curvier and, therefore, more complicated to create.

They feature the two most common writing mistakes:

  • Letter reversal: This is the disorientation of letters formed by similar pen strokes. These letters include p and q, b and d, n and u, among others. It may be a common problem for children who are still learning, but it should be over by the time they reach the age of 7.
  • Writing all text in capital letters: In an attempt to avoid the difficulty in constructing curvy small letters, a child with dysgraphia may use capital letters to write every word.

These small problems all lead to one huge problem: an inability to write comprehensive text even beyond second grade. If the letters are under or overconstructed plus they have incorrect capitalization, creating cursive text becomes challenging by default.

Problems In Spacing Written Text

Spacing difficulties could be between letters, words, and also sentences. This also translates to issues keeping text within lines or margins, so the writing of a child with dysgraphia can spill over lines, margins, boxes, and break the rules of all formatting they’re taught.

If this is the only symptom your child is experiencing, it might not be dysgraphia, but a visual processing disorder where digesting and organizing visual information is difficult. As for the written language learning disability of dysgraphia, their brain affects their motor skills and causes problems in proper holding and organized movement of the pen.

Pain And Discomfort When Handwriting

A child with dysgraphia complains that their hand hurts while performing written expression tasks. This causes lots of frustrations and fatigue where writing is involved. If other signs and symptoms on this list aren’t involved, this could be a sign of dyspraxia (a condition that affects motor function).

The pain they experience when writing is usually brought by the awkward pen grip and wrong posture. This puts a strain on their hands, and their entire body feels uncomfortable.

Since they are performing the written words task all wrong, the paper might slip from under their pens, or they might tear it by applying too much pressure to keep it in place. All this is exhausting to a child, and the discomforting experience increases the fatigue they get from the task.

Incorrect Spelling And Grammar

Spelling and grammar isn’t everyone’s strong suit. However, if a child has too much spelling and grammar errors in their writing, yet they talk fluently, chances are they have dysgraphia. Sometimes, even when they’re copying, they might make these mistakes as well.

Difficulties when constructing words from the hard to write letters brings spelling errors can be part of the learning disorder. And when the complexity of writing increases by the requirements of grammatically correct sentences, it becomes even more taxing to the child.

Incomplete sentences, nonsensical writeups, misspelling of basic written words, and other language problems will show up when a child with dysgraphia writes. However, they may speak flawlessly if no other disorder is involved.

Announcing Words During Writing

In an attempt to write well, a child with dysgraphia may feel the need to say words aloud when writing, this is common in children with the learning disorder. They’ll keep enunciating the letters so that they may get the spelling right. If they’re fluent in talking yet, they make mistakes when they write the words; this is a sign they have dysgraphia.

Slow Writing

Commonly, children who think fast write fast and, as a result, have bad handwriting. However, kids with dysgraphia exhibit bad handwritings, yet they take a lot of time creating text. If you notice your child taking a lot of time to write and yet have problems forming cursive text, they might have dysgraphia.

Low Self-esteem

Being criticized when they exhibit the signs mentioned above can make a child lose their self-confidence. Sadly this is common for those with learning disabilities such as dysgraphia. Since they notice themselves having difficulties creating smooth text in the same timeline as others, they might feel incapable and negatively different.

This may cause them to isolate themselves, showing reluctance when they have to work in groups. This causes problems in making relationships with others, further enhancing self-esteem issues.

Schoolwork Avoidance

Since most schoolwork involves writing, most children with dysgraphia will avoid it. They could make excuses, turn in their work unfinished, or develop rebellious behavior around writing.

This can escalate to disinterest in classroom learning. They might show enthusiasm when taking part in other activities but stay distracted when it comes to writing.

(Sources: United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization, Healthline, Study.com)

What Causes Dysgraphia In Children?

According to UNESCO, dysgraphia in kids could be as a result of delayed brain development. (Source: UNESCO). But generally, scientists aren’t sure what exactly causes dysgraphia in children.

New studies suggest that this condition is linked to orthographic coding, where the cerebral cortex does everything from letter plus number identity to creating text connections according to their relevance, pronunciation, and spelling. (Source: Oxford Academic)

Through orthographic processing, humans use visuals to create, store, and recall words. While some people may be weak in orthographic processing more than others, kids with dysgraphia are assumed to have a deficiency in such skills from birth. That’s why they have letter reversal and spelling issues, among other problems.

Dysgraphia commonly manifests as a genetic disorder, so if someone in the family had it, their child may have it. However, it can start with one child due to delayed brain development.

And while it can manifest on its own, dysgraphia occurs with a combination of other conditions. It may affect a child along with other issues such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hypersensitivity Disorder), dyslexia, and dyspraxia, among other language disorders.

To break the confusion around this condition, check out a brief explanation of each disorder below:

ADHD

Also known as Attention Deficit Hypersensitivity Disorder, ADHD is associated with lack of attention, impulsiveness, and hypersensitivity. While kids normally lose attention, act impulsive, and are sensitive at times, ADHD kids show these behaviors in extreme extents and consistently so.

But while a child with dysgraphia has writing difficulties, one with ADHD may be an excellent writer who doesn’t focus enough to pass tests. While the former might have slow fine motor skills, one with ADHD can exhibit extremely fast finger tapping speeds.

Although dysgraphia is explicitly categorized under SLDs, whether ADHD is a learning disability remains a debate. This disorder technically impedes a child’s ability to learn but isn’t directly linked to the effect.

Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that manifests in reading difficulties. It arises from brain parts that decode language hence bringing problems distinguishing and connecting sounds in words. Children with dyslexia exhibit normal vision and levels of intelligence.

Although many people confuse dysgraphia with dyslexia, these conditions differ in two main ways: one is for writing difficulties while the other is for reading problems.

While a child with dyslexia will have trouble organizing thoughts when speaking, one with dysgraphia will experience issues organizing thoughts while performing written expression. Dyslexia has a more direct sociological impact since one of the most used communication methods (talking) may be affected.

Dyspraxia

This condition affects coordination and movement. Apart from having weak gross and fine motor skills, a kid with this disorder can have attention, perception, and memory issues. A child with dyspraxia may find it hard to stay organized, be careful in their movement, and is usually assumed to be clumsy.

Although dysgraphia causes writing problems, dyspraxia leads to whole-body physical movement challenges. Everything from writing to sports is compromised, and a child with this condition will likely develop low self-esteem as they feel embarrassed by their physical awkwardness.

So, for instance, if you’re looking to determine whether your kid has dysgraphia or dyslexia, it’s best to look into whether they’re experiencing difficulties when writing or during physical activities in general. The former means dysgraphia, while the latter exhibits dyspraxia.

Dyscalculia

Derived from the term calculus, this disorder is sometimes known as number or math dyslexia. This condition affects child capabilities to process and perform number related operations. While some people struggle with math until they practice it often, these kids may even have trouble understanding basic concepts like identification of numbers.

Like a child with dysgraphia, one with dyscalculia isn’t necessarily with a low IQ. They may perform excellently in all number-unrelated topics but fail miserably in numerical concepts. Even things like street names and ZIP codes would be tough to recall.

The difference between dysgraphia and dyscalculia is obvious yet misconstrued. One involves difficulty dealing with numbers while the other affects the ability to write.

Here’s a table showing the differences between dysgraphia vs. ADHD vs. dyslexia vs. dyspraxia vs. dyscalculia:

ConditionDistinguishing characteristics
DysgraphiaHave writing difficulties. Fine motor skills are commonly weak  
ADHDAttention, sensitivity, and impulsivity issuesIsn’t directly related to learning difficulties
DyslexiaHave reading difficultiesIs commonly associated with challenges of decoding language
DyspraxiaExhibits general physical movement and coordination challengesWeak gross and fine motor skills
DyscalculiaTrouble understanding, remembering, and performing numerical conceptsNormal motor skills but with problems in the parts of the brain responsible for number operations.

(Source: International Dyslexia Association)

Types Of Dysgraphia And Their Signs And Symptoms

kid write a book in the classroom.

Although there are three main types of dysgraphia, some children can have more than one. They are divided according to the group of symptoms they exhibit plus the area they affect most. Some are language-based while others aren’t.

Dyslexic Dysgraphia

This type of dysgraphia relates to reading and writing where a child may write well when copying but creates unreadable text when writing instinctively. Their ability to put their thoughts in words is impaired and can create nonsensical text with plenty of spelling and grammatical errors.

However, when copying, they don’t have to coordinate their thinking with writing, so they’ll easily put correct words on paper.

Their finger tapping speed is average, which shows that their fine motor skills are normal. This means that this type of dysgraphia has more to do with reading than the motor skills of the child. However, this doesn’t mean that the child has dyslexia; their dysgraphia merely leans on dyslexic issues.

Motor Dysgraphia

A child with motor dysgraphia usually needs to improve fine motor skills and issues with written expression. They generally have the deficient muscle strength and low dexterity, which makes them clumsy when using their hands. Whether copied or created from their memory, their text is illegible.

Since their muscle coordination is inefficient, their finger tapping skills are usually below normal. However, this doesn’t affect their memory coordination, so their spelling is usually correct.

A child with motor dysgraphia usually has problems finishing handwritten work fast. They’ll hold their pencil awkwardly and end up having hand cramps. This frustrates them since they can take a lot of time writing a simple block of text yet still appear disorganized.

Spatial Dysgraphia

A child with spatial dysgraphia usually experiences difficulties in spacing letters, words, plus sentences properly and also overall organizing work in the space provided. This causes illegible work, whether they copy or write original work. However, their spelling isn’t a problem.

This type of dysgraphia isn’t fine motor-based since the child might exhibit normal finger tapping speed. They merely have a misunderstanding of space.

The following table briefly shows the differences in the types of dysgraphia:

Type of dysgraphiaCharacteristics
DyslexicSpontaneous work is illegible, but the copied text is legible.Poor spellingNormal fine motor skills
MotorBoth spontaneous and copied text is unreadable.Normal spelling capabilitiesBelow normal fine motor skills
SpatialDisorganized work due to spacing difficultiesNormal spelling capabilitiesNormal fine motor skills

(Sources: Study.com, Your Therapy Source, Special Needs Project)

Dysgraphia Diagnosis

The American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) classifies dysgraphia under Special Learning Disorders (SLD), not a mental disorder.

To be rightfully diagnosed with dysgraphia, a child should:

  • Show at least one of the dysgraphia signs and symptoms in six months.
  • Reveal poor writing skills that don’t match their age and IQ.
  • Be older than 7 years old to determine non-motor dysgraphia since they have a better understanding of language.
  • Have no other issues that could be causing dysgraphia-related symptoms.

While you may notice dysgraphic tendencies in a child, it’s vital to take them to a licensed professional for a proper diagnosis for such learning disabilities. A psychologist or occupational therapist can diagnose your child with learning disabilities such as dysgraphia correctly after doing various tests in written expression and also test for other learning disabilities.

A dysgraphia diagnosis may include:

  • A look at the family history
  • Development stages
  • Academic history
  • Intelligence tests
  • Fine motor functioning tests like drawing
  • Dynamic assessments like handwriting vs. typing, among other activities.

In Contrast to what some people think, a dysgraphia diagnosis on your child doesn’t mean they won’t be as successful as non-dysgraphic peers. They can do even better than them even in written expression tasks.

Sharon Horowitz, the director of resources at NCLD, said, “Learning disabilities are not a prescription for failure. With the right kinds of instruction, guidance, and support, there are no limits to what individuals with LD can achieve.”

(Sources: NCLD, APA)

Treatment Of Dysgraphia

Schoolboy struggling in educational exam

Like other learning disorders, dysgraphia doesn’t have a cure. Dysgraphia treatment mainly involves interventions to help improve writing tasks plus special services to carry out writing tasks in an SLD accommodating manner.

With occupational therapy, a child can learn how to develop writing abilities depending on the type of dysgraphia they have. An occupational therapist can help your kid improve their fine motor skills through special strategies and tools proven to work.

For instance, in the case of motor dysgraphia, they’ll help them master a better posture and proper pen handling for the best handwriting. Furthermore, they’ll help improve their dexterity and hand strength to complement the correct posture and pen grip.

Parents often ask if dysgraphia occurs alone or with other specific learning disabilities. This is dependant on the child. If your kid has an additional condition to dysgraphia, say ADHD, an occupational therapist can deal with that as well to help combat the kid’s struggles better. With expert guidance, a child can experience improved functioning to help them achieve the best despite their condition.

(Sources: Understood, Additude)

How To Help With Dysgraphia At Home

Even when they’re under occupational therapy, you can do some things to help your child overcome dysgraphia struggles. They help improve your child writing skills with or without writing by hand.

Teach Typing

Difficulties in handwriting slow down learning. However, you can help your child express their ideas using a keyboard. This helps them progress faster in their academics and improve the thought to text processing.

You can use free tools like Typing Club or invest in more features like in the Tap Typing Trainer. If you wish to make learning more interesting, especially for uninterested kids with attention disorders, typing games like ABCya and Epistory would be more fitting.

Make Them Feel The Letters

When one sense is removed, another heightens. That’s why you can make your kid feel the letters you need them to write so they can do it correctly. This is especially effective for kids with dyslexic dysgraphia.

You can do this by asking your child to close their eyes while you trace a letter on their back or palm. After that, they can open their eyes and write the word correctly. You can complicate the exercise to sharpen their skills by tracing capital letters and asking them to write a small letter version of what you’ve traced.

Allow Them To Write Big Letters

Gross motor skills are fundamental to the development of fine motor skills. These big actions by body parts help a child master small movements as well. And since children with dysgraphia have difficulties remembering how letters are formed, it’s best to help them remember using big actions on letters.

Multisensory handwriting allows the child to practice letter formation by using all their senses. You can let them write letters using their fingers in the sand, rice, flour, or other grains available. They can also use big boards and chalk to write huge letters so they can memorize the strokes well.

(Sources: Pathways.org, Baby Centre)

Use Handwriting Without Tears

The Handwriting Without Tears learning program is a handwriting training curriculum that has been proven to work after years of research. It’s one of the best ways to help a child with dysgraphia learn without straining, or as they put it: learning without tears.

Here are learning styles that HWT uses:

  • Unique letter styling and ordering: Through a developmentally appropriate arrangement of letters, the child can easily learn print and cursive text.
  • Multisensory tutoring: Using appealing elements like images, a kid can remember letter formations well.
  • Multi-curricular connections: Learning handwriting with various subjects can enhance the understanding of the kid.
  • Customized instructional and assessment plans: Using the tried and tested instructions and exams, your kid can master the content effectively.

Make Letters With Clay Together

Clay is a highly responsive medium when wet. Using it to make letters with a child with dysgraphia will not only develop their fine motor skills but also gross motor skills. This strengthens and enhances the flexibility of their wrists and arms to boost their handwriting.

Also, the different responses of clay while forming varying letters helps reinforce the shapes of different letters in a child’s mind. If they’re having letter reversal issues, this technique could fix that problem.

Use Raised Line Paper

For those struggling with proper spacing, a raised line paper can help. These special papers help a child struggling with handwriting stay within the lines. The size and shape of the letters are more controlled with the dotted and full lines, which makes this strategy extremely effective in developing spacing consciousness.

Strengthen Their Grip Through Pinching

For many kids with dysgraphia, holding a pencil properly is challenging. They may either hold it too lightly hence slipping between fingers, or exert too much pressure on it, which makes their hands rigid.

You can use pinching tools like chopsticks, tongs, and tweezers to flex your child’s hands. You can tell them to pick stuff with the tools in a game so they can be excited about learning. The more they get used to properly gripping various items, they’ll become better at gripping a pencil.

Promote Speech To Text

Dysgraphia makes it difficult for a child to write what they think. The difficulty in processing their thoughts where writing is involved can discourage them from learning altogether. But there’s another way you can help them develop their self-confidence and, as a result, thoughts to writing coordination.

Buy your child an audio recorder or have them use an app on a phone where they can record whatever answer to a question they have. When they’re done, they can start listening and write their articulated thoughts. This boosts their desire to learn and do schoolwork since it has a lesser strain.

Let Them Trace Text With Arrow Cues

You can use dots and arrows to guide your child on how to write letters and numbers. For any child with dysgraphia, this will help them properly outline and space letters and also reinforce letter formation in their memory.

After some exercises with clues, they can create text elements from scratch correctly. A book like this Lots and Lots of Letter Tracing Practice paperback can help your kid master fundamentals in proper handwriting.

(Sources: Understood, Additude, LD Online)

Interventions For Dysgraphia At School

Children who have specific learning disorders should have additional support and accommodations in the classroom. These accommodations help relieve the pressure of working in the same manner as other children hence boosting their willingness to improve with appropriate strategies.

Dysgraphia interventions at school include:

Extra Examination Time

As mentioned earlier in this article, children with dysgraphia find it difficult to express their thoughts in writing. Therefore, some extra time when doing tests can help them comfortably express their knowledge. This ensures proper measurements of intelligence.

Worksheets Instead Of Handwriting Problems

Writing questions from the board before providing answers can be frustrating to kids with dysgraphia. That’s why kids diagnosed with the condition deserve to get worksheets for more efficient learning.

Elimination Of Tidyness In Grading Criteria

Since poor handwriting is one of the major effects of dysgraphia, basing part of grading on neatness is unfair. If a child has dysgraphia, they’ll be discouraged by low grades that don’t reflect their understanding on the subject. Handwriting could be disregarded for such cases, and if it’s unreadable, word processing software, like typing or speech-to-text, can be used.

Use Of Dysgraphia-sensitive Materials

Instead of giving normal materials for schoolwork, a child with dysgraphia can get accommodating materials that help them overcome some of their challenges. Pencil grips raised line papers, and erasable pens are some of the tools a kid can use as alternatives to normal materials.

(Source: Hoagies Gifted, Davidson Institute)

Conclusion

Dysgraphia signs and symptoms spread across challenges in writing. Depending on the types of dysgraphia a kid has, they may have trouble memorizing and writing information, experience difficulty spacing the letters and words, or make spelling errors. However, with expert guidance plus home and school intervention methods, the child’s potential is unlimited.

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