What is Dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is a learning disability found in children that affects their fine motor skills and impairs their ability to write. While it is less commonly heard of or studies than dyslexia or ADD/ADHD, it occurs in about 5-33% of school children and is often seen with other learning disabilities. However, the occurrence of learning disabilities decreases with age. For example, if 37% of kids have dysgraphia at the beginning of 3rd grade, only 17% will still have it at the end of 3rd grade.
Because it is less commonly heard of but still prevalent, many children suffer additionally because their parents or teachers don’t recognize their disorder and therefore don’t provide them with the additional help needed, and in extreme cases, push the child aside or label them as “not smart enough”, which can be very emotionally damaging to young children
The exact cause of dysgraphia is unknown, but it has been linked to brain injury and trauma in the past.
Symptoms of Dysgraphia
There are a variety of signs, and they are often missed by teachers or parents because they don’t seem all that concerning or out of the ordinary. Symptoms include:
- Unclear, irregular or inconsistent handwriting, including varying styles; for example
- switching from print to cursive randomly
- different shapes and slants
- varying from capital to lowercase letter without any pattern or reason
Sample of writing from a child with dysgraphia
Sample of normal writing
- Poor grammar
- including run on sentences and lack of paragraph breaks
- incorrect punctuation
- Poor spacial planning
- ie inconsistent word spacing
- trouble planning things within margins
- Frequent erasing
- usually from frequent mistakes
- Poor spelling
- including missing or unfinished words and/or letters
- A cramped grip when writing
- Difficulty holding writing utensils
- Unusual wrist, body or paper posture when writing
Examples of irregular writing grips and postures
The fact that people with dysgraphia have difficulty writing properly or neatly can cause them to be labeled as sloppy or lazy, which can lead to lower self esteem or anxiety, especially in young children.
Additionally, because they have trouble expressing themselves through writing, they often suffer from frustration and confusion, which only adds to their anxiety.
Sometimes these children will be labeled as “slow” or even “mentally retarded” by their teachers because they have no experience or awareness of dysgraphia, and this can have long lasting effects on the child, including lower self esteem, a constant feeling that they are not good enough and anxiety.
While not much is known about dysgraphia, it is known that children with both dyslexia and dysgraphia have less white matter and grey matter connections in their brains, which inhibits their language processing and cognitive thinking. In a study done by the University of Washington, children with dyslexia and dysgraphia had a much harder time writing the letters and words they were instructed to write than the control group because of these findings.
Figure from the University of Washington study showing “functional connectivity and structural white matter integrity connectivity where there was a significant difference between the dyslexia and dysgraphia groups. The clusters in yellow/orange show where the dyslexic group had greater connectivity, compared to the dysgraphic group in fMRI connectivity, to a seed region in the occipito-temporal region. The clusters in blue/light blue show where the dysgraphic group had greater radial diffusivity (RD) than the dyslexic group. Notice the anatomic concordance of the fMRI connectivity and the DTI parameter clusters on the left side of the brain. The language-related pathways involving the anterior thalamic radiation (white matter tract) and the inferior parietal cortex (gray matter) shown in this figure are both heavily involved in language processing.”
Treatments of Dysgraphia
Occupational therapy can improve fine motor skills and dexterity, and certain tasks such as writing checklists and taking breaks before proofreading can help kids catch mistakes and improve their writing. Schools are expected to make accommodations like extended time, access to teacher’s notes, and the option to turn in assignments in a non-written or dictated form. However, if the teachers are unaware of the diagnosis, accommodations cannot be made.
Some examples of tools that can be used to help people with dysgraphia with their handwriting and the cramps they may get from their unnatural grip and posture.
My best friend, Kat, has dysgraphia, dyslexia, and ADD/ADHD, and we’ve been going to school together for 6 years. We sail on our school’s competitive sailing team together, and over the years, i have done homework with her, studied with her, and proofread her essays, and i can only imagine how hard it must be for her when she knows all the information, but has trouble articulating it properly, so I really wanted to hear more about her side of it and do my best to help her in some way. These are the clips from the interview that i did with her.