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Dysgraphia
Dysgraphia can affect a child’s handwriting and written expression.

Do you know a child who loves school but hates to complete written assignments? Is there a student in your class who can tell you all about the last book he read but cannot write an age-appropriate book report? Or are you the parent of a child who receives low grades when she has A-level knowledge? Chances are, then, that you know a child with Dysgraphia. But, the chances are even greater that you do not know much about Dysgraphia. That’s because it is one of the least understood reasons why students do not achieve their highest potential. So, let’s spend some time chatting about it and getting to know this mystery called “Dysgraphia.”

 Five Facts about Dysgraphia

  1. It is a specific learning disability that affects how well children can use their written language skills to express their thoughts or convey their knowledge.
  2. It can affect handwriting skills, such as learning letter formations and the development of an efficient pencil grasp.
  3. It can cause trouble with spelling, punctuation and grammar, and the organization of thoughts on paper.
  4. It can cause difficulty with letter and word spacing, finding errors in written work, and lining up math problems.
  5. It can result in lower school grades and poor self-esteem.

Dysgraphia is a Learning Disability

The bottom line is that Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects how children develop and master their writing skills. Underneath that bottom line, however, lays a bundle of difficulties that result in a child’s writing problems. Dysgraphia can affect preschoolers, school-aged children, and teenagers from the moment they begin to learn handwriting and then as they master their writing skills. In this three-part series, we are going to uncover the hidden difficulties that result in Dysgraphia and discover strategies for helping our young writers.

Distinction Between “Writing” & “Handwriting”

But, first, we must make sure that everyone is clear on the difference between “writing” and “handwriting.”  Often, the two words are used interchangeably.  However, they do not mean the same thing.

  • Writing is the skill of creating words and thoughts on paper and composing text, such as stories, pen-pal letters, or test answers.
  • Handwriting is writing done with a pen or pencil in the hand and can become a personal style of penmanship.

As you will see here, handwriting is just one of the skills affected by Dysgraphia.  So, let’s discover some of the signs that may indicate that our children are suffering from this learning disability.

What Causes Dysgraphia?

Although we can see the effects of Dysgraphia, experts are not sure what actually causes it. They believe that a person with Dysgraphia may have trouble with:

  • organizing information that they’ve stored in their memory (such as letter formations or the spelling of words)
  • and/or may experience difficulty with the physical act of getting the words onto paper (due to poor handwriting skills or disorganized thoughts, for example).

The symptoms of Dysgraphia, however, can be seen throughout a child’s development and can signify the presence of a possible learning disability.

What are the Symptoms of Dysgraphia?

 Preschoolers may show some of these signs:

  • Difficulty completing puzzles, coloring age-appropriate pictures, or tracing simple shapes.
  • Problems with using scissors or holding a pencil without hand or finger fatigue.
  • Challenges with shape sorting or matching activities.
  • Difficulty with fine-motor tasks such as zippers or buttons.

School-aged children may display some of these symptoms:

  • Difficulty with learning letter formations, letter alignment, and spacing for words and sentences.
  • Challenged with developing an efficient pencil grasp, suffering with finger or hand pain, or writing in a slow, sometimes illegible handwriting style.
  • Demonstrates the need to erase often and finds it difficult to read his/her own handwriting.
  • Problems managing spelling, grammar and sentence structure, as well as difficulty with editing for errors.
  • Finds it difficult to put his/her thoughts on paper in order to demonstrate ideas or knowledge.
  • Problems with organizing words or numbers on a line from left to right or in columns.
  • Experiences poor posture during writing activities.
  • Difficulty following directions, understanding the rules of a game, or following a conversation.

Teenagers may present some of these challenges:

  • Difficulty organizing his/her thoughts in order to produce age-appropriate sentences in a timely manner using correct spelling, punctuation and grammar, and sentence structure.
  • Problems with writing complete sentences, opting to provide information in a list format.
  • Demonstrates poor spelling during writing tasks although he/she can recite the correct spelling orally.
  • Problems with getting ideas down on paper quickly and legibly for note-taking or during tests.
  • Experiences hand and finger fatigue, erases often, or loses his/her train of thought during writing tasks.
  • Difficulty with reading a map or copying a drawing or shape.

Can Children with Dysgraphia have Other Learning Issues?

It is common for children to experience more than one learning condition at once.  Children with Dysgraphia may have one or more of the following conditions that can also affect written expression:

  • Dyslexia affects reading, writing, and spelling.
  • Language disorders can affect both written and spoken language, causing difficulty with learning new words, using correct grammar, and putting thoughts into writing.
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can result in diminished attention skills, a tendency for impulsivity, and hyperactivity.
  • Dyspraxia can diminish gross motor skills resulting in decreased coordination. It can also affect fine motor skills leading to poor writing and handwriting skills.

Five Myths about Dysgraphia

It is always dangerous to assume that everything we read about a learning disability is actually true. Misinformation can lead to undue stress and worry about our children’s behaviors and needs. So, let’s take a moment to look at some of the myths that surround Dysgraphia.

  1. Messy handwriting does not indicate Dysgraphia.  Some students with Dysgraphia may have legible handwriting but a slow, labored style.
  2. Intelligence is not a factor with Dysgraphia.  Students with Dysgraphia usually have average or above-average intelligence.
  3. Students with Dysgraphia are not lazy or disinterested.  They are struggling with the writing process and may be attempting to avoid it.
  4. Dysgraphia and Dyslexia are not the same.  Both are distinct conditions with a different set of symptoms, aside for difficulty with spelling.
  5. Students will not “grow out of” Dysgraphia.  This is a lifelong condition that requires attention in order for students to succeed. 

Writing and handwriting skills are critical elements for learning.  Dysgraphia can affect both of these skills and stand in the way of our students’ success in school.  In the next two segments in this series, we will discover strategies for supporting students with their writing and handwriting struggles!

References:

(1)  Patino, Erica. “Understanding Dysgraphia.” Understood.org. Understood, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

(2)  “5 Common Myths About Dysgraphia | Dysgraphia | Types of LD.” National Center for Learning Disabilities. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.