National Center for Learning Disablities

Dysgraphia: Learning disabilities in writing

Learn about this type of learning disability, what the symptoms are, and what strategies can help kids who struggle with it.

What is dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing abilities. It can manifest itself as difficulties with spelling, poor handwriting and trouble putting thoughts on paper. Because writing requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills, saying a student has dysgraphia is not sufficient. A student with disorders in written expression will benefit from specific accommodations in the learning environment, as well as additional practice learning the skills required to be an accomplished writer.

What are the warning signs of dysgraphia?

Just having bad handwriting doesn't mean a person has dysgraphia. Since dysgraphia is a processing disorder, difficulties can change throughout a lifetime. However since writing is a developmental process — children learn the motor skills needed to write, while learning the thinking skills needed to communicate on paper — difficulties can also overlap.

If a person has trouble in any of the areas below, additional help may be beneficial.

What strategies can help?

There are many ways to help a person with dysgraphia achieve success. Generally strategies fall into three categories:

  1. Accommodations: providing alternatives to written expression
  2. Modifications: changing expectations or tasks to minimize or avoid the area of weakness
  3. Remediation: providing instruction for improving handwriting and writing skills

Each type of strategy should be considered when planning instruction and support. A person with dysgraphia will benefit from help from both specialists and those who are closest to the person. Finding the most beneficial type of support is a process of trying different ideas and openly exchanging thoughts on what works best.

Below are some examples of how to teach individuals with dysgraphia to overcome some of their difficulties with written expression.

Early writers

Young students

Teenagers and adults

Many of these tips can be used by all age groups. It is never too early or too late to reinforce the skills needed to be a good writer.

Though teachers and employers are required by law to make "reasonable accommodations" for individuals with learning disabilities, they may not be aware of how to help. Speak to them about dysgraphia, and explain the challenges you face as a result of your learning disability.

How to approach writing assignments

  1. Plan your paper: Pull together your ideas, and consider how you want them in your writing.
  2. Organize your thoughts and ideas
  3. Create an outline or graphic organizer to be sure you've included all your ideas.
  4. Make a list of key thoughts and words you will want to use in your paper.
  5. Write a draft: This first draft should focus on getting your ideas on paper — don't worry about making spelling or grammar errors. Using a computer is helpful because it will be easier to edit later on.
  6. Edit your work: Check your work for proper spelling, grammar and syntax; use a spell checker if necessary. Edit your paper to elaborate and enhance content — a thesaurus is helpful for finding different ways to make your point.
  7. Revise your work, producing a final draft. Be sure to read it one last time before submitting it.

Reprinted with permission from the National Center for Learning Disabilities. All rights reserved.