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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.

  • Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Avoiding writing or drawing tasks
  • Tiring quickly while writing
  • Saying words out loud while writing
  • Unfinished or omitted words in sentences
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts on paper
  • Difficulty with syntax structure and grammar
  • Large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech.

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

  • Use paper with raised lines for a sensory guide to staying within the lines.
  • Try different pens and pencils to find one that's most comfortable.
  • Practice writing letters and numbers in the air with big arm movements to improve motor memory of these important shapes. Also practice letters and numbers with smaller hand or finger motions.
  • Encourage proper grip, posture and paper positioning for writing. It's important to reinforce this early as it's difficult for students to unlearn bad habits later on.
  • Use multi-sensory techniques for learning letters, shapes and numbers. For example, speaking through motor sequences, such as "b" is "big stick down, circle away from my body."
  • Introduce a word processor on a computer early; however do not eliminate handwriting for the child. While typing can make it easier to write by alleviating the frustration of forming letters, handwriting is a vital part of a person's ability to function in the world.
  • Be patient and positive, encourage practice and praise effort — becoming a good writer takes time and practice.

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

Comments from readers

"I'd also like to know of any specialists in San Antonio. Our experience mirrors one described below--we have observed this problem in our son for several years and had him tested for learning disorders. Other than ADHD, his troubles have been called "non-specific" but we know that he specifically struggles in this *one* area--not reading, not math, not science, etc. Just writing. Frankly, I don't care if it's dysgraphia or whatever. I just want the school to acknowledge the problem and give him the help he needs. "
"Thanks for this article. It summarizes a lot of information in a small space. However, I wonder why you would encourage introducing a word processor early. Recent studies have shown there's no advantage to adopting computers before about age 12 - by which time basic reading, writing, research and some critical-thinking skills have been acquired. "
"Wuaw, I did not about this trouble. Thinking about my son he has this trouble and now I will to talk with specials teachers about this point maybe they will take a test to him. Thanks, for this important information. My son was daignostic with AHD has in medication . "
"What can the schools do to help students? I am having difficulty with CST - they do not want to accept out Neuropsychologicals (2). HELP! "
"great article. But since this is 'Great Schools' website where is info about how to find the schools who acknowledge these needs and implement these recommendations?"
"It is refreshing to see an article about this that I haven't had to dig all over the internet for. I have been convinced since my son was in K (he's in 4th grade now) that he has dysgraphia. I have spoken to every teacher he has had about this. Most of them have no idea what I'm talking about. One (his 2nd and 3rd grade teacher) was so helpful. She educated herself about the disorder and ways to help my son. She also helped me get him evaluated. The problem is that I don't think the person who evaluated him knew about this disorder either, and she refused to show me the results. All she said is that he is 'borderline' and doesn't require intervention! I have seen this child struggle, sweat and cry over writing... and eventually all he learned is that he just needs to give up because there is no point... it breaks my heart to see that in him. I have put calls in to a specialist in Jacksonville, FL, but I can not get them to call back... my plan is to keep calling un! til I get an answer and an appointment. So many people don't understand that this is not a motivational issue. It is a true neurological disorder... this is not just about 'messy handwriting'. It is so much more than that. The public really needs to be educated about this. Maybe then people would take it seriously when parents say 'I think my child is having problems'."
"Im looking for a school that can help me, with writing and reading, i struggled all my life with reading and writing, I'm 19, I Graduated From Belle Vernon high school in 08, thanks you."
"This article has been of great help, it's very informative. Where would I find paper that has raised lines. I myself have problems organizing my thoughts writing has been and still is very tedious for me. It takes me for ever to organize my ideas and every time I think I got the hang of it,it's like starting over again when another project comes up. Is there a place were one could take some courses inn writing."
"My son is in the 4th grade and has all the symptoms listed above.I really need help! He is currently in resouce for writing but that is not helping. He hates to go in there for 30 mins each morning. "
"I like the article. Step wise instructions are good . Thanks "
"My son is in high school he was diagnosed with this in elem. It has been a battle with schools because you would be suprised how little schools know about this. He is in high school now and still never recived his keyboard, schools have been promising him for years. But he has learned how to overcome this."
"My son has dysgraphia, I am learning now that it is very rarely diagnosed.. And not many children are truly dysgraphic"
"Looking for a program to help my son with his dysgraphia in San Antonio TX"