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:
- Accommodations: providing alternatives to written expression
- Modifications: changing expectations or tasks to minimize or avoid the area of weakness
- 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.
- 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.