Dysgraphia: Make Sure Your Child has the Write Stuff to Succeed at School


by Sue LeBreton

Does your child avoid homework or become distressed when that homework involves printing or writing? Does she/he have an awkward pencil grasp? Is her/his printing or handwriting difficult to decipher? Can they communicate their ideas verbally but struggle to organize thoughts on paper? If any of this sounds familiar your child may have a learning disability called dysgraphia.

Students with learning disabilities have normal intelligence but have difficulty with their brain’s ability to receive, process, store or analyze information. These disabilities are usually diagnosed after children enter school. This is when parents and teachers are more likely see the gap between affected children and their peers. If not addressed, this gap increases over the years as learning becomes more complex. The sooner children are identified and receive help, the better they do in school and socially.

There are three distinct types of dysgraphia: motor, spatial and processing. Children can have one or more of these types of dysgraphia. Helen Painter, Occupational Therapist and author of Dysgraphia: Your Essential Guide, says that it is crucial to determine which form of dysgraphia your child has so you can choose the appropriate treatment and accommodations.

Motor dysgraphia is the easiest to recognize as it is when a child struggles due to poor motor skills such as a poor pencil grasp. Often a child will be screened and begin working on those fine motor skills with an occupational therapist. Painter suggests that the motor issue (if it occurs as the sole form of the disability) can be almost fixed in a month or two. If issues continue, parents should have their child seen by a medical doctor or a psychologist, the professionals who are qualified to assess spatial dysgraphia and processing dysgraphia.

In processing dysgraphia there is a missing link between working memory and the muscle movements required to do the printing or writing. People with this form say they cannot see the letters or words in their “mind’s eye.” Spatial dysgraphia occurs when the person has difficulty understanding what the eyes are seeing. They struggle to see how objects are positioned relative to each other and how things are similar or different.

Unfortunately, both spatial and processing dysgraphia remain with children throughout their lifetime, so parents must work with educators to provide modifications and accommodations. “It will help your child develop sound study habits and realize this is a condition that can be worked with. It is not something that needs to be disabling. Today’s children are fortunate to be able to benefit from technology compared to kids in the past who could only have dreamed of such help,” says Painter.

Despite the availability of a wide array of technology, Painter has noticed that both parents and educators are hesitant to use the technology because they fear that children will not learn the skills if they use this “crutch.” Her practical experience disproves this. “Anybody can succeed if they are given the right tools, lifelong tools. There is no excuse for not helping these kids today,” says Painter.

If you suspect your child may have issues with dysgraphia, have a physician or psychologist perform testing so that your child can get the appropriate support and counseling.

(Source for below information: Dysgraphia: Your Essential Guide by Helen Painter)

Top 10 Signs of dysgraphia (ages 4-6)

  1. Difficulty learning the alphabet and identifying letter sounds to the letter
  2. Difficulty learning the letters in one’s own name
  3. Avoiding drawing and writing
  4. Avoiding fine motor centers or stations
  5. Poor ability to cut with scissors
  6. Awkward pencil grasp
  7. Poor pencil control for curved letters
  8. Good at copying, but cannot compose own words
  9. Frustration and shutting down behaviors
  10. Self-esteem slipping, feelings of being stupid

Top 10 Signs of dysgraphia (ages 7-12)

Poor overall legibility, which is:

  1. Mixing upper and lower case letters
  2. Poor spelling
  3. Poor spacing between words
  4. Poor placement of letters and words on the line
  5. Tiring when writing due to awkward pencil grasp
  6. Saying letters and words out loud while writing
  7. Difficulty thinking of words to write
  8. Poor comprehension of what is written
  9. Self-esteem slipping further

Top 10 Signs of dysgraphia in teens and adults

  1. Mixing print and cursive styles of writing
  2. Difficulty brainstorming main idea, supporting sentences
  3. Poor organization of writing ideas in general
  4. Difficulty organizing what has already been written down
  5. Widening gap between speech and written work
  6. Work avoidance
  7. Taking a huge amount of time for work completion
  8. Decreased comprehension when writing requirement increases
  9. Difficulty with grammar and spelling
  10. Lowered self-esteem


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