Dysgraphia: A Neurological Disorder Affecting the Ability to Write

Dysgraphia is a learning disability where the child has a neurological disorder that affects their ability to write, regardless of their intellect.

The term is used to describe handwriting issues such as dysfunctional pencil grasps; improper letter formation; reversal of certain letters like b and d, or p and q; illegible handwriting; inconsistent spacing between letters in words or words within sentences; difficulty writing at an age-appropriate size; trouble writing in a straight line; difficulty modulating pencil pressure; or slow, labored writing.

Dysgraphia Is More Than “Bad Writing”

For students who suffer from dysgraphia, writing can be challenging, frustrating, and discouraging, but their struggle extends beyond the adverse effects of “bad writing.” They have trouble organizing their thoughts on paper and exhibit a significant disparity between their written and verbal output. Difficulty with grammar, poor spelling, and omitted letters or words may also be an issue.

A child’s inability to perform these skills affects their success inside and out of the classroom. An early dysgraphia diagnosis can alleviate the adverse long-term effects, which can be emotionally stressful and academically challenging for a child. Once correctly diagnosed, a child with dysgraphia can be supported through remediation, modifications, and accommodations.

So, let’s talk about how to get your child the help they need if they suffer from dysgraphia.

Have a Neuropsychologist or Psychologist Test & Diagnose Your Child

Dysgraphia can be difficult to diagnose because many children struggle with handwriting when they first begin to learn. It can also show up in combination with other learning disabilities such as ADHD and dyslexia.

Therefore, a neuropsychologist or psychologist should conduct the proper testing and make the official diagnosis.

During an evaluation, the neuropsychologist will look for common symptoms that make up the dysgraphia types. They assess a child’s IQ, academics, legibility of spontaneous and copied work, spatial awareness, spelling, grammar, and the quality of written expression. They will also examine a student’s physical attributes for fine motor skills, such as finger tapping speed, and dexterity and muscle tone, as they pertain to writing.

There are five types of dysgraphia – Dyslexic, Motor, Spatial, Phonological, and Lexical – although some children may have crossover symptoms or multiple types of the disorder.

While the type of dysgraphia can play an essential role in developing strategies for the specific needs of your child, it’s not nearly as important as the initial diagnosis in overcoming the disorder.

Best Strategies for Dealing with Dysgraphia

When children struggle with dysgraphia, it impedes their ability to learn and excel. Writing becomes frustrating and stressful because they aren’t able to form letters, words, and sentences – their focus shifts from learning the material to the physical act of writing something down. As a result, they don’t process the information, and they aren’t able to express their thoughts clearly, resulting in decreased academic performance.

Practice alone is usually not enough, and children with dysgraphia face even more significant challenges over time when the disorder isn’t addressed, which is why early diagnosis can be transformative.

Once diagnosed, an occupational therapist can help your child learn how to overcome dysgraphia using instructional interventions to improve their skills and abilities. They can customize a strategy for the specific needs of your child. Intervention may include:

  • Developing fine motor skills or motor planning skills.
  • Handwriting instruction using multisensory methods such as the Handwriting Without Tears® program.
  • Exploring tools such as pencil grips, slant boards, and special writing papers to help with letter placement and size.
  • Using graphic organizers to break down written assignments and organize thoughts.
  • Providing direct instruction in spelling, grammar, and composition.
  • Teaching keyboarding skills.
  • Exploring dictation software or other assistive technology tools.

An occupational therapist can also help you choose accommodations and strategies to make writing easier for your child. These may include:

  • Asking for curriculum adaptations or assignment modifications that shorten or remove writing from the learning process. For example, have your child take exams or do assignment verbally, or use video or audio recordings to demonstrate their knowledge.
  • Providing copies of class notes or having another student assist with notetaking or write their notes for them.
  • Allowing the use of iPads or laptops.
  • Using spell check and grammar check software.
  • Giving additional time to complete written work.
  • Grading assignments based on the student’s knowledge versus written responses that require the use of handwriting, spelling, and grammar.
  • Assisting students with breaking down written projects into smaller steps.
  • Allowing a “proofreader” to help students recognize and correct errors.
  • Empowering your child to make choices that reduce their stress when writing, such as using a favorite writing instrument or grip, or choosing to write in cursive or manuscript.
  • Utilizing specialty writing paper, pre-printed practice cards, dry erase boards, worksheets, and equipment, such as slant boards, specialty pencils, or pencil weights or grips.
  • Using applications, such as Snap Type, which was developed by an OT, that allow your child to photograph a worksheet and complete it on a tablet.

In addition to these simple modifications, children can also benefit from using technological supports to leverage their strengths and diminish the impact of their challenges. Learn more about these advanced options in our blog post on Technological Supports for Students with Dysgraphia.


About Skills 4 Life:

Skills 4 Life Pediatric Occupational Therapy offers a broad range of pediatric occupational therapy services in the Boulder & Denver area to help your child master age-appropriate developmental skills, become more independent, increase academic success & develop confidence. The experts at Skills 4 Life specialize in handwriting, keyboarding & executive function coaching, but also work with children on social & emotional learning, motor skills, self-regulation strategies & activities of daily living. Skills 4 Life Pediatric Occupational Therapy offers your child a safe, compassionate environment to learn the critical skills they need to be successful. Learn more about our team & services at www.skills4lifeot.com, or you can contact our office by email at karina@skills4lifeot.com or by phone at 303.351.1828 for a free consultation.