Chances are, you’ve not heard much about dysgraphia. If someone has trouble expressing his/herself in writing despite plenty of practice and corrective feedback, you may want to learn more.

Writing requires a complex set of fine motor and language processing skills. For people with dysgraphia, the writing process is much harder and slower. Just holding a pencil and organising letters on a line is difficult. Their handwriting tends to be messy. Many struggle with spelling and putting thoughts on paper. These and other writing tasks, such as putting ideas into language that is organised, may add to struggles with written expression.

It’s important to recognise that dysgraphia is a language-based weakness that may affect information and/or motor processing (including handwriting).

Dysgraphia often runs in families. It’s a brain-based issue – not the result of a child being lazy or not trying hard enough.

Signs of dysgraphia generally appear when children are first learning to write. The impact of dysgraphia on a child’s development varies, depending on the symptoms and their severity.

Here are some common areas of struggle for people with dysgraphia:

  • Academic: They can fall behind in schoolwork because it takes them so much longer to write. Taking notes is a challenge. They may have difficulty organising information when writing. They may get discouraged and avoid writing written work.
  • Basic life skills: Some children’s fine motor skills are weak. They find it hard to do everyday tasks, such as buttoning shirts, and may avoid playing with small toys such as Lego.
  • Social-emotional: Children with dysgraphia may feel frustrated or anxious about their academic and life challenges. If they haven’t been identified, teachers may criticize them for being “lazy” or “sloppy.” This may add to their stress. Their low self-esteem, frustration and communication problems can also make it hard to socialize with other children.

Trouble with writing can also be caused by other learning challenges. For example, poor spelling can be the result of reading difficulties like dyslexia. Poor handwriting might be caused by developmental coordination disorder (sometimes referred to as dyspraxia).

While dysgraphia is a lifelong condition, there are many proven strategies and tools that can assist.

Adapted from Erica Patino’s online article on dysgraphia for Understood.

Read more about dysgraphia on the Understood website.

How to find out if a person has dysgraphia

Tests for dysgraphia may assess various skills in the following areas:

  • The mechanics of writing (includes things like grammar, spelling and punctuation)
  • Thematics (including vocabulary and word usage and the ability to organize a written response)
  • Fine motor skills

A person with difficulty applying the mechanics of writing or written expression is said to have “a Specific Learning Disability in Written Expression”. This can be diagnosed by a SPELD NZ Assessor or an Educational Psychologist. A student diagnosed with a SLD in Written Expression may be eligible for a writer accommodation in formal examinations.

A disability linked to fine motor skills and motor planning is assessed by occupational therapists, physiotherapists or specialists in working with developmental coordination disorder (DCD). A diagnosis of a motor disability by a medical professional, such as a paediatrician, occupational therapist or physiotherapist, will also likely entitle a student to Special Assessment Conditions. Motor skills refer to the ability to make movements using the small muscles in our hands and wrists.

Want to know more about dysgraphia?  Here are some other excellent resources:

Dr Sheldon H. Horowitz provides an overview and advice on dysgraphia in this YouTube video.

Lyn Stone provides more information for parents on dysgraphia (and dyslexia) in this YouTube webinar

Read Bayley Garnham’s story on how the support of his family helped him overcome the challenges with dysgraphia and dyspraxia.

SPELD NZ Assessors and Teachers are familiar with dysgraphia and know how to help children and adults improve their writing skills.

To find out more, see our Information Pack below and/or give us a call  0800 773 536.  SPELD NZ also runs courses for parents, teachers and other professionals. For more details, see our  Training page

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