Shot of an unrecognisable young boy writing in a book at school.
Learning Disorders

What Is Dysgraphia? Why Dyslexia and Dysgraphia Are Different

Last Updated on

April 9th, 2024 10:13 pm

Dysgraphia is one of the lesser-discussed learning disorders, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t prevalent. It’s estimated that around 7-15% of children in the classroom have Dysgraphia of some kind.

And, despite more people using technology than ever, dysgraphia still causes issues for many who struggle to write on those occasions they don’t have access to technology.

But what is Dysgraphia? And what’s the difference between Dyslexia and Dysgraphia?

Let’s take a closer look and try to understand this neurodevelopmental disorder in greater detail.

What Is Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia is a neurological condition which can cause difficulty in the writing process. This learning disability includes challenges with forming letters, staying within margins, and following lines. It can also lead to trouble with sentence structure throughout the process of writing.

The symptoms of dysgraphia are not limited to writing difficulties; they may also include problems with spatial perception and memory, especially orthographic coding. Despite this, it’s often diagnosed in conjunction with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), otherwise known as Dyspraxia as many of these motor issues translate into other aspects of life, including mobility.

There are three types of Dysgraphia. These are:

Dyslexic Dysgraphia

People with Dyslexic Dysgraphia struggle with the task of writing without having their words guided or aided in some way. As the word, sentence, or assignment progresses, writing skills in particular tend to decrease. Many with dyslexic dysgraphia struggle with spelling, though they usually don’t have issues with motor skills.

Motor Dysgraphia

Motor dysgraphia can be seen as the opposite to dyslexic dysgraphia, where a person can have sound language skills in general, but struggle to physically write the words on paper, with cursive writing often becoming illegible.

The result translates into digital writing too, where mistyped phrases on a keyboard are all too common (automatic letter writing tools and grammar correction help with this). That said, many aspects of writing remain sound, including spelling and comprehension.

Spatial Dysgraphia

Spatial Dysgraphia causes issues with the relationship between pen and paper. It’s the inability to perceive the space in which the writing takes place. A student can have good orthographic coding, have great oral spelling ability and the motor control for legible handwriting.

But may struggle with paper positioning and letter spacing, relying on aids such as lined paper or larger pencils for more tactile feedback, especially when engaging in cursive writing.

 

What Causes Dysgraphia?

The exact prevalence of dysgraphia is hard to note, since it is so comorbid with other conditions like dyslexia. It can be caused by many factors, including brain injury, disease, or degenerative conditions. Developmental dysgraphia occurs in children who have difficulty learning to write and often impacts their academic performance.

What is known, yet, is that the parietal lobe in the brain has a huge role to play in those with dysgraphia. So whether it’s from birth, or acquired later in life, it’s a disturbance in the parietal lobe that affects the ability to write.

Signs of Dysgraphia

Symptoms of dysgraphia can vary, but often include difficulty with:

Bad Handwriting

Messy handwriting caused by poor sequential finger movement is a classic sign of dysgraphia. Many people with dysgraphia will find that their letters are inconsistent. They may use too much or too little pressure when writing, resulting in letters that look like they’re written by someone else.

Students with dysgraphia may struggle with line orientation. They may draw lines incorrectly, or fail to connect them correctly.

Pencil grips can help with motor skills to improve handwriting. These special grips are designed to offer better ergonomics, and sometimes, mould to the user’s unique grip.

Poor Spelling

Dysgraphic students often have poor spelling abilities. Their spelling may be inaccurate, or they may misspell common words. They may also struggle with grammar such as using lowercase letters instead of capitals and incorrect punctuation.

They may also struggle with phonological awareness, meaning they may mispronounce sounds or spell words using incorrect syllables. Often, yet, these symptoms can be due to other speech and language impairments or conditions such as Dyslexia.

Difficulty Reading

Children with dysgraphia often struggle with reading comprehension. This could mean struggling with decoding, or understanding what they read.

Some dysgraphic students may have trouble with vocabulary, or even comprehending what they’ve read. It’s important to note yet that this isn’t in itself a sign of dysgraphia as it could be the result of one of a multitude of conditions, including ADHD and ASD.

Other Symptoms

People with dysgraphia may also have trouble with organization and have difficulty with time management. These are classic examples of issues with executive function tasks, which are often linked to other neurodevelopmental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Most people who have dyslexia and dysgraphia are identified as children when they learn to write. Yet, the condition may stay undiagnosed until adulthood, especially in cultures where poor handwriting is dismissed as a bad habit, a side-product of behavioral issues, or wrongly associated with academic skill.

The symptoms in Dysgraphic students and adults alike can vary over time, and sometimes they are very subtle. So it is important to keep track of any changes you notice. If you think you or your child may have dysgraphia, be sure to talk to your doctor about it!

pen and paper

How is Dysgraphia Diagnosed in a Child?

Dysgraphia is diagnosed through a variety of tests, including clinical psychologist assessments and IQ tests. Often, dysgraphia is diagnosed in pre-school and early school-age children, as it can be difficult to identify when it co-occurs with other neurological disorders. The condition is often accompanied by other neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD, SLI and autism spectrum disorder.

A diagnosis of dysgraphia may include a review of the individual’s medical history, as well as a series of intelligence tests and motor skills’ assessment. This information will help clinicians decide if the individual meets the criteria for dysgraphia.

How is Dysgraphia Treated in Students?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as dysgraphia can be treated in a variety of ways depending on the severity of the condition and the individual’s needs. Common treatments for dyslexia and dysgraphia in an educational setting include:

Occupational Therapy

Tutoring and support from occupational therapists and a school psychologist can help improve the situation in the classroom. Physical therapists may be called in to support if a motor issue such as injury is the primary cause of dysgraphia. These physical therapists can work with the student to develop strategies to overcome their writing difficulties.

Speech pathologists can assess how students speak and read, and then recommend treatment options based on the results. Speech therapy can help students with speech problems, while reading instruction can help them become more efficient readers.

Many therapists and licensed psychologists are specially trained in dealing with comorbid conditions such as ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder, so they can tailor the therapy to the individual’s specific needs and requirements.

Accommodations in the Classroom and Office

Accommodations in the classroom to support handwriting skills such as graph paper and graphic organizers are a great help to anyone with dysgraphia.

Other examples provided in educational settings include using large print books, having an assistant take notes during class, or asking teachers to offer extra time to complete assignments.

Assistive Technology

Technology devices that assist with learning disabilities like dysgraphia are becoming increasingly common. For example, some computers allow users to type rather than use a keyboard, which makes typing easier for those with dysgraphia. Other technology devices can provide visual cues to help individuals with dysgraphia recognize letters and numbers.

These technologies, along with assistive technology and software can also be used to teach students with dysgraphia how to improve their writing without falling behind the rest of the class.

Dysgraphia Doesn’t Have to Hold You Back

Despite having a difficulty with writing, many people with dysgraphia go on to have successful careers thanks to the use of assisted technology that allows them to thrive in settings traditionally not accommodating of their needs.

So with the right help and support, overcoming the challenges faced by Dysgraphic students can be an incredibly rewarding and life-changing experience.

Keep reading our articles to learn more about neurodiversity!

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Rob Butler
30-Something Millennial with ADHD and suspected Autistic and Dyspraxic. Thought leader behind this website. Big visions of a better future for everyone, but forgets where he is half the time.Loves Rugby, his kids, and anything silly. Hates U2 and Marmite.

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