Understanding Dysgraphia

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Dysgraphia is a sibling condition to dyslexia that affects a person’s ability to hold a pencil properly, perform the movements necessary to write legibly, and get their thoughts down on paper. When someone has dysgraphia, they may experience writing as a difficult or even painful task.

Photo of a boy student wearing a backpack holding a giant wooden pencil that is taller than he is. Understanding dysgraphia means understanding that it can be difficult and even painful to hold a pencil in order to write legibly.

Dysgraphia is sometimes called dysorthographia or developmental coordination disorder. Occasionally, it is inaccurately referred to as dyspraxia. While dyspraxia can affect a child’s ability to write, it also involves other physical challenges and is a separate entity in its own right. (See Understanding Dyspraxia.)

Some people believe that learning to write is important for developing critical thinking skills and effective communication, so having difficulties with writing can be incredibly frustrating. However, a treatment program can help people with dysgraphia learn to overcome these challenges and become more effective writers.

Dysgraphia is a 2011 documentary film (Dysgraphia – Documentary) about dysgraphia. In the film, dysgraphia is described as a physical inability to form letters, resulting in a number of problems such as decreased reading comprehension, trouble expressing ideas, poor handwriting, and the inability to express emotions in writing. The film highlights the struggles of seven students as they learn to cope with their disabilities and try to improve their writing skills.

As a person with dysgraphia, my only cursive writing is my signature, and it is very chaotic and barely legible. When I am forced to write on paper rather than type on my computer, I write everything in block capital letters and do so very slowly and laboriously. This is not at all uncommon for folks with dysgraphia.

It can also be a real challenge for me to get my thoughts and ideas down on paper (or the computer screen). It has always felt as if there’s a sort of disconnect between my ideas and making them concrete.

I’m in good company; mystery writer Agatha Christie had such severe dysgraphia that she dictated all of her stories to a secretary. Winston Churchill had dysgraphia and had great difficulty composing his speeches and writing them down in longhand. Albert Einstein also had dysgraphia and used note cards to help him write down his thoughts.

According to a 2011 article in Slate magazine, dyslexia expert Nancy Mather estimates that “up to one in twenty people suffer some degree of dysgraphia.” The article quotes another researcher as saying that many people with this condition can go their entire lives without ever realizing they have it. The author of this article suggests that dysgraphia may be more common than we think.

Photo of a child writing in a notebook using a pencil equipped with a pencil grip that helps them hold the pencil properly. Understanding dysgraphia and how it affects a student is important.

Although having and understanding dysgraphia is often a lifelong challenge, it is manageable with the proper support and treatment. If your child is diagnosed with dysgraphia, several things can help:

  • Pencil grip appliances are widely available online and help many kids learn to write.
  • Some kids find it easier to learn to write on special paper, such as graph paper or paper with slightly raised lines.
  • Some children benefit from having others around to help them. Some schools have aides who help kids with dysgraphia, especially in classes where writing is required.
  • Children with dysgraphia also sometimes benefit from using a stylus or touch-typing on a computer instead of writing by hand.
  • The dyslexia and dyspraxia friendly Touch-Type Read and Spell Program teaches touch-typing in a unique way, so that writing can be linked to muscle memory and become more automatic.

If your child has dysgraphia, it’s important to remind them often that even though it’s labor-intensive to write, what they have to say is important and it’s well worth their extra time and hard work to keep on writing.

Thank you for reading about Understanding Dysgraphia. For a thorough discussion of dyslexia, you may enjoy the second edition of my award-winning book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know, available in softcover, hardcover, eBook, and audio. In addition to facts on testing and accommodation, my book gives you the tools to provide the social and emotional support children with dyslexia require.

Cover of the book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know by Don M. Winn.

And to learn more about how every student best learns to read, you may also enjoy Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent’s Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention, by reading specialist and shortlisted World Literacy Award nominee Faith Borkowsky.

Cover of the book Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent's Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention by Faith Borkowsky.

Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong preliteracy foundation for their children. Check out the CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. Visit my Amazon author page for more information.

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