Is your child struggling with their writing? Have you tried different methods to help them with their troubles? If you have and nothing has changed, then the problem may be a little more complex. Your child may be suffering from Dysgraphia. Working with a reading tutor can help eliminate other causes and aid in identifying a diagnosis.

What Is Dysgraphia?

kids doing homework

“Dysgraphia” is another term used frequently in the world of learning disabilities, but few parents understand what this diagnosis really means for their child. Dysgraphia impacts a child’s writing skills in a wide variety of ways. This disability can range from difficulty holding a pen correctly to difficulties organizing thoughts into sentences and paragraphs.

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), any of the following struggles are common for people with dysgraphia:

  • Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Avoiding writing or drawing tasks
  • Tiring quickly while writing
  • Saying words out loud while writing and/or extreme focus while writing
  • Unfinished or omitted words in sentences
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts on paper
  • Difficulty with syntax structure and grammar
  • Large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech

What Are the Symptoms of Dysgraphia?

kids playing on a table

Since Dysgraphia is a writing disability, it can take time for parents and educators to know that a student is having trouble with their writing because it can be passed off as something else. 

Some of these symptoms can change over time. Dysgraphia can show up in the writing mechanics of children, while adolescents and adults can suffer from grammar and comprehension problems.

What Type of Disability Is Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia is categorized as a “special learning disorder” under the terms of the APA DSM-5, although it’s not an officially recognized term. That’s why there’s slight confusion between Dysgraphia and Dyslexia because both disabilities share symptoms, like spelling difficulty. 

An individual can suffer from both Dysgraphia and Dyslexia. However, Dyslexia is when an individual has trouble with their reading, while a person with Dysgraphia struggles with their writing.

Is Dysgraphia a Writing Learning Disability?

Yes, Dysgraphia is a writing learning disability because not only does it affect a person’s ability to get thoughts onto paper, but it also affects their motor skills. Motor skills are necessary for helping you transcribe your thoughts.

You use different motor skills to help you hold your utensil, keep your arm in a particular position as you write, and space and plan out your writing. But if you suffer from Dysgraphia, these tasks can be challenging.

Related: Reading Interventions Strategies You Need to Know

How dysgraphia looks in real life

Josh, a fourth-grader, gets aggravated any time his mom asks if he started a writing project. He puts off any writing assignment until the last moment and, sometimes, avoids the assignments altogether.

Josh’s parents often sit with him at the dining room table to provide some structure during his writing homework. Frequently, Josh will tire of the writing assignments within 15 minutes of starting. His parents will get frustrated and push him harder to sit still and write. Josh pushes back, and the scene ends with Josh stomping off to his room.

This year, Josh is expected to read short chapter books and write about them. He also has to answer open-ended questions with written answers formed into paragraphs of six sentences.

Josh loves to read. He reads anything he can find about dinosaurs and baseball. His mom has noticed he has no problem whatsoever answering the homework questions out loud. When asked to describe the events in a book, like a book report, Josh clearly understands the material and provides insightful analysis.

While his dad thinks Josh is being lazy, Josh’s mom is beginning to wonder if something else is going on.

Related: Tutoring Students with Disabilities: What You Need to Know

After the diagnosis

How can you help a child with dysgraphia compete in an academic environment where writing is required in every subject? The bad news: Dysgraphia isn’t curable, and medication doesn’t improve most symptoms. The good news: There are plenty of ways to lessen stress on kids with dysgraphia.

“Pressure” seems to be the operative word when it comes to dysgraphia. Imagine sitting in a classroom as an elementary student, preparing to take a spelling test. If you have dysgraphia, just holding the pen or pencil will be awkward. You will need longer to form your letters, even if there’s little thought involved in spelling the word. Your brain will struggle to translate the word in your head onto paper, again taking longer than the other students. Chances are good; you will feel a lot of pressure trying to keep up with the other kids as they work more quickly. You may even have a hard time keeping up with the teacher’s pace. Add a few open-ended questions to the test, and kids may enter stress overload.

Sage Reading offers tutoring and language assessments to help your child work through setbacks in the classroom. Our tutors are knowledgeable and credentialed and can provide the support you are looking for. Learn more today!

Related: Helping Your Child Develop a Love of Writing

What Can Cause Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia can either be caused by severe brain injury, called “Acquired Dysgraphia,” or by developing the condition throughout childhood, called “Developmental Dysgraphia.” No one is sure what causes developmental dysgraphia, but some of your neurological processes will be affected. 

Motor Dysgraphia

An individual may suffer from decreased motor coordination skills. That’s why they may write trouble writing longer pieces of texts. They may also have slower and illegible handwriting, causing further difficulties with comprehension and visual perceptions.

Spatial Dysgraphia

When individuals suffer from spatial dysgraphia, they have a spatial awareness problem with their letters and words. There are no immediate problems with their spelling, but the lack of spatial awareness can make it hard to understand that person’s writing at times.

Linguistic Dysgraphia

This type of dysgraphia affects a person’s language processing skills when they’re writing. So when they need to write something down that isn’t copied or traced, they will have a hard time producing that text. However, they have no problems with their motor skills and oral spelling of words.

How Is Dysgraphia Diagnosed?

Since Dysgraphia is not an official diagnosis, some people still face real challenges regarding this disability. So if someone is struggling with it, it’s vital that they seek immediate help to be assessed correctly.

A licensed psychologist that specializes in learning disorders will be able to diagnose an individual with Dysgraphia. They will look at school reports and family history to see if there’s a correlation with an individual’s performance. Tests that require the completion of short writing exercises will also be done to see which Dysgrpahia a person may be dealing with.

How to help

A boy doing school work on a tablet
  • Flexible time

Time is of the essence for kids with dysgraphia. Allowing more time for any written assignment or test eases some pressure from their shoulders.

  • Oral answers

Lessen the amount of written information required. If a student understands the concepts and can answer test questions, like spelling and essay questions, orally, allow it. Learning writing skills is important, but kids with dysgraphia may need to learn writing differently. If the subject is history, science, or reading comprehension, then offer flexibility.

  • Talk it out

Talk-to-text can be a lifesaver for older students with dysgraphia. Often, when you ask a child with dysgraphia to answer an open-ended question, they have the answer. Writing skills may lag, but your child’s analytical skills could be above average. Encourage students to “talk out” writing assignments before committing them to paper. Using talk-to-text means students can eliminate some of the more frustrating pieces to writing.

  • Type, don’t write

Sadly, a lot of students with dysgraphia are chided for poor penmanship. Don’t. Learn how to advocate for your child. If typing is easier than handwriting, so be it. Plenty of typing apps and software will help even young children pick up typing basics. Don’t stress about the small stuff. These days, typing can easily replace even handwritten forms.

For more strategies dealing with dysgraphia, read “How to treat the symptoms of dysgraphia” published at ADDitude.com.

For parents: Advocate

If you suspect your child is struggling with dysgraphia, seek the proper assessments. Don’t assume your child’s school or teacher will pick up on their frustrations. And, don’t assume the school will put appropriate accommodations in place once there is a dysgraphia diagnosis.

Because the symptoms of dysgraphia are sometimes subtle, teachers may not understand the level of frustration your child is experiencing. Trust your instincts. If taking a spelling test is causing your child to feel unwell on test day, pay attention.

Children may not have the skills to communicate their frustrations, but you, as the parent, will have a sense something is off.

Sage Reading offers credentialed tutors that can help students struggling with reading at grade level. Sometimes learning disorders are at the heart of the struggle, and sometimes setbacks can be overcome with additional support. Contact us today to get started.

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