Many people are familiar with or have at least heard of dyslexia, a condition that can affect a person’s ability to read and comprehend the written word. Few may be as knowledgeable about dysgraphia, another learning disability that can affect language skills.
Dysgraphia is a deficiency in the ability to write. While dysgraphia is mostly associated with impaired handwriting, it also can involve an inability to store and process written words and then elicit the proper finger sequences and muscle movement to actually write words down on paper.
The word “dysgraphia” comes from the Greek words “dys,” meaning “impaired,” and “graphia,” meaning “writing by hand.” The Learning Disabilities Association of America says a person with dysgraphia may have problems with inconsistent spacing, poor spatial planning on paper, poor spelling, and difficulty writing, as well as thinking and writing at the same time.
Experts aren’t sure what causes dysgraphia. There might be a delay in the retrieval of information from short- or long-term memory and organizational abilities before beginning to write. A genetic component also may come into play.
This specific learning disorder may appear separately or occur in conjunction with dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Whether or not dysgraphia is accompanied by other learning disabilities may determine the types of presentation.
≤ Dyslexic: Those with dyslexic dysgraphia produce illegible, spontaneously written work. They may be able to copy work well, but not write legibly on their own.
≤ Motor: A person with motor dysgraphia has poor fine motor skills, poor dexterity and poor muscle tone. Letter formation may be fine in short writing samples, but that formation deteriorates when asked to write lengthier assignments. Motor dysgraphia can cause arthritis-like tensing of the hand. This type of dysgraphia typically stems from problems with fine motor skills.
≤ Spatial: An individual with spatial dysgraphia cannot understand space well. Written work may be improperly spaced and illegible. Drawing abilities also may be compromised.
Certain indications of dysgraphia may become evident when a child begins to learn how to read and write. This is when the condition may first be noticed, but it could be mistaken for another issue unless educators and doctors are knowledgeable about dysgraphia. Some signs to look out for include:
≤ illegible printing and cursive writing;
≤ unfinished words or letters;
≤ omitted words in writing assignments;
≤ inconsistent spacing between words and letters;
≤ inconsistencies in writing style, including mixtures of print and cursive letters, upper and lower case words, and irregular shapes or slants of letters;
≤ difficulty visualizing letter formation prior to writing; and
≤ strange wrist, body or paper positions
Parents, therapists and educators must work together to accommodate the needs of a student with dysgraphia. Reducing copying aspects of work, allowing recorders or note takers and having students take oral exams can help. An increase in the use of tablets and laptops in the classroom also may assist those with dysgraphia, as such assignments have reduced reliance on written work.