Dysgraphia is a neurological condition that results in trouble with written expression. The term comes from the Greek words ‘dys’ meaning ‘impaired’ and ‘graphia’ meaning ‘letter forms by hand’.
Writing requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. This includes the ability to organize thoughts in a coherent manner, and then to physically write them on paper . These abilities are impaired by Dysgraphia in varying degrees. In its severe form, a child with dysgraphia has illegible handwriting. In general, children with dysgraphia have slow letter formation that results in slow writing speed, trouble with spellings and expressions, messy handwriting, difficulty in putting thoughts on paper. For many children with dysgraphia, just holding a pencil and organizing letters in a straight line is difficult. However, children with dysgraphia tend to have good oral skills and are able to express themselves verbally. Because they cannot translate that on paper, they are often misunderstood as lethargic and uninterested.
Different professionals may use different terms to describe your child’s struggle with written expression. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5) does not use the term dysgraphia, but uses the phrase ‘impairment in written expression’, a term frequently used by doctors and psychologists.
There are 3 kinds of dysgraphia:
- Dyslexic dysgraphia (illegible spontaneously written work and other symptoms associated with both LDs),
- Motor dysgraphia (issues with fine motor-skills),
- Spatial dysgraphia (trouble with understanding spatial concepts causing a very messy handwriting in all sizes, shapes and all over the page).
Source: UNESCO MGIEP, www.understood.org
There are several causes for dysgraphia and several explanations for the condition. The impairments in dysgraphia occur in either the fine motor-coordination of the brain, the ‘working memory’, dysfunction in the coordination between the two, inability to re-visualize and produce letters, delayed development, or a combination of all of the above. Brain systems that interact to execute writing skills have dysfunctional coordination. Children with dysgraphia are often unable to remember new and unfamiliar words. This is known as ‘orthographic coding’. Thus, children struggle a lot more with reading, writing and understanding texts. They also have trouble with memorizing and recognizing letter formations.
Illegible handwriting can also be the result of physical conditions such as hand-tremors, nerve damage, deformity etc. Another cause could be delayed brain development in new-born children. There may also be a genetic link, with dysgraphia running in families. A child may also be suffering from disorientation for a variety of reasons that is causing trouble in focusing.
It is also important to ensure that the child has sufficient socio-economic and educational opportunity and has a safe environment. Furthermore, it is also possible that what may seem like dysgraphia is actually dyslexia. Children with dyslexia often purposefully use poor handwriting as a way to mask their grammatical and vocabulary issues.
Source: UNESCO MGIEP, www.understood.org
Dysgraphia, like other conditions, is not isolated. A child with dysgraphia may also suffer from other learning differences or associated conditions.
- Dyslexia: Children with dysgraphia may also have dyslexia (and vice-versa). It is important to have a detailed diagnosis in such cases as it is possible that to mask poor reading abilities, a child may purposefully have poor penmanship to hide grammatical and vocabulary errors.
- Language disorders: Language disorders can cause a variety of problems with written and spoken language. Children may have trouble learning new words, using correct grammar and putting their thoughts into words.
- ADHD: ADHD causes problems with attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Children with dysgraphia, more often than not, have ADHD.
- Dyspraxia: Dyspraxia is a condition that causes poor physical coordination and motor skills. It can cause trouble with fine motor skills, which can affect the physical tasks of writing and printing. However, children with dyspraxia also have trouble with gross motor skills like tying shoe-laces or being clumsy. The issues with fine motor-skills in dysgraphia are related specifically to writing.