You may have heard of dyslexia or being dyslexic, but what about dysgraphia? Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to write. People with dysgraphia may have difficulty forming letters and words, they may also struggle with handwriting. Though it is similar to dyslexia, dysgraphia is a separate condition. Here’s what you need to know about understanding dysgraphia.
What is the difference between a learning disability and a learning difficulty?
The term “learning disability” is used to describe a condition that affects a person’s ability to learn and process information. This can include difficulties with reading, written work, math and other cognitive skills. A learning disability is usually diagnosed in childhood and can impact a person’s whole life.
In contrast, the term “learning difficulty or learning disorder” is used to describe a broader range of conditions that make it difficult for people to learn. This can include difficulties with attention, memory and processing speed. Learning difficulties are typically first noticed at school age or adulthood.
While a learning disability cannot be cured, many people with learning difficulties can improve their skills with early intervention and support.
What is Dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is a learning difficulty affecting transcription, meaning that it is a writing disorder associated with:
- Impaired handwriting
- Impaired orthographic coding (the storing process of written words and processing the letters in those words)
- Impaired finger sequencing (the movement of muscles required to write)
- Impaired working memory
What are the Symptoms of Dysgraphia Disorder?
The signs of dysgraphia centre around difficulty with spelling, handwriting and putting thoughts into words. People with dysgraphia often have trouble with:
- Letter formation
- Writing within a line
- Cursive (joined-up) handwriting
- Similar-sounding words
- Leaving out words when writing
- Getting their thoughts down on paper quickly enough
- Writing assignments
- Sentence structure and grammar
- Unnecessary capitalisation or large spaces in the middle of words
- Mixing uppercase and lowercase letters can also occur
- Fine motor skills necessary for writing, pencil grip or forming letters correctly resulting in poor handwriting
- Pain when writing
It’s important to note that not everyone with dysgraphia will have the same symptoms. The severity of the symptoms can also vary from person to person. For some people, dysgraphia may only cause minor inconveniences. Others may find that the condition significantly interferes with their ability to write, read and other academic tasks.
What are the different types of Dysgraphia?
There are three main types of dysgraphia: motor, spatial, and dyslexia. Motor dysgraphia occurs when the brain has difficulty sending the correct information to the muscles needed for writing. This can result in sloppy or illegible handwriting. Spatial dysgraphia occurs when the brain has difficulty perceiving space correctly. This can cause problems with spacing and letter formation. Dyslexia dysgraphia is a form of dysgraphia that is caused by phonological processing difficulties. This type of dysgraphia can make it difficult to spell words correctly or to put thoughts into words. If you think you might have dysgraphia, talk to your doctor or a learning specialist. There are many resources available to help people with this disorder improve their writing skills.
What causes dysgraphia disorder?
Dysgraphia disorder is caused by problems with the way information is processed in the brain. It usually begins in childhood and can run in families. Dysgraphia can also be caused by brain injuries or other health conditions, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism.
There are a number of different theories about what causes dysgraphia, but one of the most widely accepted is that it is caused by an impairment in orthographic coding. This theory suggests that dysgraphic individuals have difficulty storing and retrieving information about the shapes and order of letters. As a result, they have difficulty translating what they want to say into written form.
How is Dysgraphia Disorder Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of dysgraphia often involves several specialists when picked up at school age, such as a paediatric occupational therapist, school psychologist or special education teacher. There is no single test used for the diagnosis of dysgraphia disorder and professionals will often rely on a combination of tests and observations. These may include asking questions about your family’s medical history, setting achievement tests, observing the person’s pencil grip, hand and body position, writing process and assessing your writing samples.
In some cases, imaging scans such as MRI or CT scans may also be used to rule out other conditions that could be causing your symptoms. A qualified school psychologist can provide a comprehensive evaluation and develop an individualised treatment plan.
How is dysgraphia disorder treated?
There is no cure for dysgraphia disorder, but there are ways to manage the symptoms and make them less disruptive to your life.
Occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) are two common treatments for dysgraphia. These therapies can help improve fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and visual-motor skills. OT and PT may also help to improve the quality of a person’s handwriting.
OT treatment for dysgraphia typically includes activities that focus on improving the fine motor skills needed for writing. This may include exercises that strengthen the muscles in the hands and fingers. It may also include activities that help improve hand-eye coordination, such as tracing shapes or picking up small objects.
PT treatment for dysgraphia typically includes activities that focus on improving the visual-motor skills needed for writing. This may include exercises that help improve eye tracking, such as following a moving object with the eyes. It may also include activities that help improve hand-eye coordination, such as catching a ball.
Both OT and PT treatment for dysgraphia usually require regular practice to be effective. Treatment is often most successful when it is started at an early age. However, people of all ages can benefit from these therapies.
Many people with dysgraphia also find that specialised tutoring can help them work on writing difficulties. Tools such as word-processing software, spell-checkers and using dictation software when writing can also be helpful in making writing tasks easier. Parents and teachers can also download apps which provide game-based drills that focus on letter formation, vocabulary learning and word arrangement in sentences. School can allow extra time for writing assignments, note-taking, and written tests to help.
Learning difficulties are confused with mental health problems
It’s not uncommon for people to confuse learning difficulties with mental health problems. For example, a person with dysgraphia may be seen as lazy when in fact, they just have difficulty in writing. Similarly, a person with ADHD may be perceived as disruptive or unruly when in reality, they have trouble focusing and regulating their behaviour. It’s important to remember that learning difficulties are neurologically based and cannot be overcome simply by trying harder. On the other hand, mental health problems often result from underlying psychological issues. Untreated dysgraphia can affect a person’s prospects, self-esteem and mental health, but is not caused by mental health conditions.
What distinguishes dysgraphia, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia?
When we talk about dysgraphia, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia we are referring to four specific learning disorders but they often get confused. Although they share some common features, each one is distinct in its own way.
As discussed above dysgraphia is a learning difficulty that affects writing ability. It is thought to be caused by a problem in the brain’s ability to process information from the hand muscles. People with dysgraphia often have difficulty with fine motor skills, handwriting fluency and letter formation.
Dyslexia is a neurological condition that affects the ability to read and write. It is believed to be caused by a problem in the brain’s ability to process letter sounds. People with dyslexia often have difficulty with phonemic awareness, decoding and encoding skills.
Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty that affects the ability to understand and use mathematics. It is thought to be caused by a problem in the brain’s ability to process numerical information. People with dyscalculia often have difficulty with mathematical concepts such as number recognition, estimation and problem-solving.
Dyspraxia is a neurological condition that affects the ability to plan and execute movement. It is believed to be caused by a problem in the brain’s ability to process information from the senses. People with dyspraxia often have difficulty with coordination, balance and motor planning skills.
If you or someone you know is struggling with writing, it’s important to seek out professional help. Dysgraphia disorder can cause significant problems in school and at work, but fortunately there are ways to manage the symptoms and lead a normal life.
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