The difference between dyspraxia and dysgraphia

By Peg Rosen

Dyspraxia vs. dysgraphia: Both of these can affect fine motor skills and impact writing. But they’re two distinct conditions, even though they can co-occur in some kids. This chart can help you understand the areas where dyspraxia and dysgraphia overlap and where they differ.

 DyspraxiaDysgraphia
What is it?

An issue that can impact fine and gross motor skills. Trouble with fine motor skills in particular can affect handwriting. Dyspraxia also typically affects a person’s conception of how their body moves in space.

Kids with dyspraxia can have other learning and thinking differences, such as dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and ADHD, but dyspraxia isn’t the cause for these.

An issue that involves difficulty with the physical act of writing. Kids may find it hard to put thoughts into writing.  

Kids with dysgraphia can have other learning differences. The two that co-occur most often with dysgraphia are dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Signs you may notice
  • Trouble riding a bike or throwing a ball
  • A tendency to bump into and drop things
  • Delayed development of right or left hand dominance
  • Trouble grasping a pencil correctly
  • Poor letter formation
  • Slow and messy handwriting
  • Trouble using buttons, snaps, zippers, utensils
  • Trouble forming letters
  • Unreadable handwriting
  • Slow, labored writing
  • Odd spacing of words and letters
  • Trouble grasping a pencil correctly
  • Run-on sentences and lack of paragraph breaks
Possible emotional and social impact

Kids with dyspraxia may avoid games and sports that call attention to their physical awkwardness. They may also experience anxiety at a higher rate than other kids, for unknown reasons.

As can happen with any learning difference, kids with dysgraphia may feel frustrated or angry about their challenges. They can also have trouble with self-esteem.

What can help
  • Occupational therapy (OT) or physical therapy can strengthen gross and fine motor skills. OT can also help with balance and body awareness.
  • Therapists can also work on breaking down physical tasks (such as brushing teeth) into smaller steps.

 

  • A checklist can make it easier to review and edit written work.
  • Assistive technology or word processing can make writing easier.
  • OT can strengthen fine motor skills and support motor coordination.
Accommodations
  • Teaching physical skills in small parts before they’re taught to rest of class
  • Repeating activities to help kids get better at carrying out specific movements
  • Multisensory instruction to help students remember the steps for motor actions
  • Use of a keyboard for taking notes in class; use of a word processor in school
  • Keyboarding instruction
  • Extended time on tests and assignments that involve writing
  • Permission to record class lectures
  • Access to another student’s or the teacher’s notes
  • Option to respond in alternative ways rather than writing
  • Sentence starters to show how to begin a writing assignment
  • Breaking writing assignments into steps
  • Worksheets, notes, and textbooks with larger print
  • Option to respond in alternative ways rather than writing
  • Breaking writing assignments into smaller chunks
  • Use of a keyboard for taking notes in class; use of a word processor in school
  • Keyboarding instruction
  • Extended time on tests and assignments that involve writing
  • Permission to record class lectures
  • Access to another student’s or the teacher’s notes
What families can do at home
  • Give lots of opportunities for physical activity like running or swimming to develop gross motor skills, muscle strength, coordination, and “muscle memory.” (You can even make an obstacle course using pillows or wastebaskets. This helps with motor planning.)
  • Play with jigsaw puzzles to help with visual and spatial perception.
  • Toss beanbags and balls to practice hand-eye coordination.
  • Work on keyboarding skills.
  • Use speech-to-text tools to translate kids’ speech into writing.
  • Offer lots of opportunities for practice and repetition.
  • Work on keyboarding skills.
  • Use speech-to-text tools to translate kids’ speech into writing.
  • Use clay, shaving cream, and other materials to practice forming letters at home.
  • Have kids shake or rub cramped up hands as a break while writing.

When kids have trouble with writing, a full evaluation can help you know what’s causing it. If they’re having difficulty with other aspects of writing, it could also be a learning difference known as written expression disorder.

Families and teachers can talk to compare what happens at home with what happens in the classroom. Together, come up with a plan to help improve kids’ skills. That may include classroom accommodations for dyspraxia or dysgraphia.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Keri Wilmot is an occupational therapist who works with children of varying ages and abilities in all areas of pediatrics.