The difference between dysgraphia and dyslexia

By Kate Kelly

Dyslexia and dysgraphia are both learning differences. Dyslexia primarily affects reading. Dysgraphia mainly affects writing. While they’re different, the two are easy to confuse. They share symptoms and often occur together. This table can help you tell them apart.

 DysgraphiaDyslexia
What is it?

An issue that involves difficulty with the physical act of writing. Kids may find it hard to express their ideas in written form.

An issue that involves difficulty with reading. It can also affect writing, spelling, and speaking. Kids may find it hard to isolate sounds, match sounds to letters, or blend sounds into words.

Signs you may notice
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Slow, labored writing
  • Mixing print and cursive letters
  • Spacing letters and words oddly
  • Poor spelling and grammar
  • Difficulty gripping a pencil
  • Incorrect punctuation
  • Run-on sentences and lack of paragraph breaks
  • Struggling with reading
  • Trouble sounding out words
  • Difficulty memorizing sight words
  • Avoiding reading aloud
  • Poor spelling and grammar
  • Not understanding what's been read
  • Confusing the order of letters
  • Trouble following a sequence of directions
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts when speaking
Possible emotional and social impact

Messy written work that’s full of mistakes may lead kids to hear that they’re “lazy” or “sloppy.” Confusion or frustration at school can make them anxious. They may avoid taking risks and may have low self-esteem.

Not meeting expectations can make kids feel inadequate. Missing verbal jokes, sarcasm, and subtle meaning in language can affect them socially. So can struggling to come up with the right word or a timely answer to a question.

What can help
  • Occupational therapy to build fine motor skills and dexterity
  • Having kids take a break before proofreading their work
  • A checklist for editing their work — spelling, neatness, grammar, syntax, clear progression of ideas, etc.
  • Specific instruction on identifying sounds, understanding how letters represent sounds in speech, and decoding words
  • Specialized instruction, either one-on-one or in a small group
  • A reading program that focuses on using all the senses to learn (a number of programs use a multisensory approach)

Accommodations

  • Extended time on tests that involve writing
  • Access to the teacher’s lesson notes
  • Being able to respond in other ways besides writing
  • Breaking writing assignments into steps
  • The use of a word processor in school
  • Instruction in keyboarding skills
  • Extra time for reading and writing
  • Access to the teacher’s notes from the lesson to reduce the amount of note-taking
  • Simplified directions
  • Books on tape
  • Shortened assignments
What families can do at home
  • Work on keyboarding skills.
  • Use speech-to-text tools that allow speech to be translated to text.
  • Try a handwriting program, like Handwriting Without Tears.
  • Work on correct letter formation using techniques that don’t require writing, like finger writing in the air or in shaving cream.
  • Read aloud so kids hear stories above their reading level.
  • Encourage kids to listen to audiobooks.
  • Help use spellcheck programs designed for people with dyslexia.
  • Use speech-to-text tools.
  • For younger kids, recite nursery rhymes and sing memory songs.

When kids struggle with reading or writing, it can be hard to know exactly what’s going on. A full evaluation can help pinpoint what’s causing challenges, and understand kids' strengths. And families and teachers should talk about what they’re each seeing and develop a plan together.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.