Dysgraphia and dyspraxia are very different animals, but they can have some overlapping symptoms. Let’s start by looking at the big picture.
Every time people attempt to move in a new or unfamiliar way, they must design a plan of action. This plan might involve large muscle groups such as those needed for climbing, skipping or catching a ball. And it might involve small muscle groups such as those needed for writing, drawing or tying a shoe. Ideally, the plan will allow the task to be completed in an efficient manner.
Dyspraxia refers to poor motor planning. Your body tries to make a plan, but the plan doesn’t work very well. Dyspraxia can affect large motor skills (also called gross motor skills) and it can also affect fine motor skills.
There are other sensory issues that can impact these skills. For example, many kids with dyspraxia also have difficulty with proprioception, which means knowing where your body parts are. If I asked you to close your eyes and tell me when you’ve lifted your arms over your head, you could probably do it. But some children with dyspraxia will think their hands are over their head when they are really out to the side.
Dysgraphia relates specifically to the area of writing. Writing involves a complex set of information- and motor-processing skills. People with dysgraphia have trouble processing what the eye sees or what the ear hears and transferring that information into letters and words.
For example, if I ask you to write “George Washington,” you could probably do this quickly and fairly neatly. But a child with dysgraphia will take a long time to write these two words. The letters will be hard to read. They’ll also be awkwardly spaced on the page, either scrunched too close together or too spread out.
Dysgraphia is more than just messy handwriting. It can cause problems with spelling as well as with putting thoughts down on paper. Kids with dysgraphia may skip words when writing. They may get tired quickly from writing. This can also involve fine motor skills, such as properly holding a pencil. This is where dysgraphia and dyspraxia can overlap.
If you’re worried about your child’s handwriting or about his overall physical coordination, it’s a good idea to share your concerns with his teacher. You can also have your child tested by an occupational therapist, who is trained to pinpoint problems in the area of sensory integration.