Dysgraphia: What You Need to Know

By The Understood Team
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At a Glance

  • Dysgraphia refers to a specific set of writing challenges.

  • It impacts writing skills like handwriting, typing, and spelling.

  • There are many ways to help kids with dysgraphia get better at writing.

If your child struggles with writing, you might hear some people call it dysgraphia. This term refers to challenges in the skills needed to produce writing. That includes handwriting, typing, and spelling.

Learn more about dysgraphia and how you can help your child improve skills that are key to writing.

What Is Dysgraphia?

Many experts view dysgraphia as an issue with a set of skills known as transcription. These skills include handwriting, typing, and spelling.

Trouble expressing yourself in writing isn’t part of dysgraphia. But when kids have to focus so much on transcription, it can get in the way of thinking about ideas and how to convey them.

One of the main signs of dysgraphia is messy handwriting. These are some of the key handwriting skills kids may struggle with:

  • Forming letters

  • Spacing letters correctly on the page

  • Writing in a straight line

  • Making letters the correct size

  • Holding paper with one hand while writing with the other

  • Holding and controlling a pencil or other writing tool

  • Putting the right amount of pressure on the paper with a writing tool

  • Maintaining the right arm position and posture for writing

Trouble forming letters can make it hard to learn spelling. That’s why many kids with dysgraphia are poor spellers. They may also write very slowly, which can affect how well they can express themselves in writing.

Having dysgraphia doesn’t mean a child isn’t smart. And when kids with dysgraphia struggle with writing, they’re not being lazy. But they do need extra help and support to improve.

How to Find Out If Your Child Has Dysgraphia

For years, dysgraphia was an official diagnosis. It no longer is. (But there is a diagnosis called specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression. This refers to trouble expressing thoughts in writing, rather than transcription difficulties.) 

Evaluators still have ways to identify the transcription challenges, though. Some tests for writing include subtests for spelling. There are also tests for fine motor skills (the ability to make movements using the small muscles in our hands and wrists). And there are tests for motor planning skills (the ability to remember and perform steps to make a movement happen).

A few types of professionals evaluate kids who have trouble writing. Occupational therapists and physical therapists can test motor skills. So can specialists who work with kids who have developmental coordination disorder (DCD).

Trouble with writing can be caused by other learning challenges, too. For example, poor spelling can be the result of reading difficulties like dyslexia. Poor handwriting might be caused by DCD (sometimes referred to as dyspraxia).

To get the right help for your child, it’s important to know what’s causing your child’s difficulties. A free school evaluation can help you understand these challenges, along with your child’s strengths.

What Can Help With Dysgraphia

There are a number of things that can help your child with dysgraphia challenges. These include supports and services at school, therapies outside of school, and strategies you can try at home.

Here are some common types of help for dysgraphia.

Therapies: Occupational therapy (OT) is the main way to help kids who struggle with handwriting. Therapists can work with kids to improve fine motor skills and motor planning. Physical therapy can help with arm position and posture.

These therapies may be available for free at school through an IEP. Some parents may also pay for therapy outside of school.

Supports at school: Kids with dysgraphia may get help at school through an IEP or a 504 plan. There are a number of accommodations for writing. Kids may also get assistive technology and other tools. These can range from simple pencil grips to dictation software.

Help at home: There are lots of ways you can help your child with writing. Here are just a handful:

Of all the ways you can help, one is especially important. Showing your child that you’re there to help and giving the right type of praise can build self-esteem and confidence. It can also help your child stay motivated to work on writing skills.

Key Takeaways

  • When kids with dysgraphia struggle with writing, it’s not because they’re lazy or not smart.

  • Kids can improve writing with extra help, like occupational therapy or accommodations.

  • Getting a full evaluation can help you better understand your child’s challenges and strengths.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Charles A. MacArthur, PhD 

a professor of special education, researches writing instruction, self-regulated strategies, and assistive technology.

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