Dysgraphia: A teachers guide

Allaa Gawish

How can we better understand and support children with dysgraphia?

What is dysgraphia?

Along with dyslexia and dyscalculia, dysgraphia is one of the most common learning disabilities. A child with this deficit may also be experiencing other specific learning difficulties that are impacting their academic and social development. In this post, we'll talk about dysgraphia, a form of specific learning difficulty.

Developmental dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that affects writing skills. Children who suffer from dysgraphia may experience difficulties with handwriting, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.Pupils with dysgraphia often struggle with writing tasks because they lack the ability to control fine motor movements required to produce letters and words. They may be unable to form letters correctly, or they may not be able to recognize letter shapes when they see them. Children may also have trouble organizing thoughts and ideas into coherent sentences. This makes it hard for them to express themselves clearly and effectively.

Some students with dysgraphia may be able to use computers and other technology to communicate, but they still face challenges expressing themselves through written communication.

There is a distinction between dysgraphia, which is a problem with writing skills, and the inability of the child to communicate their ideas in writing. "Written expression disorder" is the term used to describe such kind of impairment. This indicates that the young person is having trouble putting their thoughts into writing.

There is also a distinction between dysgraphia, which is difficulty with writing, and agraphia, which is entire lack of writing ability caused by a brain injury or disease.

How might dysgraphia affect learning outcomes?

A child with dysgraphia might have a slower writing pace compared to their age milestone. That will have an impact on how they write down their ideas. They will also struggle with spelling, which will make it more difficult for them to form the letters in words. Because of their slower writing pace, they are having trouble putting their thoughts into words in this situation. Not because the child has problems organizing their thoughts into writing.

Furthermore, some students may have writing difficulties not because they have dysgraphia, but because they have developmental coordination disorder (DCD), which affects both gross and fine motor skills.

The intelligence of the children is unaffected by dysgraphia. The main source of the difficulty is a motor skills issue. Support and accommodations at home and school can help to improve that.

Developmental dysgraphia differs from dyslexia in certain ways. Children with dyslexia may struggle with their reading skills, but because both dysgraphia and dyslexic symptoms might be similar to each other, such as spelling difficulties, it is possible to confuse one of these learning disorders with the other. A child could experience both problems. As a result, it's crucial to handle the child's case individually. One child may have dyslexia and ADHD, whilst another child may have dyslexia and dyscalculia. Therefore, it's crucial to address each child's difficulty with individual provision.

Children with dysgraphia have been shown to have problems with two cognitive abilities: auditory and visual processing.

Dysgraphia affects 5% to 20% of all children. Learning disabilities such as dysgraphia, dyslexia, and dyscalculia are more likely in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or ADD.

Characteristics of dysgraphia
Characteristics of dysgraphia

What are the signs of Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia, as previously stated, is primarily concerned with learning difficulties with writing skills. It is difficult to detect or recognize learning disabilities at an early age. Even if there are symptoms, most testing is performed when the child is 6 or 7 years old. If a child of four years old is still struggling with writing or reading skills, this could be a warning sign. On the other hand, the child may just need more time to master this ability. As a result, most learning disabilities are formally diagnosed by the age of six.

However, it is critical to recognize these indicators and create an early intervention objective for the abilities that must be improved.

Many warning indicators that a child may have dysgraphia are as follows:

  • Learners may have difficulties forming letters and words in the proper order. They have mirrored numerals and letters.
  • Children avoid tasks that need them to hold a pencil because they have weak pencil grip skills and it can be painful for their hand muscles to hold the pencil. It can lead to hand cramps.
  • They have trouble following directions.
  • Pupils may struggle to develop accurate sentence structure or use grammar when writing sentences but not when speaking. So, the child with dysgraphia may apply perfect grammar and sentence structure when speaking, but they may struggle with writing activities since it takes them longer to write down their ideas.
  • Children might have difficulty organising their thoughts on paper.
  • They may have difficulty using spaces between words and letters and might write words but skip out some letters.
  • They might frequently write in a mess, so it could be very challenging to read what they write.
  • They could have difficulty distinguishing when to use lower-case and upper-case letters and have difficulty using the proper letter and number sizes.
  • Children might have to speak the words aloud while writing them.
  • They can find it challenging to sit in the appropriate writing position.
  • They could struggle to copy words and figures
  • Having trouble taking notes and writing at a slower speed
  • They could have poor spelling skills.

Not all of these symptoms will be seen in the child. It varies from child to child, and these symptoms can sometimes be linked to other learning issues. However, it is critical to monitor these indications and act accordingly until a formal assessment of the child can be performed.

What are the different types of Dysgraphia?

There are various types of dysgraphia. To comprehend what the child is suffering from, it is necessary to have a general understanding of those sorts. Although a formal diagnosis is necessary, but having a general awareness of dysgraphia may benefit the child's progress.

Dysgraphia is classified into five types:

  1. Dyslexic Dysgraphia
  2. Motor Dysgraphia
  3. Spatial Dysgraphia
  4. Phonological Dysgraphia
  5. Lexical Dysgraphia

1. Dyslexic Dysgraphia:

This sort of dysgraphia has trouble with written work; they have difficulty writing in a clear manner. However, their copying skills would be at an average level and readable. Spelling skills may be impacted in this instance. They have difficulty writing alone. For example, children may find it difficult to write the word "cat" on their own. They will, however, be able to copy it clearly. Fine motor abilities are normally in this type.

It is important to note that just because a child has dyslexia dysgraphia does not mean he or she is dyslexic. Dyslexia is another type of learning disability, but this one is called "dyslexia dysgraphia." 'Butter', for example, is one word, and 'fly' is another. When I combine the two words, they form the word 'butterfly.' This is the case with dyslexia dysgraphia type.

Here is an example of dyslexia dysgraphia: 

dyslexia dysgraphia
Dyslexia dysgraphia

2. Motor Dysgraphia:

In this type the child may have poor pencil grip and fine motor skills. Although it may take more time and effort, the child may be able to write letters and numbers in the correct formation. Spelling abilities are unaffected by this type of dysgraphia and is usually at an average range. 

Motor Dysgraphia
Motor Dysgraphia

3. Spatial Dysgraphia: 

Usually, a visual-spatial impairment is connected to this kind of dysgraphia. A child can deal with direction, size, shapes, distance, and time with the help of their visual-spatial skills. For instance, determining the distance between objects. As a result, the child's written and coping skills may be unclear, but his or her spelling skills and finger-tapping speed will not be affected. The child may struggle with using spaces between lines, words, and letters. In addition to that having difficulty following the line.

Spatial Dysgraphia
Spatial Dysgraphia

4- Phonological Dysgraphia: 

The difficulties with spelling and writing are related to this sort of dysgraphia. In this situation, the child might struggle to write words using phonetic knowledge and may have trouble writing words that are unknown to them. The child could also struggle to remember phonemes and combine words correctly. For instance, the word "h-a-t" could be pronounced as "h-t-a."

5- Lexical Dysgraphia: 

If the sounds and letter patterns are presented and linked in an uncomplicated manner, the child has normal spelling ability. However, the child may struggle to spell irregular words like "was," "said," and so on.

How do you Diagnose Dysgraphia?

There are various sorts of tests used to diagnose dysgraphia. This section will go over more of these tests.

1- Assess the Mechanics of Writing

Fourth Edition of Witten Language (TWOL-4). It primarily assesses the child's ability to write sentences logically, employing vocabulary, spelling, and punctuation. This test can be performed as early as the age of nine.

WJ IV and WIAT-III are two other comparable tests.

This test is crucial because if the student lacks to apply or retain the taught principles of punctuation, grammar, and spelling, writing will be difficult to them to write their thoughts and the reader will have a hard time understanding the student's ideas.

2- Assess the Thematics 

Fourth Edition of Written Language (TOWL-4). At the age of nine, this exam can be administered. It primarily assesses the child's written composition abilities, sentence structure, vocabulary, and narrative composing abilities. Additionally, it evaluates the child's command of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary.

The writing sample subtest of the Woodcock-Johnson IV Test of Achievement (WJ IV) and the essay composition section of the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test—Third Edition (WIAT—III) are tests that are comparable to it. At school age, any student can take any of these exams.

This test is significant because it assesses writing abilities and allows the child to express their opinions in writing. Understanding the sort of learning difficulty requires understanding the child's writing skills. As previously stated, there are five types of dysgraphia, and difficulties with writing might be caused by any of them.

3- Assess Fine Motors Skills 

Grooved Pegboard is a test that can be used to evaluate fine motor skills. This test is suitable for children aged 5 to 18. This exam primarily assesses the strength of the hand's tiny muscles, in addition to eye-hand coordination skills. Similar tests include the Purdue Pegboard, which may be administered to children aged 5 to 18, and the NEPSY-II Visuomotor Precision subtests, which can be administered to children aged 3 to 16.

One of the most common reasons of dysgraphia is a deficit with fine motor skills. Better motor abilities enable the child to hold a pencil or an object. Slower muscle tones or physical problems can make writing process difficult. The assessor will collect the results of each test after completing them, together with the findings of any additional tests. A test that evaluates expressive language abilities, such as oral vocabulary, need to be done. It might take a few weeks to complete each of these assessments, after which the assessor would collect all of the data to write the final report.

How can we support pupils with dysgraphia?

There are numerous approaches that we can use to scaffold a child's classroom learning. Classroom teachers are quite comfortable using visual scaffolds such as graphic organisers and mind maps. These type of tools enable children to organise their thinking before they put pen to paper. Concepts such as dual coding can certainly be used to develop more inclusive classrooms. How else can we advance learning abilities in school children? Having a fundamental grasp on basic skills such as reading is an integral part of education. If our brains are wired in a way that makes reading difficulties commonplace then teaching staff will have to think more inclusively so as to better promote educational abilities in school children.

  • Provide the child with resources that will help him/her hold the pencil more comfortably, such as pencil special grips or any other resources that will work for him/her.
  • Provide pupils with handouts so that they can move directly to the activity rather than spending time copying from the board.
  • Make notes and lesson plans available in class for students to copy and give the child some extra time.
  • Enabling the use of technology such as an audio recorder or a laptop.
  • Provide the child with modified paper, such as coloured or lined paper, to assist the child in leaving the proper spaces.
  • Provide them with graph paper, preferably with large squares, to assist them in solving math problems.
  • Give them papers with their names, dates, titles, and WALT written on them.
  • Give them the instruction earlier than the rest of the class during the writing task, and divide the writing task into small chunks.
  • Allow the student to rest his or her hand muscles while writing and also provide fine motor exercise. Before writing, do some warm-up exercises.
  • Provide a clear rubric so that the student understands the expectations.
  • Give them examples for the writing assignment.
  • Allow them to complete their task in a non-writing format, such as an oral report.
  • Change the test formats so that instead of asking them to answer in full sentences, they can "circle the answer" or "fill in the blank."
  • Mark the test based on the student's knowledge of the topic, not on their handwriting or spelling.
  • Allow the use of scribe or speech-to-text so that the student can dictate answers and written assignments. It is also part of the exam accommodations if the child has an official report indicating a learning difficulty.
  • Allow students to choose whether they prefer to type or write their assignments.
  • Provide them with a 'proofreader' to help them identify errors.
  • If a quiet room is required during testing, provide it.
  • Occupational therapy sessions for the child could be beneficial.