Dysgraphia – What it is and how to navigate it

What is dysgraphia? There are many diverse learning challenges that the remedial learner could face. Some of these have been well documented and may be familiar terms for the general public. Dyslexia is one of the most well-known conditions that requires remedial learning. ADHD also has a negative impact on learning. Despite this, ADHD is not recognised as an official barrier to learning, though it is acknowledged by many professionals to have an adverse effect on results in the classroom.

Despite how well-known these conditions seem to be, many misunderstandings persist. This is one of the reasons we write about these types of conditions, so that misinformation can be curtailed.

Other conditions are only now becoming highlighted, such as dyscalculia, which was mentioned in a Kevin Hart movie a few years ago. The film gets some things right in its portrayal of this learning difficulty and hopefully has promoted some awareness around challenges learners may encounter.

Dysgraphia is another condition that is not as well known.

What is Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia comes from two Greek words. “Graphia” is originally the Greek word with the literal meaning “letters formed by hand.” In the Greek, “dys” means “impaired” or “difficulty with.”

Dysgraphia is therefore a neurological disorder that impairs the physical ability to write. People with dysgraphia cannot write as well as can be expected for their age. Their writing skills are also out of sync with their cognitive level. This is despite having adequate instruction in how to form letters and numbers.

The two and three types of dysgraphia

There are two broader categories of dysgraphia: acquired and developmental. Acquired dysgraphia occurs when an individual suffers a brain injury such as from a stroke or accident. It can also come from the onset of degenerative conditions or diseases that lead to loss of previously-learned writing abilities.

Developmental dysgraphia is most seen in childhood. This type of dysgraphia manifests itself in difficulties in the ability to acquire the skills of writing.

There are then three further subtypes of dysgraphia:

Linguistic dysgraphia impinges on the skills that process language involved in writing. It can be most readily seen in writing a spontaneous text, which cannot be traced or copied. This leads to an illegible piece of writing. Linguistic dysgraphia will not affect oral spelling, copying or drawing.

Motor dysgraphia is the lack of fine-motor skills and visual perception leading to difficulties in producing a written text. Students with motor dysgraphia will not only produce ineligible writing but will also struggle to trace and draw and can only tap their fingers slowly. Their writing will be very slow as well.

Spatial dysgraphia manifests in poor drawing ability and letter spacing. It stems from problems with spatial perception. While spatial dysgraphia will mean struggles with handwriting and drawing, spelling and finger tapping speeds are usually normal.

How does this differ from dyslexia?

Dysgraphia and dyslexia are not the same thing. They do, however, often occur together. They also share similar symptoms. The two conditions have frequently been confused.

But they are different conditions. Dysgraphia mainly affects writing, while dyslexia has a negative effect on reading.

Children with dyslexia face many challenges. Not only is reading a challenge, but spelling, speaking and writing also prove difficult. Those with dysgraphia have severe impairments with their writing, specifically – the physical act proves to be a struggle. Children with dysgraphia might also have trouble expressing themselves in the medium of writing.

So, a child with dysgraphia could be able to speak well. However, being able to write their thoughts out in a legible manner is where their difficulty lies.


A comparison of the signs of dysgraphia compared to dyslexia


A student with dyslexia will have difficulty in sounding out words. They will also find it difficult to read. Sight words will be a challenge to memorize. Thoughts will be disorganised when speaking. It will be very hard for them to put these thoughts into a coherent order when they talk.

They will often avoid reading aloud as much as possible. They fail to understand what they have read.

The order of letters will be confused. This is related to the learners often having poor spelling and grammar.

A person with dyslexia will find following a sequence of directions problematic.


Dysgraphia would lead to a student’s writing being below par to a significant degree for their age, intelligence and level of instruction.

The symptoms all centre around the physical action of writing. It can be seen in the learners having difficulty holding a pencil or pen. Their writing is laboured and slow. Despite the apparent care in how they write, their handwriting will still be illegible. Cursive and print letters will be mixed up. Odd spacing of words and letters is another sign of the condition.

“Run-on sentences” can be expected (in which several sentences are combined into one long sentence, rather than having ideas properly separated into multiple sentences). There will also be a lack of paragraph breaks. Punctuation will be incorrect. Overall spelling and grammar will be very poor.

Again, it is important to keep in mind that the effects of dysgraphia persist despite the student having adequate instruction on how to form letters and numbers.

Children with dysgraphia will often have a cramped hand grip, which leads to pain. Their unusual wrist, body or paper positioning (or a combination of all three) while writing can exacerbate their discomfort.

This is often not the only condition these learners are learning to cope with

Dysgraphia is often accompanied by other conditions. As has been noted this includes often also having dyslexia. ADHD is not uncommon in children with dysgraphia.

There are, however, children whose only challenge is dysgraphia.

Some support approaches

There are some approaches that can be implemented to help learners with dysgraphia.

Occupational therapy is an effective way to build dexterity and fine motor skills. Playing with clay also strengthens the hand muscles.

Encourage them to proofread their written work. But there are two pointers here: have them do this after taking a break, and have them read their written work aloud, so that they hear the error. They might not pick up the error reading silently on the page.

In the classroom, extended time on tests would be helpful. Breaking writing assignments into steps makes the tasks more manageable.

At home, developing keyboard skills helps to address the shortfalls that dysgraphia produces. Speech-to-text tools, which allow spoken words to translate into written words, can bridge the gap.

Activities such as completing mazes within the lines will build the necessary skills. Connecting dots or dashes to complete letter forms is a good way to develop the motor skills needed for letter forms.

Encouraging correct letter formation without writing helps. For example, forming the letters in the air, or using shaving cream or sand to write with fingers. It is also helpful to trace letters with the index finger. Using the end of a pencil is another approach. All these build the skills to improve letter formation even with dysgraphia.

Japari is equipped to help remedial learners with dysgraphia

Japari has been helping remedial learners for decades. We have expertise in the needs of children with barriers to learning. A significant majority of our learners have success in a mainstream high school environment. Our aim is a holistic approach that produces graduates who can embrace their strengths, while dealing with their learning difficulties.

Our qualified staff are there to help your child achieve their potential. We are ready to meet with you throughout the year. Enrolment can take place at any time of the school calendar.

Call us to arrange a viewing of the school. There is a maximum of no more than 15 students for each classroom. Japari also boasts a well-equipped computer lab and well-stocked art room.

We can help children with dysgraphia and other barriers to learning. Our school has a dedicated occupational therapist on staff. This is just one of the specialities that is available to our students. Let us help your child realise their talents and overcome these barriers.

Bibliography/Further Reading



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