Recognizing Dysgraphia Signs in Children

Recognizing Dysgraphia Signs in Children

Learning writing skills is a significant part of early childhood. However, 5-20% of children have some type of writing difficulty that can impact their ability to excel in school. This can include difficulty forming letters, illegible or messy handwriting, poor pencil grip, and challenges on a written assignment. Knowing what dysgraphia is and understanding dysgraphia signs and symptoms can allow you to be the best advocate for your child.  

What is dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia is a specific learning disability that impacts a child’s ability to master the fine motor skills required for handwriting. Dysgraphia affects how children acquire written language and how well they use written language to express their thoughts. Handwriting may be incorrect, look distorted, or vary in size. A child who struggles with dysgraphia may also have difficulty with spelling, word spacing, expressing their thoughts on paper, and poor spatial planning on paper.

Dysgraphia has been linked to underdeveloped sensory and neurological systems, such as the parietal lobe since this is the center of the brain that connects visual and motor processing. In addition, dysgraphia commonly correlates with poor vestibular processing and overall poor tone. Children with sensory processing disorder symptoms (SPD) are likely to have increased challenges with organizational skills, such as the organization of thoughts, language, and body actions.

It may be difficult to diagnose dysgraphia, but one of the components includes evaluating if a child’s writing skills fall substantially below their IQ. Professionals also look at the child’s learning strengths and weaknesses, educational history, specific learning difficulties, and current support. Diagnoses are typically made by a team of professionals such as occupational therapists, teachers, educational psychologists, speech therapists, physical therapists, and neuropsychologists.

Three Types of Dysgraphia

Dysgraphia can be viewed through three different lenses: dyslexic, motor, and spatial. A child can demonstrate one, two, or all three types of dysgraphia.

1. Dyslexic dysgraphia

Dyslexic dysgraphia affects written work, specifically poor spelling and illegible handwriting. Children with dyslexia experience weak phonological processing and visual-form memory, which prevents the ability to think of a word to write and then actually get it on paper.

2. Motor dysgraphia

Motor dysgraphia affects fine motor skills that are needed for writing and drawing, for example, copying a specific picture or sentence with accuracy.  

3. Spatial dysgraphia

Spatial dysgraphia affects awareness of the spatial relationship of words, letters, and lines on paper. Motor memory deficits are common due to weak sensory feedback, poor visual-memory, visual-spatial, and visual-motor integration skills, and decreased muscle tone and postural support. Slanted or uneven writing commonly results due to irregular pencil grasps. Spelling is usually intact, but spontaneous copying is poor to illegible.    

How can I tell if my child has dysgraphia?

The key to understanding dysgraphia is also understanding dysgraphia signs and symptoms. Common signs of dysgraphia include: 

  • Poor letter formation, spacing, size 
  • Difficulty with a longer writing assignment
  • Poor pencil grip or grasp of writing utensils  
  • Awkward stabilizing hand  
  • General illegible handwriting 

The written work of a child does not reflect the child’s cognitive level or comprehension of the subject. In most instances, there is a gap between what the child knows and their written ideas on paper. Children could be experiencing physical symptoms, such as pain when writing, as well as anxiety around writing. This often results in the child falling behind on schoolwork due to overall work avoidance.  

What is the main cause of dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia can be diagnosed as either a developmental or acquired condition in early childhood. The exact cause of developmental dysgraphia is unknown. However, dysgraphia occurs when something disrupts the brain pathways, such as a brain injury, neurological disease, degenerative condition, or metabolic dysgraphia.  

Pediatric Occupational Therapy Can Help

Pediatric occupational therapists can help children struggling with dysgraphia by performing a task analysis and addressing the components needed to support performance, as well as helping to break down the fundamental components of writing to make the process less overwhelming. Occupational therapists utilize multi-sensory activities, visual processing interventions, hand and finger strengthening, and other accommodations to help support children with dysgraphia. Our Occupational Therapists create customized treatment plans and will work with your family to put together a plan that helps your child reach their full potential, faster. Visit our website for location information or to request an appointment online

Article By: Alexis Miller M.S., OTR/L  

Alexis began their occupational therapy career 4 years ago. Alexis loves working with the pediatric population and believes in the importance of providing client center care.  She currently specializes in sensory process, pediatric pelvic floor and sensory based feeding.  Alexis enjoys working with children and their families to reach their full potential. She currently treats patients at Ivy Rehab in Midland Park, NJ.   

The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.

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