Recognizing Dysgraphia Signs in Children

Recognizing Dysgraphia Signs in Children

This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on 04/03/2024

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 disorder 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 is a neurological disorder that 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 skill 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 in children 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.

  1. 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. This type is closely associated with developmental coordination disorder and exhibits symptoms such as an awkward pencil grip and poor handwriting.

  1. Spatial dysgraphia

Spatial dysgraphia affects awareness of the spatial relationship of written 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 grip. 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 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 a simple writing task. 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 disorder, degenerative condition, or metabolic dysgraphia.

Tips for Parents: Supporting Your Child with Dysgraphia at Home

As a parent, watching your child struggle with dysgraphia can be challenging. However, your support can make a significant difference in their learning journey and self-esteem. Here are some practical tips on how you can support your child with dysgraphia in your daily learning environment:

  • Open Communication: Start with open and positive conversations about dysgraphia with your child. Help them understand that dysgraphia is simply a learning difference, not a limitation of their intelligence or creativity. Emphasize their strengths and let them know that everyone faces challenges of some kind.
  • Create a Supportive Learning Space: Designate a quiet, well-organized workspace for homework and studying. This space should have all the necessary writing tools and aids, such as pencil grips, lined paper with raised lines, or paper with graphical organizers to help with spacing and alignment.
  • Embrace Technology: Utilize technology that can aid your child’s learning. Speech-to-text software and apps designed specifically for dysgraphia can make writing tasks less daunting. Encourage the exploration of different keyboards or electronic writing tablets to find what best supports their writing.
  • Customize Study Sessions: Break down writing tasks into manageable steps and focus on one aspect at a time, such as brainstorming, drafting, or editing. Use timers to break work into short, focused intervals (Pomodoro Technique) to help maintain their concentration and reduce frustration.
  • Practice Handwriting: Set aside regular, short practice sessions for handwriting. Use fun and multisensory approaches, like writing letters in sand or shaping letters with clay, to engage their interest and make practice less of a chore.
  • Foster Independence: Encourage your child to use tools and strategies independently. This could mean having them choose which writing aid to use for a task or deciding when to take a break. Building independence boosts confidence and coping skills.
  • Advocate for Accommodations: Work with your child’s school to ensure they receive the necessary accommodations, such as extra time on assignments, the option to use a computer for written work, or alternative assessment methods.
  • Focus on Strengths: Reinforce activities where your child excels or feels confident. Whether it’s a particular subject, a hobby, or a sport, focusing on their strengths can provide a much-needed confidence boost and remind them of their abilities outside of writing.
  • Celebrate Progress: Recognize and celebrate improvements, no matter how small. Progress in dealing with dysgraphia can be slow and incremental, so acknowledging effort and improvement can motivate your child to keep going.
  • Seek Support: Remember, you’re not alone. Join parent groups or online forums related to learning differences. Sharing experiences and strategies with other parents can provide additional support and ideas.

By implementing these tips, you can create a nurturing and supportive environment that empowers your child to navigate the challenges of dysgraphia with confidence. Your support and belief in their abilities can inspire resilience and a positive attitude towards learning.

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. The occupational therapist utilizes 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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