Dysgraphia is a neurological condition and learning difference in which someone has difficulty with writing for their age level. This can range from issues with the physical act of writing to issues with translating thoughts into written words. Dysgraphia is manageable with interventions that can help you learn new writing strategies.
Dysgraphia is a neurological condition in which someone has difficulty turning their thoughts into written language for their age and ability to think, despite exposure to adequate instruction and education. Dysgraphia can present with many different symptoms at different ages. It’s considered a learning difference.
Writing is a complex process that involves many skills and brain functions, including:
Because of this, dysgraphia is somewhat of a catch-all term to diagnose issues with writing and can be difficult to diagnose.
Dysgraphia generally appears when children are first learning to write. This is called developmental dysgraphia. People can also develop dysgraphia suddenly after some type of head or brain trauma. This is called acquired dysgraphia.
Dysgraphia is considered a “specific learning disorder” — more specifically, a “specific learning disorder in written expression.”
Dyslexia and dysgraphia are two distinct neurological conditions, though they’re easy to confuse because they share symptoms and often occur together.
Dyslexia is a learning difference that makes it harder for people to learn to read. If you have dyslexia, you may read more slowly or have trouble recognizing words. Often, people with dyslexia read at a lower level than expected. People with dyslexia may struggle to break words into sounds or relate letters to sounds when reading.
Dysgraphia involves difficulty with the act of writing. Difficulties can range from issues with physically writing words to issues with organizing and expressing thoughts in written form.
Dysgraphia isn’t a form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Though dysgraphia commonly occurs in people with autism, you can have dysgraphia without having autism.
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by:
Dysgraphia can affect children and adults. As with many neurodevelopmental conditions, dysgraphia is more common in children assigned male at birth (AMAB) than in children assigned female at birth (AFAB).
You’re more likely to have dysgraphia if other family members also have it, and dysgraphia is common in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Dysgraphia is common. Researchers estimate that 5% to 20% of people have dysgraphia. The estimated range is large because dysgraphia often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
People with dysgraphia may have several different difficulties when it comes to writing and may speak more easily and fluently than they write. They may have issues with:
Specific ways dysgraphia can present include:
Having one of these signs doesn’t mean that a person has dysgraphia, but if your child is having trouble learning the basic skills for writing that are appropriate for their age, they should be tested to see if they need specific help.
Scientists and neurologists aren’t sure what causes developmental dysgraphia. Writing is a complex task, and several areas of your brain are involved in the process. There seems to be a genetic link, as dysgraphia often runs in families.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5) includes dysgraphia under the “specific learning disorder” category, but doesn’t define it as a separate disorder and doesn’t have specific criteria for diagnosis. This can make dysgraphia difficult — but not impossible — to diagnose.
Similar to the assessment process for dyslexia, an assessment for dysgraphia involves careful consideration of your child’s:
The diagnosis of dysgraphia is typically made in an educational setting by a team assessment, which can include the following specialists:
Typically, early testing is best for learning differences. Your child can learn new writing strategies sooner when dysgraphia is diagnosed early. Depending on how your child is affected by dysgraphia, they may show signs of the condition as early as 5 years old or as late as young adulthood.
As writing demands in school increase with age, it’s important to diagnose dysgraphia as early as possible. It’s also important to remember that it’s never too late to get a diagnosis and help.
Your child’s school may recommend an evaluation for learning disabilities with a certified educational psychologist. Ask the school administration for help finding one available to you.
There’s no medical testing required or available for diagnosing dysgraphia. Instead, healthcare providers and education specialists carefully assess your child’s writing difficulties to make a diagnosis.
Healthcare providers may use the following assessments and tests in the diagnostic process:
These tests don’t assess all the possible aspects of dysgraphia, so your child’s education team will likely rely on additional methods to diagnose dysgraphia. Depending on your child and their learning differences, more thorough academic testing may be done.
As dysgraphia has a broad range of signs and each person is affected differently by it, management for dysgraphia is very individualized.
Currently, no medications treat dysgraphia. Instead, educational interventions can teach effective, new ways to write.
In general, educational interventions can be categorized by the following levels:
It’s important to advocate for your child and work with their school to ensure your child receives the education they deserve.
Unfortunately, you can’t prevent dysgraphia. But you can manage it by finding different strategies to write.
Early diagnosis is essential — talk with your child’s healthcare provider if you notice any early signs of dysgraphia. If your child is diagnosed, work with their school to develop an individualized education plan (IEP).
When dysgraphia remains undiagnosed, children struggle to succeed in school.
Writing is an important academic skill that’s been associated with overall academic achievement.
Children who have difficulty with writing are often mislabeled as sloppy or lazy rather than being recognized as having a learning disorder.
Because of this, a child with dysgraphia may have self-esteem issues or believe they’re not intelligent. Positive support from loved ones and teachers can help a child overcome these obstacles.
Having dysgraphia means writing is difficult for you, not that you’re incapable or lazy. Finding techniques to help manage dysgraphia is critical to successful learning and self-esteem. Understand that having dysgraphia doesn’t reflect poor intelligence.
Be an advocate for your child. You and your child’s school can develop an individualized education plan (IEP). This document sets personalized expectations and lesson plans for your child at school.
You can also help your child build writing skills at home. Try out pencil grips and other tools that may make writing easier. Look for apps or software that can help with handwriting and graphic organizers that can help with writing assignments.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you or your child’s teacher suspects your child has a learning difference like dysgraphia, you can get help. Dysgraphia is a manageable neurological condition. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider, teacher or the school’s administration to discover ways to help your child with their writing skills.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/15/2022.
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