Dysgraphia is an inability to write legibly, but it is more than just having bad handwriting. It is classified as a Specific Learning Difficulty. People with dysgraphia can have trouble organising letters, numbers, and words on a line or page. This can result partly from weak Fine Motor coordination (movement of hands and fingers), Visual-spatial difficulties (trouble processing what the eye sees) or from Language Processing Difficulty (trouble processing and making sense of what the ear hears).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5) doesn’t use the term dysgraphia but uses the phrase “an impairment in written expression” under the category of “specific learning disorder.

Dysgraphia can be broken down into three subcategories, depending on where the writing difficulty lies. Someone with dysgraphia may have one, two, or three of these subtypes:

  1. Motor Dysgraphia - People with this subtype often spell reasonably well, but still have poor legibility in spontaneous as well as copied written work. With extreme effort, writing may be acceptable in short samples, but in longer samples, problems with letter formation, letter size, and letter or word omission become increasingly common. Writing is very time consuming for those with motor dysgraphia, and becomes unsustainably painful after a short period of time. The overall speed is usually low.
  2. Spatial Dysgraphia - characterised by difficulties with the space allotted for writing. Letters tend to vary in size, may not be placed on the line and the spaces between letters and between words are inconsistent. Spontaneous and copied written samples are untidy or illegible, spelling and overall speed may be normal.
  3. Dyslexic Dysgraphia - characterised by unusual spelling and poor legibility in spontaneous written work. If the work is copied, legibility improves dramatically. Overall speed is usually normal. A person can have dyslexic dysgraphia without actually being dyslexic.

Impact on learning skills & development

As with all specific learning disabilities (SpLD), dysgraphia is a lifelong challenge, and how it manifests may change over time. Here is a list of common symptoms of dysgraphia that may be noted at different ages and stages:

In the Early-years learner

  • Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position
  • Avoiding writing or drawing tasks
  • Difficulty forming letters shapes
  • Inconsistent spacing between letters/words
  • Poor understanding of upper and lowercase letters
  • Inability to write or draw in a line or keep within margins
  • Tires quickly while writing

In Young Students

  • Illegible handwriting
  • Mixture of cursive and print writing
  • Saying words out loud while writing
  • Concentrate on writing so much that they don't comprehend what they've written
  • Difficulty thinking of words to write
  • Unfinished or omitted words in sentences

In Teenagers and Adults

  • Difficulty organizing thoughts on paper
  • Trouble keeping track of thoughts already written down
  • Difficulty with syntax structure and grammar
  • Large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech

Learning Strategies and Supports

A student with dysgraphia can benefit from specific accommodations in the learning environment. Extra practise in learning the skills required to be an accomplished writer can also help. Ways to help a person with dysgraphia fall into three main categories:

Accommodations: providing alternatives to written expression e.g.

Use a computer - Older children may find the use of a laptop beneficial. They will be able to get their thoughts down and think about how work should appear, readily changing order and sequence - rather than be frustrated by the physical challenges of hand writing.

Voice recognition software such as Dragon is increasingly popular and although it won't improve your child's handwriting it will help them to get their thoughts on paper.

To qualify for additional supports a Writing Assessment is required.


"We have referred children with coordination and sensory difficulties to Monica over the past number of years. She is an excellent professional and has been most generous with her time. She uses her considerable talents and skills to put the child at ease whilst undertaking an assessment. She has a wonderful gift of listening, understanding and sharing her expertise in ordinary language with parents, which helps ease their concerns and puts the issues in context."

F.C. Learning Support teacher, National school, Galway

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