Learning Disability Disgraphia

In kindergarten, a girl who read well for her age had one major weakness: her writing was sloppy. Despite being given a sentence at the top of her paper to transpose onto a three-line graph, she failed to make a legible copy of it. The letters were either written backwards, made unusually large, or used inappropriate spaces.  On top of that, she copied the word “The” as “Teh”.

The results were staggering and had a consequence. After a school conference, her parents, the teacher and administrators at the school agreed to hold her back one year.

The following scenario happened in the mid-seventies during a time when the disorder at work – dysgraphia – was barely understood by parents and teachers.  Often the solution then was to hold students back a year in order for them to relearn the ability to write letters.  What wasn’t known was that the condition was usually a sign that something else was affecting the student’s ability to accomplish this skill.

Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that affects the way somebody writes by hand. Its causes in children are unknown; however, the condition has appeared in adults after injuries to the parietal lobe of the brain (ninds.nih.gov, 2011). Also, children with this condition have been diagnosed with other learning disorders.  

This condition affects fine motor skills, and there are cases in which students with dysgraphia will have problems doing other hand-eye coordinated activities (one such activity mentioned in Wikipedia was tying a shoe). 

It is often characterized by poor handwriting. Also, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s website, “NINDS Dysgraphia Information Page”, a person with this condition will have unusual spelling or use incorrect word choices when writing (an example NINDS gave was using “boy” for “child”).

Other symptoms of this condition may include poor use of grammar – in particular, punctuation, spelling, phonic rules, syntax, and sequencing. Also students with dysgraphia may have inconsistent use of print and cursive writing in a written activity; have incomplete or omitted words or letters; and have poor use of position and spacing of words or letters in respect to lines and margins on a paper.

Even the students’ postures can be an indicator of this condition. Many will have unusual grips or hold the writing instrument oddly. They may talk to themselves while writing or watch their hands, and may be slow when copying notes from the board.

Dysgraphia does not, however, affect the students’ intellectual capacity. Many of these students can comprehend books or written text at the same level as their non-disabled peers. Others have comprehension skill levels well above the norm for their grade or age level.

Many things have been attributed to this condition. Developmental lag, environmental factors, or lack of exposure to writing at an early age have been considered (but never proven). Often, students with these problems either outgrow or learn to write well at a later stage.

According to a website from the University of West Virginia, entitled “Dysgraphia”, the condition has no clearly defined criteria.  The website states: “A student with any degree of handwriting difficulty may be labeled as ‘dysgraphic’ by some educational specialists, but may or may not need special education services.”

Still, the condition can be viewed as an indicator for something more severe. As mentioned, dysgraphia has been linked or has been present among students with other forms of learning disorders. Some researchers also believed that the other learning disorders are underlying causes for the condition.

According to LDInfo.com, dysgraphia can be an indicator or may be caused by the following conditions:

1. Sequencing Problems:  a perceptual problem related to sequential/rational information processing.  Students with this have difficulty organizing detailed information – such as words or letter rules – when writing.

2.Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):  those with this condition have had difficulty with handwriting.  Also, according to LDInfo.com, “due to their ability to process information at a very rapid rate, they may not have the fine motor coordination to keep up with their thought.”

3. Auditory Processing Disorder:  due to a weakness in language processing, students with this condition will have problems with language expression, in particular, with writing.

4. Visual Processing Disorder: some dysgraphic students may have this; however, most do not have visual or perceptual processing problems. Often, those with visual processing disorders have problems with writing speed and clarity, especially when copying information from a board.

5. Traumatic Brain Injury: Adults who have had brain injuries have been reported to have suddenly have dysgraphia.

Other conditions associated with dysgraphia are dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder (including Asperger’s syndrome) and Tourette syndrome.

Although there are no known cures, there are numerous methods to treat this condition. Many of the solutions are to allow for accommodations such as allowing more time for the students to do a written task; use the computer  or smart-board(an electronic keyboard) instead of a pen, pencil, or paper; dictate their ideas into a tape recorder and listen and copy them later; or allow them to talk aloud as they write .

Other solutions are simple practices. Have the students practice outlining or other do pre-writing activities before writing a composition; have them practice handwriting for an hour each day; or practice and drill them on word/letter sequencing and rules.

Knowledge on this condition has come a long way since the mid-seventies. Those with this condition are often placed in writing workshops or tested for possible placement in special education program (as well as being tested for other conditions). Dysgraphia is still a condition with no cure; however, those with it can overcome it and not have to worry about being held back a grade.