Poor handwriting skills can be a sign of dysgraphia

When Karan, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was stopped by teachers in class, it was often because of his handwriting – which strongly resembled unconscious ants on the page. It turns out, though, that he wasn’t the one who was a difficult kid — he was the one who was battling a condition called dysgraphia.

Ruby Singh, an occupational therapist at the Little Kids Rehabilitation Center in Dubai, explains that dysgraphia is a writing disorder, in which children fail to organize and coordinate their handwriting, making it difficult to read. “This disorder affects about 10% of children, especially boys, and is usually seen in children who are new to writing,” she adds. However, it can appear at any age in connection with certain pathologies such as Dupuytren’s disease, which presents as an abnormal thickening of the skin of the palm; or Parkinson’s disease brain disorder.

Dysgraphia is an amalgamation of two Greek words. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) explain that the term dysgraphia comes from the words “dys”, which means “altered”, and “graphia”, which translates to “hand-lettered forms”.

Are there different types of dysgraphia?

Yes. And these are ranked according to the quality and speed of handwriting.

Singh explains that there are three types of dysgraphia:

Dyslexia dysgraphia: In this form of dysgraphia, the copied words or drawings may be clear but those generated by the child are illegible. Spelling is poor even if an individual’s fine motor skills are normal. Despite the name, someone with dysgraphic dyslexia does not necessarily have dyslexia.

Motor dysgraphia: This form of dysgraphia occurs when a person has poor fine motor skills. They may also have poor dexterity. Written work, including copied work and drawings, tends to be poor or illegible. With extreme effort on the part of the student, short samples of writing can be somewhat readable. Spelling abilities are generally within the normal range.

Spatial dysgraphia: This results from problems with spatial awareness. It is expressed by a difficulty in respecting the lines on a sheet of paper or in using the correct spacing between words. All forms of handwriting and drawings by individuals with this type of dysgraphia are usually illegible. Spelling skills are generally not impaired.

Signs your child has dysgraphia

These problems may indicate the condition:

  • Difficulty copying letters or numbers
  • Poor or illegible handwriting
  • Incorrect or odd spellings
  • A mix of cursive and printed writing styles
  • Using incorrect words
  • Omit words in sentences
  • Slow write speed
  • Fatigue after writing short pieces
  • Improper letter size and spacing
  • Difficulty with grammar and sentence structure
  • Constant spelling mistakes despite the time and effort spent learning to spell words. This includes omitting, inserting or assuming letters.
  • Unusual position of the body or hands when writing
  • Say words out loud while writing them
  • Look at the hands while writing
  • Difficulty taking notes at school or work
  • Difficulties structuring thoughts on paper at the sentence or paragraph level for older children
  • Poor overall score in writing compared to what the individual can express orally

“People with dysgraphia often have other learning disabilities or mental health issues,” warns Singh. “Sometimes the challenge of living with dysgraphia can lead to anxiety and low self-esteem.”

At what age can it be diagnosed?

It can be spotted as young as four to five years old, Singh says.

Rudolf Stockling, school psychologist and head of the assessment unit at the Lexicon Reading Center in Dubai, says: “We always advise parents to give the child more time, i.e. until whether he was approaching the age of seven or a little older before investigating the possibility of dysgraphia. This is mainly because writing is a very complex process on its own, so writing skills may take longer to develop.

How is a child diagnosed with dysgraphia?

You need a team to diagnose and help a child with this condition. Specialists include:

  • Family doctor or pediatrician,
  • occupational therapist, and
  • Psychologist.

“The occupational therapist will observe the grip of the pencil, the position of the hands and the body and the writing process of the child. To diagnose a case, a cluster of symptoms must be present for at least six months, while appropriate interventions are in place,” she adds.

As with most conditions, early intervention can make a big difference.

Sometimes the challenge of living with dysgraphia can lead to anxiety and low self-esteem.

Is there a treatment for the condition?

Although there is no “cure” for the disorder, therapy can improve a person’s ability to communicate and cope with difficulties that may arise in daily life.

Treatment and management techniques that can help include:

Drugs for concurrent conditions. “Those with both dysgraphia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may notice improvements in both conditions when taking ADHD medication,” Singh says.

Occupational therapy. With this therapy, people can learn specific skills and techniques to make writing easier. They can learn to improve their fine motor skills and can relearn how to hold a pen or pencil to facilitate better writing, she adds.

Stockling adds, “Research shows that teaching multi-sensory writing skills has the greatest impact in helping people with dysgraphia develop writing skills smoothly into school age and grade. The principles of The multisensory approach dates back to 1920 in the United States, namely the Orton-Gillingham multisensory approach to teaching literacy skills.

What is the Orton-Gillingham multisensory approach?

In the 1930s, neuropsychiatrist and pathologist Dr. Samuel T. Orton and educator, psychologist Anna Gillingham developed the Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading for students with “word blindness”, which would become later known as dyslexia. Their approach combined direct, multi-sensory teaching strategies coupled with systematic, sequential phonics-focused lessons.
Source: Orton-gillingham.com

How is dysgraphia different from dyslexia?

“Dysgraphia affects writing ability and the child will need occupational therapy as a remedy while dyslexia affects reading ability and requires speech therapy,” says Singh.

Is dysgraphia indicative of other problems such as ADHD or autism?

Dysgraphia is one of many disorders often seen in children with autism and ADHD, Singh says.

“Autism and learning disabilities can occur together, but they are distinct from each other. They can also be exclusive, you can have one without the other. However, ADHD study found a 59% association with dysgraphia. The takeaway here is that any child with dysgraphia should be screened for autism and ADHD,” she suggests.

How to support a dysgraphic child at home

Unesco and MGIEP suggest the following:

Observe and take notes. Watch for patterns and triggers that, once spotted, can be used as teaching points. Notes can also help you communicate more clearly with teachers, doctors, or anyone else you hire to help your child.

Use positive reinforcement: Focus and recognize your child’s efforts. Explain that the downsides are only part of the learning curve and emphasize the importance of sticking to them.

Confidence building activities: Identify your child’s strengths and build on them – use them as a tool to build self-esteem.

Use thick writing instruments such as chalk and colored pencils to make it easier to grasp.

Use lined paper: Or create lines yourself, using highlighters or sketch pens for the child to practice.

Do a “spacebar”: If spacing is the problem, use a cutout or eraser to help the child. Once they have finished writing a word, they can place the cutout then write the next word and so on. This will get them used to the concept.

Topics : Is your child trying to get you to say “yes” to a movie or a date? Use this to your advantage, by asking them to write down their “for it” argument.

Anti-stress exercises: Flexing the hand muscles or using stress balls can help relax the hand.

Tactics and Tasks: Help your child break down homework into small activities and complete them one by one.

Do you have a topic you would like to discuss? Email us at [email protected]

Scott R. Banks