Dysgraphia is a specific learning disability that often remains undiagnosed. It is a persistent difficulty with written expression, handwriting and/or spelling that may occur in isolation but, more often, occurs in conjunction with dyslexia.
Dysgraphia can be defined as:
… a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterised by difficulties with accurate and / or fluent written expression and by poor spelling and handwriting skills. These ongoing delays in writing are often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.
It is commonly recognised that dysgraphia can be separated into two subtypes: Motor-based dysgraphia and Language-based dysgraphia. Both subtypes of dysgraphia are likely to have a detrimental impact on the writing process and both will result in the child facing a number of writing challenges.
Motor-based dysgraphia can be viewed as difficulties with the mechanical aspects of writing. Often children with this type of dysgraphia are able to structure and sequence their ideas effectively, but struggle with the manual aspects of handwriting. This results in writing becoming a tiring, laborious and sometimes painful process for the student.
Language-based dysgraphia is more consistent with delays in processing and sequencing ideas in writing.
The content of the writing is well below the level expected, despite children being able to present their ideas clearly and concisely orally. There may be no difficulty in the handwriting aspect of writing in a child with Language-based dysgraphia.
Students with dysgraphia often have to work much harder and longer to produce written work to the same standard as an individual with typically developing writing skills.
Dysgraphia across the school years
Children with dysgraphia will show some or many of the difficulties listed below. They may not display all of these characteristics.
- Reading appears adequate but difficulties with writing are apparent
- Avoids writing tasks
- Letters are poorly formed
- Handwriting shows poor spacing and sizing of letters and words
- Letter forms are frequently confused
- Poor spelling
- Difficulties learning basic sentence structure and grammar
- Writing is slow and laborious
- Difficulties are more apparent as demands on writing ability increase through middle and upper primary school
- Process of writing is effortful and tiring
- Handwriting is immature
- Poor knowledge of writing conventions, such as punctuation, as well as lack of automaticity in spelling
- Difficulty choosing correct spelling alternatives
- Sentence and paragraph structure is poor
- Inconsistency between verbal ability and written skills
- Legibility of handwriting is poor
- Difficulties writing at the same speed as their peers
- Great difficulties noted in transferring thoughts into written words
- Apparent gap between oral and written language skills
- Knowledge and application of essay structure is underdeveloped
- Lack of detail in written expression
- Written output is limited with far less work being produced in allocated writing time
- Writing and spelling skills do not appear automatic