Dysgraphia in Children and Adults: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments
Do you know the differences between dyslexia and dysgraphia? This article will address your most pressing questions about dysgraphia, including what it is, what causes it, and what treatment options are available.
By Ability Central
28 November, 2023
Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that affects someone’s ability to write. Considered a specific learning disability, dysgraphia affects both children and adults, although the symptoms of a person with dysgraphia might change as they get older. About 5 to 20 percent of people have a writing deficit like dysgraphia.
This article will answer your biggest questions about dysgraphia disorder, including:
- What is dysgraphia?
- What is the difference between dysgraphia and dyslexia?
- What causes dysgraphia?
- What are the different types of learning disabilities that are associated with dysgraphia?
- What are the early signs and symptoms of dysgraphia?
- What does dysgraphia look like in adults?
- How does dysgraphia affect communication?
- What are dysgraphia treatment options?
- Where can I find help for dysgraphia?
What is dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is a specific learning disability (SLD) that affects:
- How easily a person learns written language
- How well they use written language to express their thoughts
- Fine motor skills like holding a pencil, tying shoes, or zipping a zipper
Difficulties writing information by hand can interfere with learning to spell words. This means that children with this learning disorder may also be poor spellers.
Although many people with dysgraphia have poor handwriting, some can write neatly with a lot of time and effort.
This neurological disorder usually emerges when a child is first introduced to writing. When dysgraphia doesn’t appear until adulthood, it is generally associated with damage to the brain's parietal lobe.
Are there different kinds of dysgraphia?
There are two main kinds of dysgraphia: developmental dysgraphia, which someone is born with, and acquired dysgraphia, which means someone loses writing and fine motor skills due to an injury or illness.
Dysgraphia symptoms can be separated into three categories:
- Motor dysgraphia, which impacts fine-motor coordination and visual perception. Handwriting and drawing are often slow, illegible, and sometimes painful.
- Spatial dysgraphia, which affects spatial perception, the ability to understand where things are in relation to each other. This typically affects handwriting and drawing, especially writing between lines on paper or filling out a form where certain information must fit in a specific space.
- Linguistic dysgraphia, which impacts the language processing skills required in writing. This type of dysgraphia most strongly affects “spontaneous” writing, like creative writing or responding to an essay question.
What is the difference between dysgraphia and dyslexia?
You may be wondering, is dysgraphia a form of dyslexia? Some people who are dyslexic also have dysgraphia, but they are two different learning disorders. Dyslexia affects a person’s ability to read, while dysgraphia affects their ability to write.
Dyslexia and dysgraphia have some overlapping symptoms, like poor spelling, which can make it difficult to find the right diagnosis. Learn more about dyslexia in our article What Does Dyslexia Look Like in Children and Adults?
What causes dysgraphia?
Scientists do not know what causes dysgraphia in children. In adults, it's sometimes related to a brain injury, like head trauma or a stroke.
If dysgraphia appears in childhood, it’s usually the result of a problem with orthographic coding. Orthographic coding is an aspect of working memory that allows people to remember specific words, as well as how their hands or fingers must move to write those words.
Orthographic coding issues can co-exist with or be a symptom of other specific learning disabilities, like dyslexia or ADHD.
What are the different types of learning disabilities that are associated with dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is often associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities (LDs). Because dysgraphia is a language-based learning disability, it often shares characteristics with other diagnoses, including:
- Cerebral palsy
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Reading comprehension disorder, a reading disability or reading disorder in which a person has trouble understanding the meaning of words and passages of writing.
- ADHD may raise the risk of having dysgraphia, but one SLD does not cause the other.
In addition to dysgraphia, there are six other common SLDs:
- Dyslexia is a language-processing disorder that impacts reading, writing, and comprehension.
- Dyscalculia relates to math, including numbers and reasoning.
- Auditory processing disorder (APD) confuses the order of sounds or the ability to filter different sounds.
- Language processing disorder (LPD) is a type of APD in which the individual has difficulty processing spoken language.
- Nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD) refers to difficulties in decoding nonverbal behaviors or social cues.
- Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit refers to difficulties in hand-eye coordination.
What are the early signs and symptoms of dysgraphia?
Early signs of dysgraphia include:
- Unclear, irregular, or inconsistent handwriting
- Tendency to write or copy things slowly
- Cramped grip
- Difficulty spacing things out on paper
- Frequent erasing
- Inconsistency in letter and word spacing
- Poor spelling
- Unusual wrist, body, or paper position while writing
What does dysgraphia look like in adults?
Dysgraphia symptoms typically change over time. Adults with dysgraphia may struggle with grammar, syntax, comprehension, and generally putting thoughts on paper.
Dysgraphia may affect day-to-day activities like:
- Buttoning a shirt
- Tying a shoelace
- Picking a topic for a paper
- Organizing ideas
At work, an adult with dysgraphia may notice:
- Trouble filling out forms by hand
- Handwriting that is illegible even to the writer
- Odd handwriting patterns, like randomized capital and lowercase letters, missing the end of words, or skipping short words like “the” or “a” entirely
- Emails that are rambling or reports that repeat the same ideas several times
- When using spellcheck, an inability to pick out the correct spelling from several similar words
- Hand cramps or pain while writing
- A preference for meetings rather than emails, or verbal instructions rather than written ones
- The ability to explain themselves easily while speaking, but not in writing
How does dysgraphia affect communication?
Dysgraphia generally affects communication in two ways: difficulty with fine motor skills and difficulty putting one’s thoughts down on paper.
Someone with dysgraphia may struggle to:
- Cut food
- Do puzzles
- Draw or paint
- Use certain features on phones or computers
- Read maps
- Understand the rules of games or follow sequential directions
These difficulties can cause embarrassment, frustration, or anxiety in school or work. Many people with dysgraphia are unfairly discriminated against due to the misconception that people with dysgraphia are “lazy” or “unintelligent.” Anxiety and low self-esteem can result from stress in school or the workplace.
The same negative feelings can apply to social situations. For example, a game night with friends can be unfulfilling or stressful for someone with dysgraphia. Or, a person with dysgraphia might try to write a note or grocery list for a partner, but the handwriting comes out so illegible that neither person can read it.
While some people with dysgraphia prefer to type on a computer instead of handwriting, others struggle with computer keyboards. Similarly, many people with dysgraphia dislike or avoid texting. This is likely because texting requires fine motor skills: using one’s thumbs to type on a small screen.
With so much of our communication moving online, people with dysgraphia may struggle to use online communication tools like instant messengers, social media, email, or multiplayer games. This difficulty can lead to feelings of isolation or loneliness, like when plans are made in a “group chat” that a person with dysgraphia struggles to be part of.
What are dysgraphia treatment options?
There is no cure for dysgraphia, nor is there medication to specifically treat dysgraphia symptoms. In school or the workplace, dysgraphia is usually treated on three levels.
- Accommodations, including supportive or assistive resources.
- Modifications to goals and objectives.
- Remediation to decrease the severity of symptoms.
Tools for dysgraphia include:
- Pencil grips, to make writing more comfortable
- Slant boards, inclined planes designed to give a person with dysgraphia a better angle for writing
- Text-to-speech tools, which turn written content into audio content
Occupational therapy, used to build up strength and muscle memory for activities like writing, can be beneficial for both children and adults with dysgraphia. This treatment might include:
- manipulating different materials to build hand and wrist strength
- running letter formation drills
- practicing cursive writing
In addition, Ability Central offers a searchable database of smartphones with accessibility features that could benefit people with dysgraphia.
Where can I find help for dysgraphia?
A licensed psychologist trained in learning disorders can diagnose dysgraphia. To find a psychologist, your primary care provider or pediatrician is a great resource for referrals.
In addition, Ability Central has a searchable database of nonprofits that specialize in learning disorders. Use our Service Locator tool to find an organization near you that can help with everything from diagnosis to treatment.
Where can I get more information?
To learn more about other learning disabilities, see: