Dysgraphia in Children – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

While there are some children more gifted at writing, most are average and able to write their thoughts in a coherent manner. But then there are those who seem to have a lot of difficulty in doing even that. These children may be suffering from something known as Dysgraphia.

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What is Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia can be described as a learning disability in which children have difficulty in writing and sometimes with other fine motor skills. Dysgraphia and ADHD often go together, but it can also be a standalone disability. Dysgraphia is also called “Specific Learning Disorder with Impairment in Writing.”

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Types of Dysgraphia in Children

There are different types of dysgraphia, and most children have more than one type of it. Here are five types of dysgraphia:

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1. Motor Dysgraphia

In this type of dysgraphia, handwriting is often illegible as the child is unable to hold a pencil correctly.

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2. Dyslexic Dysgraphia

Children with dysgraphia dyslexia are often able to copy decently, but their spontaneous writing is quite illegible, and their spellings are not good.

3. Lexical Dysgraphia

This type is quite rare in children and is seen when the child can spell, but they are more reliant on the standard sound-to-letter patterns.

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4. Spatial Dysgraphia

If a child does not understand the concept of space and has trouble writing on lines and spacing between words, then he or she is said to have spatial dysgraphia. Their spontaneous written work and copied work is illegible, but their spelling is usually normal.

5. Phonological Dyslexia

Phonological Dysgraphia is said to be the inability to spell unfamiliar words and phonetically irregular words. Children with this type of dysgraphia are unable to remember phonemes and use them correctly in writing.

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Causes of Childhood Dysgraphia

It is important to understand what causes dysgraphia in children so that it is possible to work with them and help them. Here are some causes for childhood dysgraphia:

  • Underdeveloped fine motor skills
  • Inability to properly visually process letters and words
  • Brain damage
  • Multiple mental images
  • Inadequate instruction

Signs of Dysgraphia in Children

Look out for these signs if you suspect your child may have dysgraphia. Here are the most important dysgraphia symptoms:

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  • Inability to get their thoughts down on paper
  • Messy or illegible handwriting
  • An awkward and tight grip on the pencil and awkward body position
  • Has trouble spacing between words and forming the shapes of the letters
  • Unable to pay proper attention
  • Has some trouble when trying to organize the words from left to right
  • Has difficulty staying within the margins
  • Has trouble with other fine motor skills such as holding a fork, tying shoelaces or fastening buttons
  • Inability to spell correctly and sometimes mixes upper case and lower case letters
  • Unable to hold the pencil properly or use scissors the correct way
  • Avoids writing
  • Writes incomplete sentences

When Does Dysgraphia Start Showing Its Symptoms?

As dysgraphia is related to the inability to write properly, most parents and teachers may notice the signs first beginning to appear when the child in question has to start writing assignments in school. While all children begin with inconsistency in their writing skills, they soon get the hang of it. If your child remains unable to get used to writing and shows the above symptoms for longer than the normal learning curve most children require, your child may be showing signs of dysgraphia.

How is Dysgraphia Diagnosed?

If you believe that your child is displaying symptoms of dysgraphia, consider seeking the advice of a psychologist or a neurologist as they are qualified to diagnose dysgraphia. The doctor will require some background information on the child’s family history, developmental milestones, and some academic history that involves writing samples of your child. Your child will also have to go through a dysgraphia test which will include some activities in which the evaluator can assess his fine motor skills, intelligence and academic achievement. Letter formation and other types of motor-related dysgraphia can be diagnosed at the age of six, but most wait until the child has reached about nine years of age before giving a proper diagnosis, as the ‘Test of Written Language’ can only be done by children who are more used to complex forms of writing.

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Treatment of Dysgraphia In Kids

Dysgraphia has no cure, and so, the treatment will vary from child to child. It will also vary if the child has any other type of learning disability or any kind of health problems. Here are some ways in which dysgraphia in kids can be treated:

  • There are no specific dysgraphia writing exercises, but there are certain teaching techniques that can help. Since many children with dysgraphia also have dyslexia, they may need to work on basic reading skills, like decoding, to be able to write better. It is especially important in helping children with their spelling. For this, syllable patterns, letter-sound relationships, and relations between meanings and letter groupings will need to be explained to them well.
  • Those who struggle with their motor skills required to write can undergo occupational therapy. Here, therapists work on the strength of the hand and the fine motor coordination a child will need to be able to write. They also help children learn how to position their arm correctly and how to hold their bodies.
  • In order to help kids with other problems related to writing, educational therapy will work wonders. Here, they will learn how to work around their weaknesses with writing and be able to help children with setting reasonable and achievable goals for writing, and will also be able to teach them how to track their progress with visual tools. This helps children tackle writing assignments with as little frustration as possible.

What Can Parents Do to Improve Their Child’s Writing and Alleviate Their Pain?

Writing can be so emotionally stressful for children with dysgraphia, which is why they try to avoid it as much as they can. If you make the time to practice a few things with your child though, you can help him remove a lot of unnecessary pain from his attempts at writing. Here we have a few tips that will help:

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1. Change the Paper

Try replacing the lined paper with graph paper so that each letter gets its own block or space and teach him to leave one empty block between the words.

2. Change the Tool

Children with dysgraphia are not naturally able to hold a pen or pencil lightly so if you give them something delicate to work with, it will encourage them to use a light grip. You can get your child a feathered quill and ink to make things more fun, or if that is not available, you can always encourage him to write with chalk on a chalkboard or slate. There are even some dysgraphia pencil grips that are made to help your child get a better grip on his pencil.

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3. Teach Typing

Typing is so much easier for children with dysgraphia than writing is, so teaching him to type will remove a lot of stress and allow him to express his thoughts in written form much better.

4. Build Muscle Memory

For children with dysgraphia, fine motor skills can be a problem, so have your child use the three fingers used for writing to walk a chopstick up and down. Make it fun for him by turning this into a game and rewarding him for a job well done.

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5. Multisensory Exercises

Have your child play around in either sand or paint and ask him to form words using his fingers. Tactile learners will be able to form memories of the letters by feeling them.

6. Speak and Write

Encourage your child to say the word out loud first and then write it down. This will help him focus and keep track of his efforts as it engages different parts of the brain.

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7. Dictation

Children with good oral skills can be given a voice recorder and encouraged to record their thoughts first and then write it down while listening to it. This will make things easier for them as they will not need to focus on forming sentences or their grammar, and will be able to focus solely on their word formation.

8. Letter Formation Drills

A common problem that children with dysgraphia have is starting words from bottom up. Teach them to form letters from the top rather than the bottom consistently. The letters do not need to be perfect, but they should be consistent.

When to Worry

If your little one tries his best but still does not seem able to get the hang of writing and is becoming anxious at the thought of any kind of writing activity, you may want to look into asking for an assessment and see if your child has dysgraphia. Some children may need a bit more help than what you can give them at home. A professional will be able to take therapy further than you can and will be able to identify the exact underlying cause of the problem.

Though it can be frustrating for both child and parent, it is important not to allow your child to lose confidence in himself. Do not be afraid to ask for help if your attempts to help your child improve at home do not work, because your child’s future depends on him being able to have enough confidence in his abilities. Together, you can overcome this issue.

Also Read: Developmental Delay in Kids