+ “Dysgraphia:” Symptoms, Strategies

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The term “dysgraphia” generally refers to extremely poor handwriting.  But it’s technically defined as a learning disability resulting from the difficulty with expressing thoughts in writing and graphing.

So articles and books on”dysgraphia” can deal not only with the formation of letters on a page, but also with what many people would call “writing skills.”

Every state has its own criteria to determine if a student has a specific learning disability; these are the defined special education guidelines.

If a student’s writing or graphing difficulties do meet these criteria, special education services are to be offered.

The problem is, no nationally defined clear criteria exist for “dysgraphia.” 

Any degree of handwriting difficulty may be labeled “dysgraphic” by some educational specialists.  It may or may not fall into  categories that receive special education services.

Some Underlying Causes

Students with dysgraphia may have sequencing problems.  What appears to be a perceptual problem (reversing letters and numbers, writing words backwards, writing letters out of order, sloppy handwriting) have frequently been shown by researchers to be directly related to sequential/rational information processing.

Such students may have trouble with the sequence of letters and words as well.  they may occasionally intermix letters and numbers in formulas.  One strategy is for the student to slow down in order to work on the “mechanics” of writing (spelling, punctuation). 

However, sometimes slowing down means getting stuck in the details, and results in a complete loss of the idea they are trying to write. 

Some students have ADD or ADHD.  They can experience significant difficulty with writing and formulas in general in addition to the handwriting struggle.  Why? Because ADHD students also have trouble organizing and sequencing detailed information.  In addition, when time is a consideration, ADHD affects the processing of information. 

A major factor frequently is a lack of fine motor coordination.

Sometimes such students  have a general auditory- or language- processing weakness.  If a student has trouble hearing and understanding language in general, obviously he or she has difficulty expressing himself in in oral or written language.

While most students don’t have visual or perceptual processing problems, those who do can experience great difficulty with writing speed and clarity of thought, since the ability to place information on a page is  compromised.


  1. May exhibit strong verbal skills but poor writing skills.
  2. Random/nonexistent punctuation or spelling errors.  (Reverslas, phonic approximations, omitted syllables, errors in adding suffixes, clumsiness and disordered syntax.)
  3. Generally illegible writing, despite what should be considered  appropriate learning time and attention.
  4. Inconsistencies: there may be mixtures of print and cursive, upper and lower case, irregular letter size, shape or slant.
  5. Unfinished words or letters, omissions of entire words.
  6. Inconsistent position on page (with respect to lines and margins), or  inconsistent spacing between letters and words.
  7. Cramped or unusual grip (especially  holding the writing instrument very close to the paper, crossing thumb over two fingers, or writing from the wrist).
  8. Talking themselves through the process, or carefully watching the writing hand.
  9. Copying or writing that is slow and labored (even though the result may be neat and legible).


  1. Encourage students to outline their thoughts.  It’s important to get the main ideas down without having to struggle with details and mechanics.
  2. Allow a student to draw a picture of the thought in each paragraph.
  3. Have a student dictate her ideas into a recording device for later listening and writing down.
  4. Arrange for the students to learn keyboarding.  It is difficult at first, but  once mastered, typing is much faster and clearer than handwriting.
  5. Allow your students to use a computer for organizing information and spellchecks.  (Even if keyboarding skills aren’t great, computers help with details.)
  6. See that your student continues to practice handwriting, however, since there are always times that  notes and sharing with others must occur.  Fact:  the more we practice, the better we get!
  7. Encourage your student to talk aloud as they write, for auditory feedback.
  8. Allow extra time for written tasks (note-taking, copying and tests).
  9. Outtline and hand out course assignments and assessment procedures — papers, exams, or expected computer literacy.  Students who understand the demands can foresee problems early in the process.
  10. Give assignments early.  Allow students to begin projects early.
  11. You might include time in the student’s schedule to be a ‘library assistant’ or ‘office assistant.’   This might provide time that could also be used for catching up, getting a head start on work, or doing alternative activities related to the material being learned.
  12. Provide a partially completed outline rather than insisting on a student’s keeping a complete set of notes. He can fill in the details under major headings.  (Or conversely, you provide the details and have him provide the headings!)
  13. Allow student to dictate some assignments or tests (or parts thereof)  to a “scribe.”  Note: it’s important to train the “scribe” to write verbatim, allowing the student to make changes (without assistance).  
  14. Remove ‘neatness’ or ‘spelling’ — or both — as grading criteria for some assignments. Design assignments to be evaluated on individual steps during the writing process.
  15. Allow students to abbreviate in some writing [ b/c  for “because”).  Allow a student to learb ir develop her own repertoire of abbreviations in a notebook; these will come in handy in future note-taking.
  16. Reduce copying demands.  Math students might be provided with  problems already written on a worksheet.
  17. Separate writing into stages and then teach students to do the same.  Teach the stages of the writing process  — brainstorming, drafting, editing, and proofreading. (Consider grading the stages, even on some one-sitting exercises — points can be awarded for each stage.)
  18. Allow your student to produce a rough draft, revision and final draft on a computer.  This way, each draft can be evaluated — without extra typing.
  19. Encourage a student to use a spellchecker. Speaking spellcheckers are best.  Have someone else proofread any work.   Allow student to use cursive or manuscript, whichever is most comfortable and legible.
  20. Offer a primary student paper with raised guide lines.
  21. Let an older student use the line width that works best for him. (Some students use tiny writing to disguise messiness or spelling.)
  22. Allow your student to use paper or writingmaterials in different colors.
  23. Allow a student to use graph paper for math; he might turn lined paper sideways, to help line up columns of numbers.
  24. Allow the student to use the writing instrument that she finds most comfortable.
  25. If copying is laborious, allow the student to make some editing marks rather than recopying the whole piece.
  26. Speech recognition software might be helpful.  If a student (and teacher) are willing to invest this time and effort in “training” the software and learning to use it, a student can be freed from the onerous motor processes involved in  writing or keyboarding.
  27. Develop cooperative writing projects: different students can take on separate roles, for example “brainstormer,” “organizer of information,” “writer,” “proofreader,” or “illustrator.”
  28. Long-term assignments: provide extra structure and use intermittent deadlines.  Discuss with both your student and parents ways to enforce due dates; ideas such as having the student work with the teacher after school in the event a deadline arrives and the work is incomplete.
  29. Build handwriting instruction into the student’s schedule.  The ultimate degree of independence will depend on your student’s age and attitude. 
  30. Note: handwriting habits are entrenched early.  Beware of student overload.  Before engaging in any battle over a student’s grip — or cursive versus print — consider whether enforcement will make the writing task easier.  It may be that this is a chance for the student to make his own choice.
  31. Teach alternative handwriting methods such as “Handwriting Without Tears.” Visit http://www.hstears.com/intro.htm
  32. Allow your student to write just one key word or phrase for each paragraph; he can go back to fill in the details later.
  33. Use multisensory techniques for teaching both manuscript and cursive writing.  The techniques need to be practiced substantially so that letters formation is utomatic before the student is asked to use the skills to communicate ideas.
  34. Allow your student to  use visual graphic organizers.  She might create a mind map.  For example, she can put the main idea in a circle in the center with supporting facts on radiating lines.
  35. Model a way to do papers and assignments in a logical step-wise sequence.  Remember the steps with the word POWER:  P = plan; O = organize your thoughts/ideas; W = write your draft; E = edit; R = revise.
  36. For student fatigue, some exercises: shake hands fast, but not violently; rub hands together and focus on the feeling of warmth; rub hands on the carpet in circles, or on clothing near thighs; use thumb of the dominant hand to click the top of a ballpoint pen while holding it in that hand, then repeat using the index finger; perform sitting pushups by placing each palm on the chair with fingers facing forward (students push down on their hands, ifting their body slightly off the chair).
  37. Allow your student to record important assignments and/or take oral tests.
  38. Prioritize certain task components during a complex activity.  For example, students can focus on using descriptive words in one assignment, using compound sentences in another.
  39. Reinforce your student’s positive efforts.
  40. Be patient and encourage student to be patient with himself.

source: downloaded from West Virginian University web site.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021  or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com.


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