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What is Dysgraphia?

By Moshe Elbaum of
"Hurry up, Matthew, or you'll be left behind," shouted Amy. "Tie your shoes so you can come with us!"

Matthew looked down at his shoes. He wished that he was back in pre-school where he could have Velcro closures on his shoes. He hated tying shoes. Slowly, Matthew tried to remember the story he had learned so long ago. "First you make the bunny ears," he said. "Then you make the bunny go in the cave and come out the other side. "No matter how many times he said it, his fingers just didn't seem to work in conjunction with the rhyme.

After several tries, Matthew finally succeeded in tying his shoes and ran to play with the others. But his excitement was short lived.

"Not again," thought Matthew. "They're fishing!"

Matthew hated fishing. He liked catching fish. He loved the cool, calmness of the water in summer. He just hated trying to thread the worm on the hook. It was a challenge and usually his brother, Tommy, would do it for him.

"Need me to do it?" asked Tommy, as he pointed toward Matthew's unbaited hook.

"Sure," said Matthew. He sat in silence as he watched Tommy thread the squirming worm on the hook. "Why can't I do that?" thought Matthew. "After all, I'm the older brother!"

Little did Matthew know that his problems with tying his shoes and adding bait to his fish hook were the same problems which affected his handwriting.

Miss Peterson, his third grade teacher, had spent hours working with him to make his writing more legible. But the pencil felt like a heavy and painful weight in his hand.

Like most children with dysgraphia, Matthew excelled at reading but struggled to write. He was already reading books which were grade levels ahead of him, but when he tried to write his own stories, he found writing difficult. It wasn't just handwriting which was challenging, it was putting the ideas in order so that they would make sense on paper.

What is dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is a learning disability characterized by an inability to write by hand. Manifestations of dysgraphia make appear as:

  • scribbled, sloppy or illegible handwriting
  • improperly spaced letters (e.g. letters are "squished" together, words may contain overly large or overly small letters in combination)
  • writing is often riddled with spelling mistakes despite the child's ability to vocalize proper spelling.

What causes dysgraphia?
Unfortunately, there is little research on dysgraphia, but it is believed to be caused by a family tendency for the problem.

Is there more than one type of dysgraphia?
Yes. Dysgraphia can be classified into three types. Some children may have two or more of these classifications. The three types are:

a. Motor Dysgraphia

Children with motor dysgraphia may have poor muscle tone, might be clumsy, and have poor dexterity. Their handwriting may be slanted (from holding the writing utensil improperly) as well as poor or illegible. They may complain that writing is painful or uncomfortable. Spelling skills are generally at the appropriate grade level when tested.
b. Spatial dysgraphia
Children with spatial dysgraphia may have writing which is illegible due to improper spacing between characters. Some words may appear "squished" together and other words may be so far apart that it is difficult to read what the child has written. These children have difficulty copying words from a book or the chalkboard. However, they have grade appropriate spelling skills.
c. Dyslexia dysgraphia
Children with dyslexia dysgraphia have written work which is difficult to read or illegible. Spelling is far below grade appropriate levels. Fine motor skills are normal for age and the child is able to copy work fairly accurately. While a child may be diagnosed as a "dyslexic dysgraphia," he may not actually have dyslexia.
What are some of the common symptoms of dysgraphia?
  • Children describe pain when writing and assume that this is a normal part of learning to write.
  • Parents and teachers may assume that the pain described by the child is temporary and related to a muscle spasm - a trivial inconvenience.
  • Younger children will avoid tasks or rush through tasks involving fine motor skills such as writing, tying shoes, etc.
  • Older children may prefer to type instead of handwrite.

What can be done to treat dysgraphia?

Short-term solutions
1) Use wide-ruled graph paper instead of notebook paper because it can help children with spatial awareness when writing.
2) Older children may find the use of the computer helpful for writing tasks such as reports, short stories, and written homework assignments.
3) Use smaller/shorter pencils with rubber pencil grips to minimize the physical discomfort when writing.
4) Offer older children the opportunity to take written exams as oral exams to minimize anxiety and stress.
5) Make extensions available for deadlines on homework, exams, or written assignments.

Long-term solutions
1) Work with children so that they hold their writing utensils properly.
2) Emphasize organizational patterns and methods such as using note cards to organize thoughts into "categories" when writing; create outlines to minimize the amount of writing; use webbing to brainstorm ideas and place them into "buckets."
3) Encourage activities which enhance fine motor skills such as playing a musical instrument, taking a typing class, etc.
4) Use a training program such as the Elbaum Method ( to learn more about dysgraphia and how to create long-term success through eye movements, fine motor skill training, and so forth.

Moshe Elbaum, Founder and Developer of the method, , has taught and helped thousands of children, adolescents, and adults throughout the last 22 years in training centers, colleges, grade schools, and in his private practice in Israel and around the world. .

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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