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What Is Dysgraphia?
By NCLD Editorial Team
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills.
Dysgraphia makes the act of writing difficult. It can lead to problems with spelling, poor handwriting and putting thoughts on paper.
People with dysgraphia can have trouble organizing letters, numbers and words on a line or page. This can result partly from:
 Visual-spatial difficulties: trouble processing what the eye sees Language processing difficulty: trouble processing and
making sense of what the ear hears
 As with all learning disabilities (LD), dysgraphia is a lifelong challenge, although how it manifests may change over time. A
student with this disorder can benefit from specific accommodations in the learning environment. Extra practice learning the
skills required to be an accomplished writer can also help.
What Are the Warning Signs of Dysgraphia?
Just having bad handwriting doesn’t mean a person has dysgraphia. Since dysgraphia is a processing disorder, difficulties can change
throughout a lifetime. However since writing is a developmental process—children learn the motor skills needed to write, while
learning the thinking skills needed to communicate on paper—difficulties can also overlap.
Dysgraphia: Warning Signs By Age
 Young ChildrenTrouble With: Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position Avoiding writing or drawing tasks Trouble
forming letter shapes Inconsistent spacing between letters or words Poor understanding of uppercase and lowercase letters
Inability to write or draw in a line or within margins Tiring quickly while writing
 School-Age ChildrenTrouble With: Illegible handwriting Mixture of cursive and print writing Saying words out loud while
writing Concentrating so hard on writing that comprehension of what's written is missed Trouble thinking of words to write
Omitting or not finishing words in sentences
 Teenagers and AdultsTrouble With:
o Trouble organizing thoughts on paper
o Trouble keeping track of thoughts already written down
o Difficulty with syntax structure and grammar Large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated
through speech
What Strategies Can Help?
There are many ways to help a person with dysgraphia achieve success. Generally strategies fall into three main categories:
- Accommodations: providing alternatives to written expression
- Modifications: changing expectations or tasks to minimize or avoid the area of weakness
- Remediation: providing instruction for improving handwriting and writing skills
Each type of strategy should be considered when planning instruction and support. A person with dysgraphia will benefit from help
from both specialists and those who are closest to the person. Finding the most beneficial type of support is a process of trying
different ideas and openly exchanging thoughts on what works best.
Although teachers and employers are required by law to make “reasonable accommodations” for individuals with learning disabilities,
they may not be aware of how to help. Speak to them about dysgraphia and explain the challenges faced as a result of this learning
Here are examples of how to teach individuals with dysgraphia to overcome some of their difficulties with written expression.
Early Writers
Be patient and positive, encourage practice and praise effort. Becoming a good writer takes time and practice.
Use paper with raised lines for a sensory guide to staying within the lines. Try different pens and pencils to find one that’s most
comfortable. Practice writing letters and numbers in the air with big arm movements to improve motor memory of these important
shapes. Also practice letters and numbers with smaller hand or finger motions. Encourage proper grip, posture and paper positioning
for writing. It’s important to reinforce this early as it’s difficult for students to unlearn bad habits later on. Use multi-sensory
techniques for learning letters, shapes and numbers. For example, speaking through motor sequences, such as “b” is “big stick down,
circle away from my body.” Introduce a word processor on a computer early; however do not eliminate handwriting for the child.
While typing can make it easier to write by alleviating the frustration of forming letters, handwriting is a vital part of a person's ability
to function in the world.
Young Students
Encourage practice through low-stress opportunities for writing. This might include writing letters or in a diary, making household
lists, or keeping track of sports teams.
Allow use of print or cursive—whichever is more comfortable. Use large graph paper for math calculation to keep columns and rows
organized. Allow extra time for writing assignments. Begin writing assignments creatively with drawing, or speaking ideas into a tape
recorder. Alternate focus of writing assignments—put the emphasis on some for neatness and spelling, others for grammar or
organization of ideas. Explicitly teach different types of writing—expository and personal essays, short stories, poems, etc. Do not
judge timed assignments on neatness and spelling. Have students proofread work after a delay—it’s easier to see mistakes after a
break. Help students create a checklist for editing work—spelling, neatness, grammar, syntax, clear progression of ideas, etc.
Encourage use of a spell checker—speaking spell checkers are available for handwritten work. Reduce amount of copying; instead,
focus on writing original answers and ideas. Have student complete tasks in small steps instead of all at once. Find alternative means
of assessing knowledge, such as oral reports or visual projects.
Teenagers and Adults
Many of these tips can be used by all age groups. It is never too early or too late to reinforce the skills needed to be a good writer.
Provide tape recorders to supplement note taking and to prepare for writing assignments. Create a step-by-step plan that breaks writing
assignments into small tasks (see below). When organizing writing projects, create a list of keywords that will be useful. Provide clear,
constructive feedback on the quality of work, explaining both the strengths and weaknesses of the project, commenting on the
structure as well as the information that is included. Use assistive technology such as voice-activated software if the mechanical
aspects of writing remain a major hurdle.
How to Approach Writing Assignments
 Plan your paper (Pull together your ideas and consider how you want them in your writing.)
o Organize your thoughts and ideas.
o Create an outline or graphic organizer to be sure you’ve included all your ideas.
o Make a list of key thoughts and words you will want to use in your paper.
Write a draft
o This first draft should focus on getting your ideas on paper—don’t worry about making spelling or grammar errors.
Using a computer is helpful because it will be easier to edit later on.
Edit your work
o Check your work for proper spelling, grammar and syntax; use a spell checker if necessary.
o Edit your paper to elaborate and enhance content—a thesaurus is helpful for finding different ways to make your
o Revise your work, producing a final draft
o Rewrite your work into a final draft.
o Be sure to read it one last time before submitting it.
This article is made possible by a grant from the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation.
Visit for more information on this topic.
Copyright © 1999-2014 National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
"The power to hope, to succeed, and to learn."
Types of Accommodations to Include in an IEP or 504 Plan
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Students with learning disabilities (LD)—such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia—often need accommodations in order to
complete the same assignments as other students. Accommodations do not alter the content of assignments, give students an unfair
advantage, or change what a test measures. They do make it possible for students with LD to show what they know without being
impeded by their disability.
Once your child has been formally identified with a learning disability, you may request accommodations for your child’s specific
needs. If your child is eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the IEP team—which includes the parents—must
decide which accommodations are appropriate and include them in the student’s IEP. If your child is not eligible for special education
services under IDEA, he or she may still be eligible for accommodations under a 504 plan.
Possible Accommodations to Consider
 Provide on audio tape Provide in large print Reduce number of items per page or line Provide a designated reader Present
instructions orally
 Allow for verbal responses Allow for answers to be dictated to a scribe Allow the use of a tape recorder to capture responses
Permit responses to be given via computer Permit answers to be recorded directly into test booklet
 Provide preferential seating Provide special lighting or acoustics Provide a space with minimal distractions Administer a test
in small group setting Administer a test in private room or alternative test site
 Allow frequent breaks Extend allotted time for a test
Test Scheduling
 Administer a test in several timed sessions or over several days Allow subtests to be taken in a different order Administer a
test at a specific time of day
 Provide special test preparation Provide on-task/focusing prompts Provide any reasonable accommodation that a student
needs that does not fit under the existing categories
Selecting and monitoring the effectiveness of accommodations should be an ongoing process, and changes (with the involvement of
students, parents and educators) should be made as often as needed. The key is to be sure that chosen accommodations address
students’ specific areas of need and facilitate the demonstration of skill and knowledge.
Strategies for Dealing with Dysgraphia
By: Regina G. Richards (1999)
A common teaching technique is to have the students write information to reinforce the material. For example, spelling programs
often encourage students to write each spelling word five times or 20 times. For many students, the kinesthetic process of writing
reinforces what is to be learned. However, for a small group of students, rather than reinforcing and consolidating information, the
process of writing actually interferes with learning. These students struggle to write and consequently spend much more time than
their peers on a writing assignment. Even so, they remember less: the act of writing greatly interferes with learning. Cognitively, so
much of their energy is spent on the process that they often do not learn or some times even process the content of what they are
working on. Some students with severe dysgraphia may actually complete a writing assignment and then have to reread it to determine
what they wrote, especially in a copying task or if they are focusing on neatness.
Educators expect students to learn from the process of writing, yet these students find that the process of writing actually interferes
with learning. How, then, can they adequately learn to use the process of writing to express their ideas?
Why does this occur?
Dysgraphia is a problem with the writing process. For these students, there is an underlying reason that their papers are messy or that
their speed is excessively fast or extremely slow. It is unfair to label them as poorly motivated, careless, lazy, or impulsive. While
these interpretations may be true on the surface, they are not the root of what is happening. The root for dysgraphia is actually found
within the processing system involved with sequencing, especially the motor movements which should be sequential and very
Students with dysgraphia need to develop both compensations and remediation strategies. Compensations are techniques to bypass the
problem and reduce the negative impact on learning. This is accomplished by avoiding the difficulty, changing the assignment
expectations, or using strategies to aid a particular aspect of the task. Compensations can also be termed bypass strategies or
accommodations, the latter term used more frequently in legal situations. Remediation provides additional structured practice or reteaching of the skill or concept using specialized techniques to match the student's processing style and need.
The astute teacher or parent must first determine the point at which the student becomes confused or begins to struggle. Does it begin
as soon as the student starts to write? Is it halfway through the paragraph? Is it when the student tries to think about more complex
ideas rather than just write a sentence or perform a copying task? When these determinations are made, it is important to identify
which components of the task cause the confusions and/or struggles. Is it the use of manuscript, or the use of cursive? Is it the process
of dealing with mechanics while writing? Is it the process of trying to think and plan while writing?
Remedial strategies
It is critical that students do not totally avoid the process of writing, no matter how severe their dysgraphia. Writing is an important
life skill necessary for signing documents, filling out forms, writing checks, taking telephone messages or writing a grocery list.
Therefore, students need to be able to write, even if they cannot maintain writing for long periods of time.
Young students should receive remediation in letter form, automaticity, and fluency. They need specific
multisensory techniques that encourage them to verbalize the motor sequences of the form of letters (for example, b is
big stick down, circle away from my body). Students should also use large air writing to develop a more efficient motor
memory for the sequence of steps necessary in making each letter. This is because air writing causes students to use
many more muscles than they use when writing with a pencil. Multisensory techniques should be utilized for teaching
both manuscript and cursive writing. The techniques need to be practiced substantially so that the letters are fairly
automatic before the student is asked to use these skills to communicate ideas.
Some students may be able to copy and write single sentences with a fair degree of ease, but they struggle
tremendously with paragraph writing. These students will need to be taught techniques that enable them to perform
each subpart prior to pulling together all the parts. Substantial modeling will be necessary at each stage for the student
to be successful. For example, when writing a paragraph students can be taught the following eight steps:
Think about your ideas and elaborate on each part of the ideas.
Organize the ideas you want to express. This type of organization is easily performed using visual graphic organizers. For
example, you can create a mind map so that the main idea is placed in a circle in the center of the page and supporting facts
are written on lines coming out of the main circle, similar to the arms of a spider or spokes on a wheel. Many visual organizer
formats can be used, with different formats appropriate for different situations.
Analyze your graphic organizer to determine if you included all of your ideas. If you have difficulty with spelling, make a list
of the more difficult or important words you may want to include in your writing. Having this reference list will help your
writing flow more because you will not have to stop to think of how to spell the big words.
Now, write a draft of your paragraph (or paper), focusing on the content or ideas. If you have a computer, it is best if you
type your draft directly on the keyboard. This will make it much easier to proofread and revise.
Proof and editing: you will need specific techniques and strategies to proofread your paper, checking for appropriate use of
punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. Then use a spell checker to fix your spelling.
Revise your paragraph, incorporating the corrections you determined above.
Proofread your paragraph again, editing and revising if necessary.
Develop a final product, either in typed or written form.
An easy way to remember these steps is to think of the word POWER.
P - plan your paper (step 1)
O - organize your thoughts and ideas (steps 2 and 3)
W - write your draft (step 4)
E - edit your work (steps 5, 6, and 7)
R - revise your work, producing a final draft (step 8)
The student may need substantial modeling at each stage to be successful.
Some dysgraphic students have great difficulty with spelling, especially if sequencing is a major issue for them. Additionally, many
dysgraphic students experience dyslexia, a sequential processing problem that affects reading and spelling. These students need very
specific remedial assistance in learning to spell phonetically. It is critical that they are able to represent unknown words using good
phonetic equivalences. If they are able to spell logically and phonetically, they will be able to use a phonetically-based spell checker,
such as a spell checker in one of the Franklin resource products. These handheld devices recognize words using phonetic logic rather
than relying on the orthographic sequence, as do most spell checkers on a computer word processing program. The sidebar below
presents a poem this author found on the Internet which exemplifies why a computer spell checker may not be sufficient for some
students with spelling struggles.
A little poem regarding computer spell checkers…
Eye halve a spelling chequer It came with my pea sea It plainly marques four my revue Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word And weight four it two say Weather eye am wrong oar write It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid It nose bee fore two long And eye can put the error rite Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it I am shore your pleased two no Its letter perfect awl the weigh My chequer tolled me sew.
(author unknown; obtained from Internet)
Another vital aspect of remedial assistance that is especially important for young children, involves the student's pencil grip. Students
should be helped and encouraged to use a consistent and efficient pencil grip right from the beginning of their writing experience. The
distance from the student's finger to the pencil point should consistently be between 3/4"-1". Pressure on the pencil should be
moderate, not too heavy and not too light. The angle of the pencil should be approximately 45% with the page and slanted toward the
student's writing arm. The long edge of the student's paper and his writing arm should be parallel, like railroad tracks. With some
young students, pencil habits can be changed to a more appropriate form by using a plastic pencil grip (many of which are on the
market in a variety of shapes and formats), It is much easier and more efficient to encourage students at the very beginning of their
writing experience to develop these appropriate habits through frequent modeling and positive feedback. Older students who have
developed firm habits, even if the habits are not efficient, find that it is very time consuming to make changes. Therefore, when
making a decision on adapting a student's habits, it is extremely important to consider the time/energy ratio. Is it worth the amount of
time necessary to make the change to help the student be more efficient? If not, it is critical to make sure the student has efficient and
automatic compensatory strategies.
Many students with dysgraphia are extremely slow in their writing performances. When this is the case, it is critical to determine what
is causing the slowness. Is it the formulation of ideas? or the organization of ideas? If so, more work needs to be done on preorganization strategies and this student's language formulation skills need to be thoroughly assessed by a speech and language
pathologist. Is the student's slowness a result of slowness in actually making the letters? If this is the case, the student needs much
more remedial practice in forming letters independently, without having to think about content. This should be done using
multisensory techniques, including saying the letter and/or the sequence of movements while writing the letter; using large air writing
techniques (writing the letter in the air using two fingers, with wrist and elbow fairly straight, though not rigid); writing letters in
texture, such as on fine sandpaper or in pudding; and writing large letters using a squirt bottle of colored water against an outside wall.
Some students struggle with writing and become readily fatigued with the process of writing because of their inefficient pencil grip
and poor motor sequencing. Many times an occupational therapist, especially one using a sensory integration philosophy, can help in
the remedial process with such students. There are also temporary remedial techniques a teacher or parent can use as warm-ups or as a
writing break. Some suggestions for helping relieve stress and relaxing the writing hand follow. Students can perform any of these for
about 10 seconds before writing or in the middle of writing.
Shake hands fast, but not violently.
Rub hands together and focus on the feeling of warmth.
Rub hands on the carpet in circles (or, if wearing clothing with some mild texture, rub hands on thighs, close to knees)
Use the thumb of the dominant hand to click the top of a ballpoint pen while holding it in that hand. Repeat using the index
Perform sitting pushups by placing each palm on the chair with fingers facing forward. Students push down on their hands,
lifting their body slightly off the chair.
Compensatory strategies
The overall goal of compensations is to help the student perform more automatically and still participate in and benefit from the
writing task. The goal is to allow the student to go around the problem so that she can then focus more completely on the content.
Some example strategies include:
Understanding-Understand the student's inconsistencies and performance variabilities.
Print or cursive-Allow the student to use either form. Many dysgraphic students are more comfortable with manuscript
If getting started is a problem, encourage pre-organization strategies, such as use of graphic organizers.
Computer-Encourage student to become comfortable using a word processor on a computer. Students can be taught as early
as 1st grade to type sentences directly on the keyboard. In doing so, do not eliminate handwriting for the child: handwriting is
still important but computer skills will be invaluable for longer and important tasks.
For older students, encourage use of a speech recognition program combined with the word processor so the student can
dictate his papers rather than type them. This increases speed and efficiency and allows the student to focus more completely
on complex thoughts and ideas.
Encourage consistent use of spell checker to decrease the overall demands of the writing task and encourage students to wait
until the end to worry about spelling.
Encourage use of an electronic resource such as the spell check component in a Franklin Language Master® to further
decrease the demands. If student has concurrent reading problems, a Language Master® with a speaking component is most
helpful because it will read/say the words. This author prefers the Language Master 6000 because of its large font size and
speech clarity.
Do not count off for poor spelling on first drafts, in-class assignments, or on tests. However, depending on age, student may
be held responsible for spelling in final drafts completed at home.
Have student proofread papers after a delay, using a checklist of the points to check. If students proofread immediately
after writing, they may read what they intended rather than what was actually written.
If necessary, shorten writing assignments.
Allow extra time for writing activities.
Note taking: Provide student with copy of completed notes (perhaps through a note taking buddy who can use carbon paper)
to fill in missing parts of his own notes.
Note taking: provide a partially completed outline so the student can fill in the details under major headings. As a variety,
provide the details and have student fill in headings while listening.
Allow student to tape record important assignments and/or take oral tests.
Staging: have students complete tasks in logical steps or increments instead of all at once.
Prioritization: stress or de-emphasize certain task components during a complex activity. For example, students can focus on
using descriptive words in one assignment, and in another, focus on using compound sentences. Also, design assignments to
be evaluated on specific parts of the writing process (prioritization).
Remove neatness as a grading criteria, except on computer-generated papers.
Reduce copying aspects of tasks, such as providing a math worksheet rather than requiring student to copy problems from
the book. A copying buddy can be helpful in copying the problems using carbon paper.
Have younger students use large graph paper for math calculation to keep columns and rows straight. Older student may use
loose leaf paper turned sideways to help maintain straight columns.
Allow and encourage use of abbreviations for in-class writing assignments (such as b/4 for "before" or b/c for "because").
Have the student keep a list of appropriate abbreviations in his note book and taped to his desk for easy reference. Begin with
only a few and increase as the first few become automatic.
Reinforce the positive aspects of student's efforts.
Be patient.
Encourage student to be patient with himself.
A note on creativity
Dysgraphia does not have to limit creativity, as identified by the sample below composed on a computer by a 12-year-old dyslexic and
dysgraphic student.
First draft of creative story as typed by 12-year-old student:
the way I descride a bumby ride is like wothgan mowtsarts mowsek. eshe bumby rowd is like a song. Eshe bumb is the a note
eche uncon at the sam time ste is. that was the mewstere to mowts mowsuk it was vare metereus and unperdekdable.So the
next time you drive down a bumby theak of mowtsart.
Same story. Student read to teacher using his draft:
"The way I describe a bumpy ride is like Wolfgang Mozart's music. Each bumpy road is like a song. Each bump in the road is
a note. Each bump is uncontrolled at the same time it still is controlled. That was the magic to Mozart's music. It was very
mysterious and unpredictable. So the next time you drive down a bumpy road think of Mozart."
A note regarding development of word processing skills
Many dysgraphic students have difficulty with correct fingering in keyboarding skills. However, it is important to expose students to
the correct fingering to develop quick visual locating skills for letters on the keyboard, ideally without having to look each time. One
important strategy is to have the student practice keyboarding skills approximately 10 minutes a day (this can be part of a homework
assignment). The student should use a variety of child-oriented typing tutor programs and work to develop appropriate skills to the
best of her ability. At the same time, whenever the student types for ideas or content, whether a word, a sentence or a whole
paragraph, she should be allowed to use whatever fingering she wants. Eventually, the goal is for the student to automatically
incorporate at least some correct keyboard fingering when typing content. This author has seen dysgraphic students use a combination
of correct keyboard fingering with their own style and reach typing speeds of 60 wpm. With this degree of speed and efficiency, it is
unnecessary to force a student to use standard keyboarding techniques. However, many students do begin to use the correct
techniques, as this is often much more efficient. However, if practice with correct fingering is avoided or not used frequently enough,
the student will never have the opportunity to incorporate the correct skills.
Acosta, Simone and Richards, Regina G. "Cursive Writing: A Multisensory Approach," in 1999 So. California Consortium Resource
Directory, International Dyslexia Association,
Franklin Electronic Publishers, 800/BOOKMAN
Levine, Melvin D. Developmental Variation and Learning Disorders, 2nd ed.,
Levine, Melvin D. Educational Care: A System for Understanding and Helping Children with Learning Problems at Home and in
Levine, Melvin D. Keeping A Head in School,
Richards, Regina G. When Writing's a Problem, Riverside, CA: RET Center Press,, rev. 1999.
LD OnLine exclusive
©2008 WETA. All Rights Reserved.
Strategies for the Reluctant Writer
By: Regina G. Richards (2002)
There are many reasons why students may be reluctant to write. Some reasons include dysgraphia, boredom, poor knowledge of the
necessary subskills, and/or lack of interest in the topic.
There are many subskills involved in the writing task and it is important for students to be able to use each of these as automatically as
possible. These need to be explicitly taught and will be described more extensively below.
Students who struggle with writing generally dislike practicing writing; however, this is exactly what they need. Sometimes students
are just bored because they are used to the fast-paced stimuli of television and video games. Whatever the reason, it is important to be
creative and incorporate fun and excitement into students' writing activities. A few examples for incorporating fun in writing activities
include the following:
Encourage the students to visualize the situation, action, or a specific character
Have students role-play the situation prior to organizing the information to be included
Provide a humorous word or phrase that the students will use and have them "play" with the meaning of that word
Encourage students to draw their ideas prior to organizing the words and phrases
Create a silly situation and have students verbally elaborate upon what might happen next
Encourage student to compose a song that describes the same events
Encourage students' creativity
The subskills for writing
The process of writing is a complex activity and requires juggling a great many components. In his book, Keeping A Head In School,
Dr. Mel Levine includes a picture of a student juggling a large number of balls (2.) Each ball represents one of the many subskills
necessary for writing. Writing does indeed require a juggling and coordination of many skills at the same time. The more automatic
each subskill is, the easier it will be for the students to incorporate it with other subskills.
A process approach
Writing should be approached as a
process. After selecting the topic, the
students need to consider five basic
activities. These basic subtasks are:
 Preplanning and organizing
 Writing the draft
 Proofing (looking for errors)
and rewriting
 Editing (elaborate and
enhancing the content) and
 Writing the final
At each level, students need substantial
explicit instruction and modeling,
followed by a great deal of practice
before the step will become automatic.
For some students it is helpful to divide
the preplanning and organizing step into
two different activities.
If students enjoy using mnemonics such as a keyword to remember the steps (for example, an acronym), an easy way to remember the
basic subtasks for writing is to remember the word power. Each letter in the word serves as a reminder for a different step:
P - Plan the paper
O - Organize the ideas and elaborations
W - Write the draft
E - Edit the draft: look for errors
R - Revise the paper & enhance
Preplanning and organizing
Preplanning is perhaps the most important activity within the writing task. For some students it is also the most difficult, especially if
they experience any sort of learning difference.
Many students do well if they can visually organize their ideas. There are a variety of visual organizer strategies that can be used, the
most common of which is sometimes called mind mapping or clustering. In creating a mind map the central idea is placed in the
middle or center, and the supporting facts are connected to the main idea in a specific format, as in the example above.
The visual organizer can be arranged for different purposes. An example of categories is shown. Some students may enjoy creating
their mind map directly on a computer and these students can use software such as Kidspiration(3) or Inspiration(4.) The advantage of
this software is that it allows the student to convert the mind map directly into a traditional outline format.
Some students may have difficulty thinking of the vocabulary word or words they want to use while writing. Other students have
difficulty with spelling. When writing, these students tend to simplify their word usage. To help deal with this issue, it is useful to
encourage the students to brainstorm and think about the important or key vocabulary words they may wish to use prior to writing.
They can then make a list of these words so that they are readily available during the process of writing.
Students who struggle with spelling often become frustrated when attempting to express their ideas in writing. It is especially valuable
for these students to list some of the key words prior to starting. This way they will be able to write with greater fluency of ideas
because they will not become "stuck" trying to think of how to spell a specific word. These students need to learn to be able to sound
out words efficiently so that they can spell them with good phonetic logic. This will enhance their ability to read their own writing and
will also allow them the opportunity to use an electronic spell checker that works on phonetic principles, such as the Franklin
Language Master (5.) This author's personal preference for such students is the Language Master 6000b because of its large font size
and good speech clarity. Because the Franklin recognizes words phonetically, students can input words using logic about the way they
sound. The Franklin will then help them match the phonetic spelling to the traditional spelling. The use of a speaking component
provides multisensory input and also helps decrease the student's confusion in reading similar looking words. The process of decisionmaking (in selecting the correct choice) helps reinforce the correct spelling of the word. The Franklin can also be used to compensate
for sequencing problems in dictionary work.
The proofing component
Proofreading is a very important component and is one that is often difficult for students. There are two main issues involved: the
student must be familiar with the necessary skills and the student must have enough active working memory strength to be able to use
the skills within the task of writing.
Some of the necessary subskills that must be taught are as follows:
Sentence structure
Subject verb agreement
Verb tense consistency
Sentence Structure
Overall format
LEARN: Playful Strategies for All Students, p. 91
Each basic subskill should be taught
independently and practiced a great deal prior to expecting students to use and incorporate it within their writing. For example,
students may begin with basic declarative sentences to practice using a period before moving on to other types of punctuation.
Mnemonics can be very useful to help students remember the steps they need to focus on during the editing process. Use of an
acronym will also remind the students to check for each step independently. An acronym is a sequence of letters that may or may not
form a word, wherein each letter represents one of the steps to be remembered. Different acronyms are available depending on the
focus needed by the student. A common example is COPS(6.) Others may prefer STOPS(7) or C-SOOP(8.)
Writing for a purpose
Very few, if any, students enjoy writing "just because". This is especially true if they consider the assignment boring or useless.
However, it is very important for students to practice writing because it is through practice that students will begin to use a generalized
their skills. Students will be more enthused about writing if they are writing for a purpose.
Persuasive writing
One type of activity to encourage students to write for a purpose is persuasive writing. Persuasive writing is also important because it
helps students develop the skill of supporting their ideas and elaborating upon them by explaining them clearly and thoroughly. The
topic for persuasive writing will depend upon the age of the student. The criteria is that the topic chosen should be one that encourages
the student to development strong feelings.
Some examples for younger students include:
Why we should be allowed to bring stuffed toys to school
Why we should have recess every hour
Some examples for older students include:
Having greater food choices in the school cafeteria
Having school on Saturdays
Being allowed to chew gum in school
When encouraging persuasive writing, it is important to help students separate opinion and fact and also to help them learn to
recognize unsupported generalities, for example, making bold claims and empty promises without supporting them with facts. To
support this development, encourage students to analyze ads from magazines and newspapers. They can discuss the propaganda
techniques that are used, focusing on how advertisers use these techniques to get messages across quickly and in small amounts of
Activities involved with analyzing advertisements can also be utilized to support development of abstract or figurative language.
Many advertisers use the "play on words" to attract attention. As students become more aware of language flexibility, they can be
encouraged to be more flexible in their own writing patterns.
Some examples of advertisements that can be analyzed for "play on words" include:
A pizza shop slogan - 7 days without pizza makes one weak
On the door of a plastic surgeon's office - Hello. Can we pick your nose?
In a non-smoking area - if we see smoke, we will assume you are under fire and act accordingly
Creative writing with computer graphics
Students with learning differences who struggle with writing may be very frustrated because they have many creative ideas that they
wish to express in a story format. Other students who struggle may have difficulty thinking of ideas. Both types of students benefit by
using computer software that encourages them to add graphics, color, and other fun aspects to their story. If the student struggles with
spelling, it will be important to provide enough assistance so that the spelling problems do not interfere with the student's ideation and
creativity. The goal of the activity is to encourage the student to express ideas fluently using a written format. Some software
suggestions are listed in the references (9.)
When should a student use word processing
Word processing facilitates proofreading and editing activities because it eliminates the need for rewriting the paper. It is
recommended as a strategy for older students when dealing with longer and/or more complex writing assignments. It is also valuable
for younger students who struggle with writing and/or who become fatigued with the process of writing using a pencil or pen.
However, caution is advised not to totally eliminate the process of writing with a pencil because this is an important life skill that will
be needed throughout life for many different daily activities.
To help develop keyboarding skills to an automatic level, frequency and consistency of practice are imperative. There are very few
students who can learn to type efficiently by only practicing one time a week, even if that practice session lasts an hour. It is much
more efficient to practice on a daily basis for five or 10 minutes. A short practice session that is repeated on a very consistent basis
will have much more benefit for students than a long boring practice session once a week.
It is also valuable to use a variety of typing tutor programs, as this helps decrease boredom. Among this author's favorites are the
various versions of Type to Learn(10, 11, 12.) When should a student use voice-activated software
Voice-activated software such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 can be especially helpful within the writing process for students who
have difficulty with the mechanical aspects of writing and written expression. However, there are several necessary prerequisites that
must be in place before a student will be successful in using voice-activated software. Some of these are listed below:
The student must reorganize the information in advance
The student must be able to state the phrases and sentences fairly fluently, without using filler words such as "um" or "uh"
The student must speak clearly without excessive slurring of words
The student must have a basic understanding of word processing procedures
It is strongly recommended that the student use the voice-activated program along with the keyboard. This technique is more
Multisensory and the student has feedback so that corrections can be made more efficiently. The newer versions of many of these
programs include a correction device wherein the student can hear what was originally said. This feature is extremely useful in
correcting misinterpretations.
In summary
Encourage students to practice writing
Ensure that students have the appropriate subskills
Encourage students to use a staging or process approach
Encourage students to have fun with their writing
Encourage students to double check that their writing communicates their message effectively
Other useful information
Lavoie, Richard. How Difficult Can This Be? - FAT City (video) (LD OnLine Store)
Marguiles, Nancy, Maal, Nusa, Wheatley, Margaret J. Mapping Inner Space: Learning and Teaching Visual Mapping
Richards, Regina G. LEARN: Playful Strategies for All Learners ( or (
Richards, Regina G. Memory Foundations for Reading: Visual Mnemonics for Sound/Symbol Relationships ( or
Richards, Regina G. The Source for Dyslexia and Dysgraphia (
Richards, Regina G. When Writing's a Problem (
Richards, Regina G. and Richards, Eli I. Eli, the boy who hated to write: understanding dysgraphia ( or ISBN: 0966135334
Schumm, Jeanne Shay. School Power: Study Skill Strategies for Succeeding in School (
Sonneman, Milly R. Beyond Words: A Guide to Drawing Out Ideas (
Tarquin, Patti, Walker, Sharon. Creating Success in the Classroom: Visual Organizers and How to Use Them (
Levine, Melvin. Keeping A Head in School: A Student's Book about Learning Abilities and Learning Disabilities
( or ISBN: 0838820697
Kidspiration (Available at the LD OnLine Store) for visual organizers; grades K-3
Inspiration (Available at the LD OnLine Store) for creating visual organizers for grades 6 to adult
Franklin Electronic Publishers (
Deshler, Don, et al. Teaching Adolescents with Learning Strategies and Methods. Denver, CO; Love Publishing, 1996
Richards, R.G. LEARN: Playful Strategies for All Students, pages 90-91 ( or
Ibid., pages 90-91
Software Suggestions:
EasyBook deluxe ( creative writing and drawing program for grades 3 to 8
KidWorks deluxe ( for grades PreK to 4; multimedia creativity word processor and paint
Sunbuddy Writer (, easy-to-use picture and word processor; grades K to 2
Type to Learn 3 (; keyboarding grades 3 and up
10. Type to Learn Jr. (; keyboarding grades K to 2
11. Type to Learn Jr.: new keys for kids (; keyboarding grades 1 to 3
12. Dragon NaturallySpeaking ( or
About the author
Regina G. Richards, MA, an educational therapist in Riverside California, is founder and former director of Richards Educational
Therapy Center & Big Springs School, agencies which provide multidisciplinary evaluations and treatment programs for students with
language learning disabilities. She has authored a variety of journal articles and books on visual development, reading, dyslexia, and
dysgraphia. She was president of the Inland Empire Branch of IDA for three terms, editor of IDA California Consortium's Resource
Directory for 7 years, and remains an active IDA board member. She is President of RET Center Press at and
can be reached at [email protected].
By Regina G. Richards, MA Educational Therapist, Riverside CA February 2002
©2008 WETA. All Rights Reserved.
Seven Facts About Learning Disabilities and Written Expression
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Many people with learning disabilities (LD) struggle with written expression. For students with dysgraphia, the act of writing is
difficult. Those with dyslexia often have serious difficulties with spelling. Also vulnerable are students who have weaknesses in areas
such as vocabulary, reading and listening comprehension, word retrieval and information processing deficits. And dyspraxia—a
disorder that affects fine-motor skills and often co-occurs with LD—may also impact the physical act of writing. What do parents
need to know to help their child with LD succeed in writing? Here are top-level findings from experts Dr. Steve Graham and Dr.
Karen Harris.
How can parents tell if a school’s writing program is effective? In addition to providing accommodations and modifications for
students with LD, a balanced, comprehensive writing curricula should include explicit teaching of critical writing skills, processes and
knowledge as well as less formal techniques like teacher-student conferences and peer-to-peer editing. Students should have
opportunities to learn about and practice different genres of writing (e.g., stories, reports, letters, persuasive writing, etc.) and share
their writing with others.
One research-validated approach to teaching writing to students with LD is Self-Regulated Strategy Development for Writing (SRSD).
Teachers using SRSD guide students through a process that includes:
Developing and activating students’ background knowledge Discussion of students’ current abilities and self-regulation abilitie
Explicit teaching and memorization of strategies Closely working with the teacher for support at early stages of writing Finally,
independent performance with teacher support only as necessary
To learn more about SRSD, check out the book Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students, watch this video of SRSD in action from
Vanderbilt University, and visit Dr. Robert Reid’s website on strategies instruction.
A common stumbling block in writing for students with LD is organization: keeping track of materials (e.g., note cards, research
books) and in structuring/organizing an argument to support a thesis. Students need explicit models of support, such as the one offered
by SRSD, to keep them on track.
It often takes a child with LD twice as long (or more) as other students to simply copy a piece of writing. Tasks like copying from the
board may be less appropriate for students with writing LD. Also, when planning accommodations like extended time for testing, keep
a student’s handwriting speed in mind.
Assistive technology is increasingly opening doors to fluent writing for students with LD. Access to simple word processing software
may be helpful to students who struggle with handwriting. Software with word prediction and screen reading capabilities is a powerful
tool for many students. The advent of portable keyboards and mobile apps allow people to use these tools anywhere. Talk to your
child’s teachers and other LD professionals about what assistive technology tools might be most appropriate, and make sure your
child’s IEP or 504 plan addresses assistive technology needs.
Many students with LD lack self-confidence in writing. Parents and teachers can help rebuild young writers’ confidence by teaching
and developing writing strategies and self-monitoring the use of these strategies. Once a child sees that they have produced successful
writing, they will be more motivated in the future. Parents can help by creating a homework environment that is supportive, pleasant,
and low-risk. If not offered by the classroom teacher, consider providing incentives to encourage your child to do additional writing
practice at home.
As with other types of LD, early intervention for dysgraphia and dyslexia—LDs that especially impact writing—is important. Students
who have speech and language difficulties are another group at-risk for writing problems. Young children who have unusual difficulty
learning to write the letters of the alphabet should be monitored closely.
Are you concerned that you or your child may be displaying signs of a writing learning disability? Review our dysgraphia warning
signs for Pre K–Grade 2, Grades 3–8, Grades 9–12, and college students and adults. Visit our Interactive Checklist of LD Signs and
Symptoms for more information on learning disability warning signs in all areas of development and learning.
Common Warning Signs of Dysgraphia in Children in Grades 3–8
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. Is
your child is having trouble with the physical act of writing or putting thoughts down on paper? If so, the following list of common
warning signs of dysgraphia in children in grades 3–8 may help you to more clearly identify the specific areas of concern and seek
help to address these problems.
Everyone struggles with learning at times, although learning disabilities such as dysgraphia will persist over time. If your child has
displayed any of the signs below for at least the past six months, it may be time to seek help from your child’s school or other
And because some of the “symptoms” listed below also apply to other types of learning disabilities and/or to AttentionDeficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which often co-exist, you may want to review our more comprehensive Interactive Learning
Disabilities Checklist.
For at Least the Past Six Months, My Child Has Had Trouble
Gripping a pencil comfortably when writing or drawing. Writing neatly, evenly, and legibly. Using either printed or cursive (or mixing
the two styles). Leaving consistent spacing between letters and words. Writing on a line or within margins. Copying letters and
numbers neatly and accurately. Spelling even familiar words correctly. Being consistent in spelling. Writing/printing neatly and
without a lot of cross-outs and erasures Expressing written ideas in an organized way. Preparing outlines and organizing written work.
Writing without saying the words aloud. Thinking of words to write. Remembering to use all the words he intends to in his written
work. Focusing on the meaning of what he writes; (because of the physical demands during writing) Maintaining energy and easy
posture when writing/drawing.
Aligning numbers correctly when doing math problems.
Being motivated and confident about writing. Taking pride in written work.
If your child displays several of these warning signs, talk with a professional right away. Use a printed copy of this article—marked
with the warning signs that apply to your child—to start the discussion with your child’s teachers or other professionals. By seeking
proper identification and support in a timely way, your child will soon be on track for success in school and in life.
Common Warning Signs of Dysgraphia in Children in Grades 9–12
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Has your teenager always struggled with written expression? Is his or her written work messy, disorganized and incomplete? If the
answer is “yes”, review the following list of common warning signs of dysgraphia in high school students. Dysgraphia is a learning
disability (LD) that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information-processing skills.
Most people struggle with learning at times, but learning disabilities are different—they may affect performance differently
throughout a person’s school years and beyond, but what they share in common is that they persist over time. Dysgraphia is no
different. If your child has displayed any of the signs below for at least the past six months, it may be time to seek help from the
school or other professionals. Be sure to think back about writing-related challenges your child may have had in preschool and
elementary school and share that information (and even work samples if available) when you reach out for help.
Also, be aware that some of the signs listed below also apply to other types of learning disabilities and/or to Attention
Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which often co-exist. You may want to review out more comprehensive Interactive Learning
Disabilities Checklist to clarify your concerns.
For at Least the Past Six Months, My Child Has Had Trouble
Gripping a pencil comfortably when writing or drawing. Writing neatly, evenly and legibly. Writing on a line or within margins.
Copying letters and numbers neatly and accurately. Spelling even familiar words correctly. Using correct syntax structure and
grammar. Expressing written ideas in an organized way. Preparing outlines and organizing written work. Turning ideas spoken aloud
into a written format. Thinking of words to write and then remembering to write them down. Focusing on the meaning of what he
writes; (because of the physical demands during writing) Maintaining energy and easy posture when writing/drawing.
Aligning numbers correctly when doing math problems.
Feeling motivated and confident about writing. Taking pride in written work. Responding appropriately to teasing or criticism by
peers and adults who don't understand “messy, incomplete and disorganized” writing.
Don't hesitate to seek help if your teenager displays several of these warning signs. Print out this article, check off the items that apply
to your child, and take the list to the educators or other professionals who you seek advice from about your child. The good news is
that with proper identification and support, your teenager will be better able to succeed in school, the workplace and in life.
Common Warning Signs of Dysgraphia in College Students and Adults
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Have you always had a difficult time with writing—the physical act of using a pen and pencil during writing or conveying your ideas
in written formats? Or, do you know someone who might struggle with written expression? If so, you’ll want to know about a learning
disability (LD) called Dysgraphia, a specific learning disability that affects writing.
Most people struggle with some aspect of learning at times, but learning disabilities such as dysgraphia persist over time. If you’ve
struggled with several of the challenges described below for at least the past six months, it may be time to seek help from a
professional. Dysgraphia affects people differently at different ages and challenges will depend on the nature and complexity of the
writing task. For that reason, be sure to think back about writing-related challenges you’ve struggled with over the years.
Some of the writing-related difficulties listed below also apply to other types of learning disabilities and/or to AttentionDeficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) LD and ADHD often co-exist, so you may want to review our more comprehensive
Interactive Learning Disabilities Checklist to better identify your specific concerns.
For at Least the Past Six Months, I’ve Had Trouble
Gripping a pencil comfortably when writing or drawing. Writing neatly, evenly and legibly. Spelling even familiar words correctly.
Using correct syntax structure and grammar. Expressing my written ideas in an organized way. Preparing outlines and organizing
written work. Transferring into writing the ideas and understanding I easily convey when speaking. Thinking of words to write and
then remembering to write them down. Keeping track of words I’ve already written. Focusing on the meaning of what I write; the act
of writing drains my mental energy. Maintaining energy and comfortable posture when writing.
Aligning numbers correctly when doing math problems or manual accounting calculations.
Feeling motivated and confident about writing. Taking pride in my written work. Responding appropriately to teasing or criticism by
peers, instructors, and supervisors who don’t understand “messy, incomplete and disorganized” writing.
If you regularly struggle with several of these warning signs (and you may have struggled with them for years), seek help now! There
are strategies and technological tools that can be helpful to those with dysgraphia. Print out this article, check off the warning signs
that describe you, and take the list to the professional(s) who you consult. The good news is that with proper identification and
support, you’ll be better able to succeed in college, the workplace and in life. The self-knowledge you gain may bring you great hope
and relief—and restore the self-confidence about writing you’ve lacked for years!
How to Evaluate Dysgraphia: FAQs Answered
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------We asked our lively Facebook community to ask us questions about dysgraphia, a learning disability (LD) that affects writing. The
following expert answers from Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD will help you understand exactly what dysgraphia is and if it might be the
cause for your child’s difficulties with written expression.
Shouldn’t there be a national test given to all school children to help find those that need extra help?
It may not be in the best interest of children to have them tested for signs of dysgraphia separate from the other types of assessments
they are already receiving. Sure, if a child struggles with getting thoughts down on paper, has trouble copying, fatigues easily during
these types of tasks, etc., a closer look is warranted. But a “national test” is not the answer. A better approach is to work with teachers
and others to figure out the true nature of the problem. Is speed an issue or is writing troublesome regardless of pace? Is writing
numbers problematic or is the problem mostly with written narrative? Is this a problem with pencil/pen use or with a keyboard as
well? You get the idea.
Why don’t states recognize dysgraphia as a learning disability?
They do… but they may not refer to it by this “clinical” term. Characteristics of specific learning disabilities under IDEA are:
“A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written.
The disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.”
So whether or not the word “dysgraphia” is used by states in their regulations and implementation of special education services,
dysgraphia is there and needs to be addressed.
What testing is available to determine if a child has dysgraphia? Our school system says that they have no test. They used a
dyslexia test to determine that he does not have dysgraphia and then said he is not eligible for any services. I am pretty sure that
they should not handle it like this, but don’t know what to do.
Using a test for dyslexia to determine whether a child has dysgraphia? Hmmm… Why not share some very specific information about
dysgraphia and then ask them for help figuring out why your child struggles to ________________ (here’s where you insert details
that pertain to your child). If copying from the board frustrates him, if his writing is slow and labored or hard to decipher, if he
struggles to organize his thoughts and get them on paper/screen… whatever specific issues he is having, ask that they help discover a
reason and a solution. Is it necessary for them to identify him as a child with dysgraphia? Not really, but they do need to come up with
ways to address his struggle. Perhaps helping them zero in on some of the skills not addressed on the dyslexia screening they used will
change their mind about his eligibility for support. And if special education (through an IEP) is a dead end, going with a 504 plan
could be a fine option!
My 12 year old with ADHD tested at age six with a high IQ. He is a terrible speller and when it comes to writing, forget it. He has
trouble putting his thoughts down on paper, but he can present orally very well. Every time I ask the school to retest him for a learning
disability (he was last tested three years ago), they print out scores of his standardized tests and show me how well he does. I know he
does well (above average in most areas and average in others), but he still struggles in class. He is two years behind due to being held
back in his early school years. I need to know what to do so he can be tested and get whatever help is needed in school. I am very
worried about how his writing problems will affect him once he begins to take higher-level classes.
Good for you for pressing for clarity. Does the school believe that kids with high IQs can’t possibly have LD? Or that kids need to fail
before they are provided services and supports? What happens when the workload becomes overbearing and he can’t rely on his good
verbal skills and sharp (but increasingly taxed) memory? If you have not requested that your child be re-evaluated for suspected
learning disabilities, in writing, you might continue to get push back.
Perhaps the best approach is to request that the school help your child become a better speller/writer before he gets too far along and
chance that weaknesses in these very skills will penalize him as he engages in higher level classes. (A teacher in an honors or
Advanced Placement class must offer appropriate accommodations and supports for students identified with LD, but is not obligated
to do so for students without documentation that supports this special need). If they don’t know what specific help to provide, well,
perhaps some targeted testing is in order! Check the Resource Locator for places you can turn for help in your state or local area.
What are some classic characteristics? Do you have a visual representation that you could post if we needed to compare a piece of
writing in question?
Sorry, but no. There is no template for dysgraphia to help say definitively that a person has this LD. Think about the handwriting of all
the people you know. Some people have beautiful letter formation, others write in a quirky and stylized manner, and some
handwriting is just a mess. Is lovely handwriting always easiest to read? (Not if you are not familiar with the style or alphabet they are
using.) Is the message always legible? (People with dysgraphia can often read what they write, but need to be reminded of the task or
assignment.) As important as form and legibility is the process and effort needed to engage in tasks of written expression. And the
characteristics of dysgraphia change over time, with exposure to different types of information, experience negotiating different types
of demands, and with practice.
It seems that my son developed dysgraphia around the time he was six years old. It has gotten better but still lingers. I have
several related questions: Can dysgraphia come on suddenly? Can dysgraphia get better/worse? How is dysgraphia related to
anxiety/depression? Can dysgraphia go away completely? Is it beneficial or detrimental to my son’s development to encourage
typing on the computer as an alternative to handwriting?
Suddenly? He probably was showing signs before age six, but it really didn’t matter much until he skipped through those schoolhouse
doors. Dysgraphia is not an isolated disorder and because there are many types of demands placed upon those who struggle with
writing, there are likely going to be times when it seems like “it” is getting worse. It can also look like its getting better if he is
provided with strategies and tools to organize and implement tasks that demand his having to tap this area of weakness. It’s not likely
to “go away”, but it doesn’t have to be a black cloud that threatens his success in school and in other settings.
Typing is a fabulous and often highly effective option to alleviate the mechanical aspects of writing that effect performance, and with
other tools (spell check, word-fill-in, voice-to-text) there is every reason to believe that he will not be held back by his dysgraphia.
Visit our Assistive Technology section for more on helpful software, apps and other technology resources to help your son with
written expression.
When testing is done, how much of a discrepancy does there have to be between WIAT and WISC scores to qualify for a
dysgraphia diagnosis according to the DSM?
The DSM does not demand that there be a discrepancy between scores on academic and cognitive measures. In fact, there is no
scientific evidence to support the use of a discrepancy model. If high-quality instruction and progress monitoring has not taken place,
scores add nothing to the determination of LD. The better question might be: given the data (normative, cumulative, targeted,
anecdotal…), are we confident that this child qualifies for a “diagnosis” or “classification” of LD?
Is dysgraphia a yes/no diagnosis? My kids can write fairly effectively sometimes, but not in most cases. Typing helps, but that’s
hard to do on a math worksheet.
Let’s frame that question a little differently. Can you imagine asking whether “asthma” was a yes/no diagnosis? Some kids with
asthma have trouble negotiating stairs, others are fine unless they over-exert on the basketball court, and still others are fine until their
breathing is compromised by triggers such as seasonal allergies, unusual stress, or certain foods. No one should doubt the legitimacy
of dysgraphia (as they wouldn’t for asthma) and in whatever situation your child needs special instruction or additional support, it
should be provided. With regard to math worksheets, get creative. What is it about these assignments that are causing trouble? Is it the
need to organize the page for legible work? If so, you can try drawing boxes and designating work spaces (I love using graph paper!).
How long has this been able to be diagnosed? The people at my kid’s school did not know about executive function disorder let
alone dysgraphia.
The term “dysgraphia” has been around a very long time but us typically not used in the education community. Written expression is
the area within which dysgraphia often falls in terms of school, but it encompasses much more than just using a pencil and writing
legibly. See “What Is Dysgraphia?” for a quick and easy-to-understand overview.
And the same goes for the term “executive function.” The skills and behaviors that fall under this term are things that teachers and
parents focus on all the time: thinking, planning and managing details. For more information, see the information and resources
available in our Executive Functioning section.
Is it possible to have dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia? I have an 11 year old son with ADHD and dyslexia. His dyslexia has been
“well-managed” with intervention, but he can’t write a complete sentence. He is supposed to going to middle school and I don’t know
how to help him.
The answer is yes. The co-occurrence of LD and ADHD has been estimated to be as high as 35-50% and it is not unusual for more
than one type of LD to be present in the same individual (often at different levels of intensity and impact). Use the IEP process to
identify options for specialized instruction and support. At 11 he should be writing (or dictating) complete sentences. Be familiar with
assistive technology tools when you go to the meeting as they could be added to the IEP as ways to enhance your son’s ability to
demonstrate what he has learned, take notes, and gain independence across all subject areas.
How to Help With Dysgraphia: FAQs Answered
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------What types of accommodations, tools and strategies can help people with dysgraphia work around their challenges with writing?
When we asked our Facebook community to send us questions about dysgraphia, this was one of the top inquiries we received. The
following expert answers from Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD will help you understand how to help your child who struggles with
What are some of the most effective accommodations, methods and strategies to help students with dysgraphia?
It depends upon the nature of the problem being addressed. For young children, helping them stay within the lines and write legibly is
often the target of intervention. With older students, the focus is often less on the mechanics of writing and more on the extent to
which they can communicate their ideas, take and organize notes, and perform information gathering and shaping tasks with speed and
efficiency. Our dysgraphia resources provide a wide variety of resources to help people with dysgraphia at all ages and stages.
What help can an adult get for both dysgraphia and ADHD if he/she wants to go back to school?
Great question. Before leaving high school, teens and young adults are provided services and supports under federal education law but
once they leave high school they are on their own to find and organize the help they need to succeed. That said, they are not left
without rights and resources! Whether they have LD, disorders of attention, mobility challenges, or impairments of vision or hearing,
they are entitled to services and supports under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Some states offer help through state offices of vocational rehabilitation. Others provide help though adult education programs. Your
best first stop is the college you want to attend. Speak to the admissions office and visit the office of student disability services (called
by different names on every campus, but all colleges and universities have one) and ask for assistance on providing documentation of
your disability and planning for enrollment.
The school said there’s no test for dysgraphia, but everything leads to my son having it. The school has allowed him to use a
computer, but he still struggles. If he could only do his writing and spelling tests verbally! My son also has a superior to genius IQ. He
also had ADHD and anxiety. What else can the school do?
There are a number of assistive technology tools that could be very helpful. Educators have developed advanced organization
strategies to help pre-organize writing as well as self-correction and repair strategies that can be very useful for people with
dysgraphia. Our dysgraphia section will help you navigate these options to figure out what will work best for your son.
Why is writing cursive easier for my kid? She figured it out in high school.
Without knowing anything specific about your child, it might be that the underlying mechanics of cursive are less taxing. Think about
what it takes to write a 10 letter word letter-by-letter in print format. The tip of the pencil goes up and down how many times? And
how many times does she need to make sure she starts in the right spot over and over again and stay within the lines? For some (but
certainly not all) people who struggle with writing, cursive is an easier option.
My son used a NEO keyboard last year and the teacher would download his work. He wasn’t the best typist, but it helped. His school
refused to add this accommodation to his IEP because they said his teacher was giving that accommodation already so there is no need
to put it on the IEP. This year, his new teachers refuse the keyboard and say he needs to “grow up” and be responsible for his work. I
asked to have it added to the IEP and the school refused. So he has maintained a very low D in language arts due to writing abilities.
He's smart and has the info in his brain...but can’t get it on the paper. What can I do when the school refuses to add something to the
IEP? They are telling me that I need to speak to him about “applying himself more,” but I know this isn’t the real problem.
Sounds like you might want to ask, in writing, that this accommodation be reinstated. You might also want to request, in writing, that
the IEP team meet with you and the teacher present, at which time you can ask what specific strategies and supports they would
recommend to get your son back on track. If they think he is not “applying himself” enough, ask them to explain what that means,
what they think he should be doing, and what they believe to be the underlying problem. (They would never ask a child with an
anxiety disorder to “just try and relax”… And I doubt that they would ask a child with a documented LD to “just try harder.”)
The question on the table is how to help a bright child with LD become more successful and independent in school. Focus the
discussion on what everyone can do toward that goal. Check out our IEP Headquarters for more resources to help you navigate the
IEP process.
What is the best assistive technology to help with writing if you have poor fine motor control and typing is hard?
The best “types” of assistive technologies for individuals who struggle with fine motor control are those that minimize the demands of
typing (i.e., software that anticipates words and fills them in while typing) or voice-to-text software that captures oral language and
converts it to printed text ready for editing. Visit our Assistive Technology section to learn more about tools that might be helpful for
I was told meds could fix dysgraphia by a neurologist. Somehow I don’t buy it!
Good for you. That said, there may in fact be specific neurological features of dysgraphia that could be addressed with medication
(i.e., tremors) but in general, there is no overarching medical treatment for this complex disorder.
I have been told by my son’s occupational therapist and one of his teachers that it is not possible to remediate handwriting after a
child turns 10. What is the rationale behind that claim?
Not sure where the number 10 came from, but I would not put a limit to when remediation might or might not be helpful or possible.
Think about it this way: If you’re an active tennis player and after years of holding the racquet a certain way, someone asks you to
change you grip. Is it possible for you to make the switch? Is it easy? Might you end up changing it in some ways but not completely?
Might you use the altered grip during tournament play but not when you’re rallying with friends?
There is no evidence to suggest that handwriting is set at a certain age. We do know that it is often harder to break old habits than it is
to learn a new skill. One suggestion: Don’t start from scratch. Instead, identify features of dysgraphia that you would like to target and
address them in a careful and meaningful way. Don’t take on pencil grip, speed of writing, letter formation, positioning of letters all at
once. And most importantly, take your cues about where to start and how to proceed from your son.
On Dysgraphia: Writing About My Inability to Write
It is often said that doctors have messy handwriting. By that logic, as a senior in high school, I should have a medical school diploma.
In all fairness though, I have something that most doctors don’t have: dysgraphia. At 17, my handwriting looks like the scribbles of a
three-year-old, which is not likely to change. For much of my education, I was given occupational therapy through my IEP in an
attempt to improve my penmanship. Unfortunately, the results of this endeavor were mostly unsatisfactory, only managing to improve
my handwriting to the point that I can often read what I write. However, if I were to attempt to submit a handwritten paper, the
comment that I would most likely get from a teacher is, “I’m not deciphering hieroglyphics.”
Despite my handwriting ability, I have found success academically. The idea of special education is to find another way around the
proverbial mountain when a student can’t go up it. My mountain to climb is handwriting, something that I simply don’t have the fine
motor skills for. Thus, as an aspiring writer who can’t legibly write his name, I take great joy in the fact that there are many ways to
put words on a page. I conquered my disability through the use of a computer and having scribes on tests. Some might call that
defeatist, arguing that I am merely compensating for a problem instead of “fixing” it. I disagree.
We don’t live in a world where we must climb every mountain or handwrite every paper. We live in a world in which innovation
triumphs over natural ability. In other words, five years from now, I’ll be finished with college and preparing for a job or graduate
school. I won’t be lamenting the fact that most people can handwrite better than I can by holding a pencil between their toes. I’ll be
continuing to find ways to overcome my disability, my supposed “Achilles’ Heel.” Some people cannot grasp mathematical concepts
regardless of how hard they try; some people don’t have the physical build to play sports; some people are born with a stutter or other
speech disability. Ultimately, success isn’t achieved by grumbling and hitting your head against a wall, desperately trying to do
something that you are naturally bad at. It’s achieved by acknowledging your disabilities and moving forward to embrace your