Poor Handwriting or Dysgraphia?


Does your child avoid homework or become distressed when it involves printing or writing? Does he have an awkward pencil grasp? Is his handwriting difficult to decipher? Can he communicate his ideas verbally, but then he struggles to organize his thoughts on paper? If any of these situations sounds familiar, your child may have dysgraphia, a learning disability of written expression.

Although no hard numbers exist on how many children have dysgraphia, experts estimate that 4%-20% of elementary and middle school students have a form of this learning disability.

Types of dysgraphia

Children can have one or more of these types of dysgraphia at once — motor, spatial and processing. Helen Painter, occupational therapist and author of Dysgraphia: Your Essential Guide, says that it is crucial to determine which form of dysgraphia your child has so you can choose the appropriate treatment and accommodations.

A child with motor dysgraphia struggles with motor-skills issues such as a poor pencil grasp. Painter suggests that a child who works with an occupational therapist on the motor issue (assuming this is the sole form of the child’s disability) often can remedy the problem in a month or two. If issues continue, Painter recommends that parents have their child screened for spatial and processing dysgraphia by a medical doctor or psychologist.

Spatial dysgraphia occurs when a child has difficulty understanding what her eyes are seeing. She struggles to see the positions of objects relative to each other and their similarities and differences.

A child with processing dysgraphia has a missing link between working memory and the muscle movements required to do the printing or writing. People with this form of the disability say they cannot see letters or words in their “mind’s eye.”

Unfortunately, both spatial and processing dysgraphia remain with people throughout their lifetime, so parents must work with educators to provide modifications and accommodations.

Signs of dysgraphia


Tools & accommodations that help

  • Difficulty learning the alphabet & matching sounds to the right letter
  • Avoids drawing, writing & fine-motor activities like cutting with scissors
  • Awkward pencil grasp
  • Good at copying, but cannot compose words independently
  • Frustration when writing
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor overall legibility & spelling
  • Mixes upper & lowercase letters
  • Incorrect spacing between words
  • Poor placement of letters and words on the line
  • Says letters & words aloud while writing
  • Poor comprehension of written text
  • Mixes print & cursive
  • Difficulty brainstorming main idea & supporting sentences
  • Takes huge amount of time to finish work
  • Comprehension decreases when writing requirement increases

(Source: Dysgraphia: Your Essential Guide)



  • Speech-to-text software like Dragon Naturally Speaking
  • Paper with larger lines for writing; graph paper for math assignments
  • Use of a popsicle stick to gauge spacing between words
  • Extra time for written assignments or tests
  • Learning cursive with a program such as Handwriting without Tears
  • Learning to type

How to help

Despite the availability of a wide array of assistive technology, Painter has noticed that both parents and educators often hesitate to use the technology because they fear that children will not learn the skills if they use this “crutch.” She asserts, “Anybody can succeed if given the right tools, lifelong tools. There is no excuse for not helping these kids today.”

If you suspect your child may have dysgraphia, have a physician or psychologist test your child so he can get the appropriate support.

Sue LeBreton is a freelance writer and mother. 



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