Outside of Baby Yoda, is there anything more adorable than a child learning to read and write? Just picture those tiny fingers clutching a pencil, forming their first words or practicing their cursive. 

However, for families and children dealing with dysgraphia, the experience is far from idyllic.

What is dysgraphia? Types & Definition

In our experience, dysgraphia can be confused for its more well-known cousin, dyslexia. While these two learning disabilities are similarly named, they produce different results. 

Dyslexia causes trouble reading, while dysgraphia is a disorder of writing. However, it is also possible for the conditions to exist together, just like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift finally can!

At its root, dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that causes an impairment in writing skills. 

Orthographic coding is the brain’s ability to use our working memory to hold onto words while we process and store the words, their pronunciations, and their meanings long-term. When orthographic coding isn’t working properly, our brain-to-word connection can suffer.

Since the process of writing involves many different facets, dysgraphic effects can surface in various ways. There are three types of dysgraphia a child may experience:

  1. Dyslexic dysgraphia: children with this variety of dysgraphia struggle to write words unless traced or copied. Writing skills tend to decline as the word, sentence, or assignment goes on. Poor spelling can also be a challenge. However, fine motor skills and drawing are usually unaffected.
  2. Motor dysgraphia: as you may have guessed by the name, this form of dysgraphia greatly affects fine motor skills, and often leads to illegible handwriting. Also with this dysgraphic variety, drawing and copying skills can also suffer. Thankfully, spelling skills are typically unaltered.
  3. Spatial dysgraphia: this condition causes difficulty in the spatial relationship between the writing tool and the medium, such as paper or a whiteboard. This spatial reasoning issue affects handwriting skills, note-taking, copying, and drawing. However, fine motor skills and spelling remain average.

The relationship between brain, working memory, pencil, and paper can go amiss in many ways. Poor writing ability can even impact energy levels in the classroom. With so many hours of school consisting of writing, note-taking, and related tasks, it’s easy to see how this condition can severely affect classroom performance and participation.

Wondering if your child may be struggling with this learning disorder? Let’s look at the symptoms.

Symptoms of Dysgraphia

Across these three types of dysgraphia, there are some common signals that can tip us off to its presence. Some of these signs of dysgraphia are obvious, like an inability to trace or copy words, while others are more subtle, like lowered self-confidence and heightened frustration.

Commonly seen symptoms of dysgraphia include:

  • Illegible or poor handwriting, or an inability to form letters
  • Mixing of upper and lower case letters, or print and cursive writing
  • Writing problems like unfinished letters, words, or sentences
  • Complaining of pain while writing (often from an awkward pencil grip)
  • Mismatched sizes and spaces between words and letters
  • Difficulty spelling, which can indicate dyslexic dysgraphia
  • Trouble thinking and writing at the same time
  • Frequent erasing
  • Unusual positioning of the wrist, paper, or body when writing
  • Issues with holding the paper while writing on it
  • Holding and managing a writing tool

As you can imagine, this condition can also cause considerable distress and affect a child’s self-esteem in school. This is particularly difficult because many students with dysgraphia can be accused of sloppiness or laziness due to their messy handwriting. 

It is also worth noting that dysgraphia may also be conflated with dyspraxia, a condition that simply affects motor skills. These are two reasons it is important to get a diagnosis in order to encourage and support your child. Unlike Billie Eilish’s song, they are not the “bad guy.”

Ways Your Doctor May Diagnose Dysgraphia

Don’t be afraid to take your child in for testing; research indicates that they may already be aware that there is an issue with their letter formation or handwriting. 

We know that your child’s health and learning abilities affect the whole family. Having an appropriate diagnosis can help rally the family to support your child and bring peace to the home.

There are several ways your healthcare provider may diagnose dysgraphia, as well as the type and severity of your individual case. Generally, a pediatrician and licensed psychologist will work together to determine if dysgraphia is affecting your child’s writing tasks. Here are some common diagnostic methods:

Writing Mechanics

These tests will examine the mechanics of writing, such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Sometimes, writing assignments from school may also be assessed. Here’s what will be evaluated:

  • Spelling and vocabulary
  • Editing grammar and punctuation
  • Combining two short sentences into one more complex sentence


Thematic tests look for a student’s ability to select appropriate words and organize a narrative. In other words, these more creative tests are analyzing the student’s ability to express themselves and be clearly understood by a reader. This may include:

  • Story composition, including plot, characters, sentence construction, and more
  • Grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary in a longer format than the mechanics test

Fine Motor Skills

These fine motor skills tests will measure the child’s ability to use the small muscles in their hands and wrists. A grooved pegboard may be used for observation. The tests will observe:

  • Posture and position of the body, arm, and hand
  • Grip on writing utensil
  • Manipulation of hand and wrist muscles
  • Hand-eye coordination


The outcomes of these tests will be able to pinpoint the presence and type of dysgraphia, if it is present. While a dysgraphia diagnosis may feel alarming, it actually allows you and your healthcare provider to get the appropriate help for your child. 

Conditions Associated with Dysgraphia

As mentioned earlier, at its root, dysgraphia is a neurological disorder. Interestingly, we see many illnesses and disorders such as this one that stem from the same root causes. 

For example, did you know that children with ADHD seem to have a higher risk of also having a written-language disorder such as dysgraphia? Studies say that dysgraphia ranges between 56%-61% in students with the neurodevelopmental issues of ADHD or autism.

PANS/PANDAS, or OCD that occurs after a strep infection (or other, lesser known causes), is a surprising possible culprit in dysgraphia symptoms. Regressions in motor skills, working memory, and handwriting are all potential indicators of this condition. Sound familiar?

All of these start with neurological issues, though they manifest differently. That’s why, at The M Center, we take a patient-centered, functional look at getting to the source of your child’s condition.

Can dysgraphia be cured?

While it’s not always possible to “cure” dysphagia, there is good news: there are many helpful therapies and treatments to improve your child’s symptoms. However, addressing the root cause of conditions that may be responsible for dysgraphia can go a long way.

We advocate for implementing a whole team around your child to ensure their success, from an occupational therapist and school psychologist to a functional pediatrician. 

Don’t neglect school resources such as an Individualized Education Program (IEP), other special education resources, and even asking for oral exams when necessary. Additionally, there is assistive technology such as dictation software, writing tools with special grips, and more.

While there’s no one pill or cure for this condition, new ideas, tests, and technologies are constantly developing to make the world a better place for children with dysgraphia. 

In Summary

  • Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that impairs written expression. The three types are dyslexic dysgraphia, motor dysgraphia, and spatial dysgraphia.
  • If left untreated, dysgraphia can disadvantage a child in the classroom, affect their self-esteem, or even cause physical pain when writing. 
  • Common symptoms of dysgraphia include poor or illegible handwriting, issues holding writing utensils or paper, unusual body positioning when writing, spelling and vocabulary problems, or difficulty thinking and writing simultaneously.
  • Testing from a pediatrician and psychologist can determine the presence and type of dysgraphia, and this condition may sometimes be a symptom of ADHD, PANDAS, or another neurological issue.
  • While there’s no “cure” for dysgraphia, with proper diagnosis, major improvements can be made to help with classroom, confidence, and creative expression. 


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