Behavioural problems and learning disabilities

Dysgraphia

What is dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia is the inability to write coherently without there being any evidence of an intellectual disorder. We speak of dysgraphia handwriting when a child’s handwriting is barely legible and/or they write very slowly. So dysgraphia is determined by the quality and speed of handwriting. The child's performance is compared with children in the same age group.

What causes dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia handwriting can be a characteristic of (hidden) dyslexia. Children with dyslexic dysgraphia often have trouble spelling.

Dyslexia makes it difficult for children to convert words in their head into signals that cause the letters to form. This may be because they:

  • Cannot visualise letters properly
  • Are unable to convert auditory information into the signals needed to form the letters

Furthermore, they often:

  • No longer know how to form the letters; handwriting is not an automatic action
  • No longer know what the order of the letters was
  • Suffer cramping while writing because they have difficulty relaxing and tensing their muscles
  • Move along with other parts of the body, such as the tongue, the other hand or a foot, while writing

Characteristics of dysgraphia handwriting

  • Oddly shaped letters
  • Mirrored letters
  • Spaces in strange places, or no spaces at all
  • No difference in form between the letters, all letters are the same height
  • Evidence of interrupted writing movement in letters and/or links
  • Omission of whole letters or parts of letters
  • Interlocking letters
  • Irregular letter size
  • Irregular letter slants

Smart but unable to write

Suppose a child has a high verbal IQ and an excellent ability to express themselves verbally. The child can be very adept at debating and holding discourses on a wide variety of topics. The teacher refers to the child as ‘a source of information’. And yet the child does not have enough marks to pass at school. This is because the child cannot put down on paper what is in their head. Consequently, the child answers questions more sparingly, leaving out half because that requires less writing. That results in poor marks. The child's written work resembles that of a much younger child. The frustrations this entails are enormous.

In children with hidden dyslexia, writing and spelling problems appear to be more persistent and resistant than reading problems. Many get remedial teaching for years without really improving their handwriting. It is therefore important that children with (dyslexic) dysgraphia start using a laptop or PC as soon as possible because targeted physiotherapy or writing therapy only generates limited progress.

No dyslexia diagnosis and yet serious writing problems?

Gifted children with reading and/or spelling problems often are not absent enough times to be diagnosed with dyslexia. However, that does not mean that they do not have any problems. If your child has not been diagnosed with dyslexia but does have trouble spelling and writing, you could have them tested for dysgraphia by a specialised paediatric physiotherapist.

Dysgraphia also occurs without dyslexia

Dysgraphia is not always associated with dyslexia. It might just be a matter of weak, fine motor skills and/or weak muscle tension. According to the DSM-IV ((Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), dysgraphia is a motor impairment. Diagnosed children are entitled to extra time for tests (which is very important in secondary school!) and if writing is too big an obstacle, they are allowed to use a laptop to do their schoolwork. Many schools are not familiar with this impairment, so it might be that the school has to be informed.
 



 

Nicky (4) beats speech disorder

During her second visit she already uttered her first words

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