What Is Dysgraphia and What Can be Done About It?

5 July 2023
Posted by: Chelsea

Dysgraphia is a cognitive condition that means a child may struggle to develop writing and painting/drawing skills at the same rate as other children of a similar age.

Dysgraphia: The history

Hard as it may be to believe, as late as the 1960s-70s, children who seemed to struggle with learning to write were often described with the appalling term “being backward”.

At the time, even many health experts failed to observe that such children may have been developing perfectly in line with averages in all other areas such as reading, arithmetic, speaking and so on. It also went largely unnoticed that some children who by contrast, made perfectly acceptable progress with writing, struggled with their reading.

As the 20th century wore on, it became very clear to researchers that there were a variety of conditions at work. Today, they’re more commonly known by the medical terms dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia (a difficulty in recognising or being able to work with numbers).
Children suffering from these conditions are now known to be experiencing a cognitive disorder. They are not, as was at one time suspected, simply being ‘lazy’ and these conditions are not related at all to their intelligence and ability to learn.

Symptoms of dysgraphia

The medical use of the term covers a wide range of possible symptoms, including:

  • a difficulty in learning the alphabet, words, the meanings of words and using the correct words in writing or speech;
  • an unnatural wrist, hand or arm posture when trying to hold a pen, pencil or paintbrush;
  • slow or no progress in forming letters using a pencil and notably, serious difficulties in moving from printing to cursive writing. They might also have difficulty in painting recognisable shapes;
  • some children may experience extreme frustration with themselves or their pencil when they’re unable to complete a writing task. They may become very distressed if asked to write. This can lead to erroneous perceptions that they are behaving badly or demonstrating ADHD symptoms;
  • balance problems and hand-eye coordination troubles (once referred to as “clumsy boy” syndrome).

In practice though, many children suffering from dysgraphia do not experience all of these symptoms. Many simply have trouble writing or writing tidily – their reading, speech, vocabulary and every other aspect of their development, may be perfectly normal.


The first issues are often noticed around the age of 4-5 and are fairly often first noticed in day care centres or pre-schooling activities.

Once seen, they are unlikely to spontaneously resolve and they may become more pronounced as the child approaches puberty, at which time the demand for them to write in school work is likely to increase.


The causes of this condition are unknown but they are often clearly linked to genetics, as dysgraphia tends to run in families. For reasons that are equally unclear, it is more common in males than females.

It is presumed that something is not permitting the sufferer to transfer the shape of letters they can clearly recognise from reading, into the fine motor control required to manipulate a pen. This is baffling because some children who are unable to master the control of a pencil, are perfectly capable of the fine motor skills required to build and paint intricate complex models.

Sometimes, dysgraphia may be a secondary symptom of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) conditions but often isn’t.

Paradoxically, some children suffering from dysgraphia may be able to type normally and rapidly using good grammatical sentences and display a very large vocabulary in the process. This is assumed to be linked to the different fine motor skills required to type on a keyboard versus holding and controlling a pen.


As the causes are not understood, there is no cure.

Some children may spontaneously develop strategies to overcome this problem and by their earlier teenage years, their writing may be perfectly acceptable if not exemplary. They may also need longer to write tidily than other children. Today, most schools will make allowances for such in lessons or exams, through the provision of extra time if writing or a PC for typing providing the condition has been confirmed by a medical diagnosis.

However, there are certain therapies that have been shown to help in some cases:

  • ensuring the child is sat close to and at 90 degrees to the teacher’s board in school;
  • games requiring the development of hand-eye coordination (e.g., throwing and catching balls);
  • repetitious writing games, where control of the pen can become automatic and seemingly partly bypass the cognitive issue.

If you suspect your child is suffering from dysgraphia or any related conditions, you should consult your doctor for advice.

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