ADHD and Dysgraphia can both impact a child’s ability to learn. ADHD is a condition that impacts a person’s ability to focus and stay on task. Dysgraphia is a condition that impacts a person’s ability to write correctly. Children who have ADHD and dysgraphia may struggle in school and may have difficulty completing assignments or taking tests.
What is Dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is a condition that affects a person’s ability to write correctly. The word dysgraphia comes from the Greek words dys meaning “impaired” and graphia meaning “writing by hand”. It includes not only difficulty with spelling, handwriting, and grammar but also difficulty in forming letters, staying within the lines and writing legibly. Dysgraphia can make it hard for a person to express their thoughts in writing.
Dysgraphia is a learning disorder associated with both normal and above-average intelligence. Also worth noting is that many children with dysgraphia may not necessarily have problems with reading or speaking. It is estimated that between five and twenty percent of all children have some kind of deficit like dysgraphia. Dysgraphia is associated with dyslexia with spelling difficulties, but dysgraphia is a writing difficulty whereas dyslexia is concerned with reading difficulties.
Signs and Symptoms of Dysgraphia in Children
Some common signs and symptoms of dysgraphia include poor handwriting, difficulty with spelling, and grammar mistakes. People with dysgraphia may also have trouble organizing their thoughts in writing. This can make it hard to write essays or stories. Other signs and symptoms of dysgraphia may include:
- Trouble with shape discrimination and letter spacing
- Struggles with dot-to-dots
- Difficulty organising words on a page from left to right
- Problems cutting with scissors, tying shoelaces or doing puzzles etc
- Trouble getting thoughts down on paper quickly
- Difficulty understanding spelling rules
- Can verbally spell a word but not write it
- Avoids writing
- Writes slowly
- Talking whilst writing down
- Mixing up or missing out on letters when writing
- Random mixtures of uPpeR and LOwer cAse words
- Difficulty forming individual letters
- Starting stories in the middle, not understanding the organisation of stories
- Incorrect word usage
- Unusual pen grip or positioning of arm or body when writing
- Difficulty staying on the line or within margins
- Trouble colouring within lines
- Getting tired when writing and complaining of cramps in their hand
- Leaving out entire words from sentences
- Trouble writing and thinking at the same time
Obviously, some of these are very age-dependent. It can also vary in severity so mild cases may be easily missed. Children with dysgraphia may be good at reading and talking about a subject very clearly. This can cause teachers to assume they are just being lazy or careless when it comes to writing.
What Causes Dysgraphia?
ADHD does not cause dysgraphia. But they do have a high comorbidity rate. It is a neurological disorder that impairs writing and fine motor skills. Some research suggests it is related to an impairment of working memory skills. This is where information is stored temporarily. Working memory is important for reasoning, the guidance of decision-making and behaviour.
There are two types of dysgraphia:
Acquired dysgraphia – generally due to a brain injury, or degenerative condition where the person loses their ability rather than never having the ability.
Developmental dysgraphia – most commonly associated with childhood when they have difficulties learning writing skills
As with many learning disorders, dysgraphia does tend to run in a family, having a strong genetic component. So, if someone in your family has it there is a high chance your child does too. Of course, many of these disorders are just being given acknowledgement now, in fairly recent history. When people say, ‘it wasn’t around it my day’, it was. It just went undiagnosed and caused people a lot of stress and misery. So, someone in your family could have undiagnosed dysgraphia.
The cause is still unknown for developmental dysgraphia although I found this helpful to break it down (taken from Additudemag). There are three main subtypes, those being:
- Motor dysgraphia – this is the lack of fine-motor skills and coordination. It explains the difficulties children have producing written work and why they will have writers cramp more often.
- Spatial dysgraphia – this is related to spacial perception ie how big, far, fast something is, which would explain their difficulties with letter spacing and drawing.
- Linguistic dysgraphia – impacts languaging processing skills which are required in writing. The child will struggle to write unless it is traced or copied.
How is Dysgraphia diagnosed in children?
Dysgraphia in children is generally diagnosed when they first learn to write. However, like many learning disorders in children, they can slip through the net of observation. My twins had totally different writing. My daughter, whilst being undiagnosed ADHD and dyslexic in primary school had neat handwriting, her twin brother had awful writing! I mean total scrawl! I remember a teacher telling me not to worry, he was a boy and left-handed! My son doesn’t have dysgraphia and his handwriting has now improved (a bit!), but you can see how teachers, and others, can so easily excuse it! In this case, she was right.
If you think your child may have dysgraphia approach their teacher and see what they have also observed. A diagnosis for a child with dysgraphia will normally be carried out by a psychologist (generally an educational psychologist) or SpLD, (Specific Learning Disorder) assessor. They will require the child’s family, medical and developmental history. They may check school reports to see when the issues were first noted by the teachers. Then they will carry out a few written tests plus an IQ test to see what level of intelligence they are at and if there are any other underlying issues. The written tests will normally involve comprehension, some copywriting as well as testing their fine-motor skills. They will want to see how their quality of writing looks and reads, as well as witnessing the physical act of writing.
A doctor may be involved to rule out acquired dysgraphia if there has been an accident or symptoms of something else.
As with all learning disorders, early diagnosis is essential. Despite the technological age, handwriting is still a very important skill. To be honest, whilst I agree that handwriting is important, I do believe that computers are being used more and more, so bad handwriting isn’t really the issue. From what I can see from learning about dysgraphia, it is the processing and organisation of thoughts to paper (screen) that is going to hold the child back the most. If they can’t correctly express what they have understood it must be so frustrating for them. We have autocorrect which helps people with the words. However, with dysgraphia, there is more of a requirement for help with the planning and formation. A child may fail a test simply because they can’t write down their thoughts correctly. Getting them diagnosed early can help them immensely.
What are the treatments for Dysgraphia in children?
Like other learning disorders, your child can not grow out of or magically be cured of dysphasia.
Dysgraphia can be treated with occupational therapy and accommodations. Occupational therapy is particularly helpful for children who struggle with the fine motor aspects of writing. It can teach them better body positioning, handgrip, and improve hand strength which will make writing less painful and less of a chore.
ADHD and dysgraphia can be treated with medication, therapy, and accommodations. Early diagnosis and treatment are important for children with ADHD and dysgraphia to be successful in school.
Help in School
- The use of larger pencils or special grips
- Allowing the student to type their work or use voice-to-text apps
- Having a 1:1 to scribe for them
- Use dysgraphia paper so the child can write one letter per box
- Provide larger surfaces for children to write on
- Sloping boards to write on are sometimes useful
- Practise Fine Motor Skills such as threading, playing with wind-up toys, and puzzles, and playing with theraputty
- Help Gross Motor Skills by writing letters in the air, in sand or in shaving foam
- Assistance by teachers and LSA’s (Learning Support Assistants) to organise their thoughts more clearly
To qualify for help in examinations your child must be assessed by an educational psychologist (EP). The EP report may enable them to have extra time in tests. Other concessions may include using a laptop, having a scribe or use of a transcriber.
ADHD and Dysgraphia in Children
Now imagine if your child has both dysgraphia and ADHD! The low frustration level paired with the difficulty and pain associated with writing with dysgraphia. I feel an almighty meltdown occurring daily in class. This is why it is so important to get help straight away to help with dysgraphia. Treating ADHD will help with frustration tolerance but if you can help your child build strength with both their fine motor skills and gross motor skills from an early age, this will be so beneficial.
I hope this has helped. Maybe you have noticed some of these signs and symptoms of dysgraphia and ADHD in your child? Please do get in touch, would love to add further advice to this post from tried and tested methods of fellow parents.