Dyslexia and dysgraphia began as classic neurological syndromes identified in the 1890s by Joseph Jules Dejerine, a French neurologist. From the standpoint of classical neurology, these conditions were seen as a profound inability to communicate, dyslexia referring to speech and dysgraphia referring to writing. Looking at the diagnosis from a medical standpoint from the perspective of a classical medical facility, forms of dyslexia and dysgraphia separate or combined were found to be associated with brain lesions in different brain structures. In the 1940s, Austrian doctor Josef Gerstmann describes a condition called “agraphia” as a complete inability to write associated with brain dysfunctions.

Medical vs Non-Medical Perspectives.

From the standpoint of non-medical or educational settings, the view of these conditions is very different, involving different populations for the most part. Poorly written communication, spelling problems, and poor handwriting are not unusual. Dysgraphia is the clinical name given to the condition when it becomes extreme and disruptive. Often dysgraphia is diagnosed in people who have a complete inability to write.

Two kinds of dysgraphia are recognized. The specific form of the condition points to specific neurological problems that impact on motor skills. Non-specific dysgraphia refers to cases where no injury is indicated. It should be understood that the diagnosis of dysgraphia is usually speculative, made to classify the inability to write well or at all. Non-specific dysgraphia is often associated with behavioral problems or school truancy. It is more often diagnosed in boys than in girls.

Dysgraphia and Attention Deficit Disorders.

Modern research has shown dysgraphia consists of some very specific problems. One kind of problem is the failure of orthographic coding. This is poor ability to store written words in memory while the letters in the word are analyzed or the ability to create a stable memory of a written word linked to its meaning and pronunciation. Children with dysgraphia may also have difficulty planning sequential finger movements, poor ability to move their fingers without looking at their hands. Children with dysgraphia usually do not have primary developmental motor disorder. They may be fine outside of their writing problems. Dysgraphia may be part of an attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity disorder(ADD or ADHD). This kind of dysgraphia may respond to attention deficit disorder kinds of interventions, stimulant medications plus explicit handwriting instruction.

Diagnosis and Intervention.

The analysis and diagnosis of dysgraphia or other language impairments are complicated. Trained diagnosticians have to make important distinctions. Without a careful diagnosis, children may not receive early intervention or specialized instruction that could improve specific kinds of language functions. Many schools do not have systematic instructional programs in handwriting and spelling. These skill areas have been de-emphasized in many school curricula, but some students distinctly need this training taught by expert teachers. Many schools do offer accommodation and extra help for students with dysgraphia, but these students also need explicit instruction in handwriting, spelling, and composition. It is very important to determine if children with dysgraphia also have dyslexia. These children may need special instruction in spoken language.

Instructional Activities.

Children with handwriting impairments often benefit from activities that help them form letters. Hand strength exercises, mazes or connect-the-dots to improve motor control, letter tracing, copying letters from models can all help. Once basic letter formation is learned, they may benefit from special exercises involving arrow cues that help them form specific plans for letter formation. They may benefit from letter identification lessons covering letter with cards to visualize what they look like or writing letters from memory after seeing them. Eventually they may benefit from writing letters from dictation. Letter formation exercises will probably reduce the incidence of letter reversals and inversions.

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