What Is Dysgraphia?

A Learning Disorder That Affects Your Writing

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Dysgraphia, also known as a disorder of written expression, is a type of learning disorder. It can make it hard for the person to write as well as other people of their age and education level. It is a neurological condition that can affect the person’s ability to write letters and numerals.

Writing is a complex task that involves many parts of the brain. Dysgraphia tends to be a catch-all phrase for any issues related to writing. Someone with dysgraphia may in fact struggle with several tasks and skills, including penmanship, spelling, grammar, punctuation, paragraph composition, reading, and math.

This article discusses the types, symptoms, causes, and management of dysgraphia.

Types of Dysgraphia

These are the two types of dysgraphia:

  1. Developmental dysgraphia: This form of dysgraphia affects children and is often identified when children start learning how to write in school. Dysgraphia can affect the child’s ability to learn, despite exposure to adequate education and instruction. It is estimated that 7% to 15% of school-age children exhibit some form of difficulty with writing.
  2. Acquired dysgraphia: This form of dysgraphia affects people who have experienced some form of neurological damage. As a result, they may start to have difficulty with writing, even if they are educated adults and were once able to write with ease.

Symptoms of Dysgraphia

Someone with dysgraphia may face difficulty with the following tasks:

As a result, the person may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Slow writing speed
  • Trouble holding and maneuvering a writing implement
  • Inability to write in a straight line
  • Tendency to write words in reverse
  • Difficulty recalling how letters are formed
  • Incorrect use of upper and lower case letters 
  • Incorrect use of verbs and pronouns
  • Difficulty writing sentences with correct grammar and punctuation
  • Tendency to reorder or omit words from sentences 

The Broader Effects of Dysgraphia

A 2018 study notes that dysgraphia can have broader detrimental effects. For instance, people who are struggling to write may experience extreme frustration, distress, low self-esteem, and difficulty socializing.

The study notes that children with dysgraphia may learn and absorb less information if all their focus is on trying to write properly. Adults may face limitations in career choices and professional advancement, as many everyday tasks require writing skills.

Causes of Dysgraphia

The causes of dysgraphia can vary depending on the type of condition:

  • Developmental dysgraphia: Developmental dysgraphia is often genetic and tends to run in families. A child may therefore be more likely to have it if a biological relative has it.
  • Acquired dysgraphia: In this type of dysgraphia, acquired skills are lost due to damage to the parietal lobe of the brain, which could occur due to a brain injury, a neurological condition, or a degenerative condition.

Diagnosing Dysgraphia

The mental health diagnostic manual, known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5-TR), lists dysgraphia under the specific learning disorder category. Still, it doesn’t define it as a separate health condition with its own set of symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose.

While there aren’t any medical tests that can help diagnose dysgraphia, the diagnostic process involves other tests and assessments, such as:

  • Handwriting assessment: Formalized handwriting tests can help assess the legibility and speed of the person’s handwriting.
  • VMI test: The Beery Developmental Test of Visuomotor Integration (VMI) can help assess the person’s ability to integrate their visual and motor skills.
  • Educational assessment: Healthcare providers collaborate with educational specialists to determine the person’s educational history, their learning strengths and weaknesses, and the extent of their writing difficulties.

It’s important to note that dysgraphia is often accompanied by other learning disorders and conditions such as reading disorder, expressive language disorder, developmental coordination disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Managing Dysgraphia

While there aren't any medications or procedures that can treat dysgraphia, developmental dysgraphia can be managed with educational interventions that can vary depending on the extent of impairment the child faces:

  • Accommodation: The child participates in mainstream education with assistive or supportive resources, but without changing the content of the curriculum.
  • Modification: The child’s curriculum and learning goals are modified according to their abilities. They are also provided special services by the school. For instance, they may be allowed to answer their tests orally instead of in writing.
  • Remediation: The child’s school offers specific interventions to help them cope with the severity of their dysgraphia.

While all children occasionally struggle with writing and learning-related tasks, the symptoms of dysgraphia become more prominent as writing-related tasks increase. If you suspect your child may have dysgraphia or a learning disorder, seek help for them as soon as possible. It’s important to work with their healthcare providers and educators to help them cope.

A Word From Verywell

Dysgraphia is a learning disability that can be difficult to live with. If you or a loved one have dysgraphia, you may notice that in addition to making writing difficult, it can also be deeply frustrating and demotivating. It may be helpful to see a mental healthcare provider to cope with the distressing effects of the condition and improve self-confidence.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Library of Medicine. Dysgraphia. Medline Plus.

  2. West Texas A&M University. Dysgraphia.

  3. Learning Disabilities Association of America. Dysgraphia.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Dysgraphia.

  5. University of Rochester Medical Center. Dysgraphia.

  6. Chung PJ, Patel DR, Nizami I. Disorder of written expression and dysgraphia: Definition, diagnosis, and management. Transl Pediatr. 2020;9(Suppl 1):S46-S54. doi:10.21037/tp.2019.11.01

  7. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Dysgraphia.

  8. McCloskey M, Rapp B. Developmental dysgraphia: An overview and framework for research. Cogn Neuropsychol. 2017;34(3-4):65-82. doi:10.1080/02643294.2017.1369016

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.