Having beautiful handwriting is such a blessing, especially when it comes to writing invitations and love letters (Huh? love letters??? Is that still applicable? -_- ) But others are not so blessed. Some do really have bad handwriting (like I do, which is why I type instead write), but there are people who write illegibly regardless of their health, educational, or intellectual status. They have no stroke or Parkinson’s disease, but they do write not so good to be readable no matter how hard they try. Usually, they are labeled as lazy or untidy, but their character show otherwise. They’re usually bright and hardworking; however, they find it hard to write legibly. This is actually a disability called dysgraphia.
What is dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is a deficiency in the ability to write, primarily in terms of handwriting, but also in terms of coherence. Dysgraphia is a transcription disability, meaning that it is a writing disorder associated with impaired handwriting, orthographic coding (orthography, the storing process of written words and processing the letters in those words), and finger sequencing (the movement of muscles required to write). In short, dysgraphia is a learning disability that involves writing legible or readable messages.
What causes dysgraphia?
There is no known cause of dysgraphia. But some factors play a part. Dysgraphia is a biologically based disorder with genetic and brain bases. More specifically, it is a working memory problem. In dysgraphia, individuals fail to develop normal connections among different brain regions needed for writing.
Normally, the brain takes in information through the senses and stores it to use later. Before a person starts writing, he retrieves information from his short- or long-term memory and gets organized to begin writing.
In a person with dysgraphia, experts believe one or both of the next steps in the writing process go off track:
- Organizing information that is stored in memory
- Getting words onto paper by handwriting or typing them
This results in a written product that’s hard to read and filled with errors. And most important, it does not convey what the child knows and what he intended to write.
What are the signs and symptoms of dysgraphia?
The Learning Disabilities Association of America enumerates the signs and symptoms of dysgraphia:
- May have illegible printing and cursive writing (despite appropriate time and attention given the task)
- Shows inconsistencies: mixtures of print and cursive, upper and lower case, or irregular sizes, shapes or slant of letters
- Has unfinished words or letters, omitted words
- Inconsistent spacing between words and letters
- Exhibits strange wrist, body or paper position
- Has difficulty pre-visualizing letter formation
- Copying or writing is slow or labored
- Shows poor spatial planning on paper
- Has cramped or unusual grip/may complain of sore hand
- Has great difficulty thinking and writing at the same time (taking notes, creative writing.)
As you can see, the writing of a child with dysgraphia is close to unreadable and is disorganized and has no direction. Let’s compare the normal handwriting to the handwriting with dysgraphia:
The top area of this picture has the normal handwriting. Though it is somewhat illegible, it is still readable and organized. The writing is straight and is at one direction (not the boy band @_@). Whereas, the bottom half of the picture shows a handwriting of a person with dysgraphia. Notice the disorganized writing. The writing is illegible and unreadable too. The direction of the handwriting is unruly and untidy too.
What needs to be done to manage dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia causes not only red marks, low grades, and Fs in writing classes but also can contribute to educational underachievement and future unemployment, stress which may lead to stress-related diseases, and low self-esteem.
To avoid these consequences, identifying and diagnosing a student with dysgraphia is the first step to managing dysgraphia. Educational psychologists use a series of tests to determine if a person has language based dysgraphia. Occupational Therapists can identify problems with mechanical based dysgraphia or apraxia.
After diagnosing dysgraphia, therapies are done to improve a a person’s handwriting, though this cannot really cure dysgraphia.
Some strategies to help manage dysgraphia:
Initially, children with impaired handwriting benefit from activities that support learning to form letters:
- playing with clay to strengthen hand muscles;
- keeping lines within mazes to develop motor control;
- connecting dots or dashes to create complete letter forms;
- tracing letters with index finger or eraser end of pencil;
- imitating the teacher modeling sequential strokes in letter formation; and
- copying letters from models.
Subsequently, once children learn to form legible letters, they benefit from instruction that helps them develop automatic letter writing, using the following steps to practice each of the 26 letters of the alphabet in a different order daily:
- studying numbered arrow cues that provide a consistent plan for letter formation;
- covering the letter with a 3 x 5 card and imaging the letter in the mind’s eye;
- writing the letter from memory after interval that increases in duration over the handwriting lessons;
- writing letters from dictation (spoken name to letter form); and
- writing letters during composing for 5 minutes on a teacher-provided topic.
Students benefit from explicit instruction in spelling throughout K–12:
- initially in high frequency Anglo-Saxon words;
- subsequently in coordinating the phonological, orthographic, and morphological processes relevant for the spelling of longer, more complex, less frequent words; and
- at all grade levels in the most common and important words used for the different academic domains of the curriculum.
Throughout K-12, students benefit from strategies for composing:
- planning, generating, reviewing/evaluating, and revising compositions of different genre including narrative, informational, compare and contrast, and persuasive; and
- self-regulation strategies for managing the complex executive functions involved in composing.
Beyond K-12, older teenagers and adults have also strategies for improving dysgraphia:
- Provide tape recorders to supplement note taking and to prepare for writing assignments.
- Create a step-by-step plan that breaks writing assignments into small tasks (see below).
- When organizing writing projects, create a list of keywords that will be useful.
- Provide clear, constructive feedback on the quality of work, explaining both the strengths and weaknesses of the project, commenting on the structure as well as the information that is included.
- Use assistive technology such as voice-activated software if the mechanical aspects of writing remain a major hurdle.
This strategy is for the English written language with 26 letters. Maybe the same strategy above is used also for other Roman alphabet-based written language. I am not quite familiar with other alphabet or writing system.
The processes and needs of a person with dysgraphia is summarized in this picture.
Next time you read an illegible and disorganized handwriting, don’t let your eyes be fooled that the handwriting is a hieroglyphic. You should consider that as dysgraphia..
2. Chivers, M. (1991). “Definition of Dysgraphia (Handwriting Difficulty). Dyslexia A2Z. Retrieved from http://www.dyslexiaa2z.com/learning_difficulties/dysgraphia/dysgraphia_definition.html
3. Berninger, V.W.; B.J. Wolf (2009). Teaching students with dyslexia and dysgraphia: Lessons from teaching and science. Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co. pp. 1–240. ISBN 978-1-55766-934-6.
4. Berninger, VW; May, MO (2011). “Evidence-based diagnosis and treatment for specific learning disabilities impairing written and/or oral language”. J Learn Disabil 44 (2): 167–83. doi:10.1177/0022219410391189. PMID 21383108.