Dysgraphia: Difficulty writing

Dysgraphia refers to difficulty writing.  Most people with dysgraphia have a hard time holding a pencil or pen. The awkward pencil grip can make forming letters on a page challenging.  When a student with dysgraphia is asked to copy from the board, line up math problems, or write an essay he is at a real disadvantage compared to his peers who can easily write down information on a page.

Many parents and teachers don’t realize that dysgraphia is a learning disability that does not get better as the student gets older. Here are some of the signs to watch for:

  • Awkward pencil grip
  • Messy writing
  • Letter size is inconsistent
  • Presses hard on paper
  • Spacing is inconsistent
  • Letters are not anchored on the line
  • Tires easily
  • Omits words in sentence
  • Has trouble keeping track of an idea while writing
  • A large gap exists between verbal ability to communicate and written ability to communicate.

What can be done to help a dysgraphic student?

Build fine motor skills for writing

    • The amount of effort it takes students to write makes the whole writing process laborious. The frustrating part for the students is that they have the ideas but it’s too much work to communicate them
    • I recommend the Retrain the Brain program along with Handwriting Without Tears.
    • An occupational therapist has additional tools that can be used to build the hand muscles needed for fluent writing.
    • Vision Therapy, if visual tracking is an issue.

Organize language and writing skills.

      • Educational specialists or tutors can help with this
      • The writing skills that a student with this profile needs to learn includes: pre-writing skills to help him organize his ideas before he writes and editing skills.
      • Use Speech to Text software like Dragon 

Use mind maps or advanced organizers

    • Graphic organizers  are great tools.
 In other words, we want to take the grand ideas that the student has and get them onto paper.
 This process alone will alleviate a lot of stress on the student.
    • Once the ideas are on paper, they can be numbered in the order the student wants to present them in his final paper.

Here is a great video that explains dysgraphia


  • Cathy

    Hello Dr. Mullin,
    Thank you for this wonderful website! I have been researching dysgraphia (and dyspraxia) because my 8 year old son has been having writing problems and is currently undergoing evaluations at school. He does not currently have a 504 or an IEP, but I am hoping to get something for him. He struggles terribly with everything related to writing. He has been evaluated by 2 private OT’s and found to have dysgraphia and dyspraxia, but at school the OT says everything is fine. Thankfully, the rest of the team acknowledged there is some problem and have approved an Independent OT eval.
    Wisc-IV scores: FSIQ 108
    VCI 114
    PRI 108
    WMI 97
    PSI 97 Coding 7 Symbol search 12

    WJ- III Cog
    Long term retrieval 91
    Visual auditory 99
    Retrieval fluency 76
    Cognitive fluenc 98
    retrieval fluency 76
    Decision speed 100
    Rapid picture naming 104

    On Miller participation- 2% fine motor, 9 %visual motor and 25%ile gross motor

    I wondered of any thoughts you might have, or any additional testing that could be done to help demonstrate his dysgraphia, or try to figure out this puzzle 🙂
    Thank you! Cathy

  • michael barber

    How can I try to encourage a young person with Brain damage and fine motor skills to write a word. The person holds the pen through a clenched fist. I have seen potential as I was able to manipulate a hand to hold a pen in a similar way as we do. I’ve only had a few minutes with …so far. I found Dr H’s video very enlightening thanks.

    • Melissa Mullin, Ph.D.

      I’m glad you have seen improvement. I would investigate tools Occupational Therapists use with children to gain more insight into interventions for your student.

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