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Dear ADDitude: Is it Dysgraphia or Another Condition?

“My 10 year old has a hard time writing legibly and composing his thoughts on paper. He often says his hand hurts, but the school’s occupational therapist has not noticed any problems with his fine motor skills, so the school has ruled out dysgraphia. Could this be something else?”

ADDitude Answers

My son has severe dysgraphia. I was astonished when the occupational therapist’s (OT) evaluation report showed NO fine motor deficits. You can most definitely have dysgraphia and written expression disorder and also have average or above average fine motor. I would suggest going to a private OT for an evaluation. The school OT here is a joke.

Read this article on Recognizing Dysgraphia in Children with ADHD

Posted by Penny
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

I went through this exact issue. Recently I learned from an assistive technology specialist who specializes in dysgraphia that OTs or SLPs are not qualified to diagnose dysgraphia. Only a neuropsychologist can make a diagnosis because it is usually NOT a graphomotor issue — though in a small percentage of kids it can be addressed with OT — but is instead a neurologically-based issue, and it closely related to executive function.

It is not an area like dyslexia where there is a lot of research to help us understand it, so many clinicians do not know much about it. My son’s SLP said he could not have dysgraphia because his handwriting is legible (barely — after a year at a dedicated school for kids with LDs where everything else has improved except his willingness and ability to get his thoughts in writing, despite a high IQ and advanced verbal skills (like many ADHD kids). Yet asking him to write a few sentences is like asking him to torture himself. Even when he is motivated and interested, he struggles with it, and just cannot do it on his own for very long.

There is another diagnosis called “Disorder of Written Expression” that describes deficits in the neurological components of writing. I believe that may be the diagnosis you need in order to qualify for assistive technology at school via an IEP or a 504 plan. But you need to research the exact process to get qualified for that — starting with requesting an eval in writing, I believe. An educational advocate from your state or city should be able to help. The people at Handwriting Solutions also helped us a lot.

Posted by cesk

[Symptom Test: Does My Child Have Dysgraphia?]

A Reader Answers

I just want to thank you for posting this; my son, who is 11, has struggled with his writing since he started school. I was told he was lazy and not trying hard enough. I even had the occupational therapist evaluate him in grade school, and the OT told me he just needed to practice. I looked up examples of dysgraphia and if I didn’t know better, I would have said my son wrote them. I finally feel like I have at least a direction to go in!

Posted by Eau Claire Mom

A Reader Answers

My 10-year-old son has been struggling with handwriting for quite a while. I have found over the past few years the more he reads the more he improves.

Many children with ADHD also have trouble with handwriting. Using an iPad or tablet with a microphone helps my son get his ideas on paper. Then editing helps him to learn better writing skills.

Posted by Lorri

A Reader Answers

This problem is soooooooo typical for kids with ADHD. I can’t even put into words how many people I’ve talked to whose children have this problem or how many years we’ve struggled with it. For whatever reason ‘writing intolerance’ and ADHD seem to go hand in hand. My friend said that her son acted as though the pencil he had to pick up was on fire he was so resistant. I don’t think anyone really knows why and there isn’t much good advice out there. The long and short of it is that it’s a common, exceedingly frustrating, problem.

We’ve used a calendar in the past with very specific small daily steps towards finishing large projects. Each day my son could do that one step and cross it off. That made it seem more manageable. Having your son dictate to you while you write down his thoughts helps also.

[Dysgraphia — There’s an App for That]

Not every job in the future is going to require writing so there’s really no need to worry that this is not their strong suit. Not every college or college degree requires essay abilities. Your son will find a way to use his strengths. We just have to make sure their struggles with this particular problem don’t hold them back or hurt their self-esteem.

Posted by HaveBeenThere

A Reader Answers

I just want to say there could be several things going on. When I was a kid, I had sloppy handwriting and would make holes in my paper pressing too hard. It was difficult, but I did OK. and got by with good grades.

However, my son has dysgraphia, which is a neurological disability similar in function and type to dyslexia. He was specifically tested for this by a neuropsychologist. Besides “sloppy handwriting” his letter spacing is quite strange. He never does punctuation, he will do mix of large and small letters, and his margins are usually on the right instead of left. He started using a computer after his diagnosis and quickly picked up typing. If your son does have dysgraphia he should not be put through the misery of having to handwrite everything, especially in this day and age of computers, iPhones, and iPads. I taught my son to sign his name in cursive and called it good on the writing lesson.

My son also has Dyspraxia and this involves muscle weakness and he easily tires. He didn’t learn how to tie his shoes until 8 and ride a bike until 12 due to problems with balance and strength. An OT evaluation could help determine if dyspraxia is the problem, and help alleviate the issue. A neuropsychologist could determine if it is dysgraphia.

Posted by E’s Mom

A Reader Answers

My daughter is in the 5th grade and has total blocks when it comes to writing. We have recently set up a “Study Plan” for her as we are in private school and an IEP is not available. Our school is being GREAT about helping her. I just saw a test that she took that had short answers on it. She tried to write the answers and then the teacher asked her to tell her the answers and the teacher wrote what she said. I almost fainted when I compared the two. The answers my daughter had written made no sense. They weren’t even full sentences, nor did they pertain to the question. The answers the teacher wrote from her verbal answers were precise, intelligent, and correct!

My daughter is now working with an occupational therapist for a condition known as graphomotor deficit. My understanding is, there is a breakdown somewhere between the brain and the hand when trying to answer something. She know what she wants to write, but can’t. I also understand that this deficit can cause a person to even forget how to make a letter on paper, even though they have been doing it for years.

Posted by LPatterson

[Personal Story: “My Life with Dysgraphia”]