Dysgraphia

What Does Dysgraphia Look Like in Adults?

If you have trouble expressing yourself in writing and if others complain they can’t read your handwriting, you could be struggling with the learning disability dysgraphia.

A man is very focused on writing in his notebook. Hyperfocus is a positive trait of ADHD, but adults with ADHD can also suffer from dysgraphia in adults.
A man is very focused on writing in his notebook. Hyperfocus is a positive trait of ADHD.

Many adults have handwriting that would make an elementary school teacher cringe — but if your handwriting is so messy that even you can’t read it, it could be a sign of dysgraphia.

What is dysgraphia? In short, it’s a learning disability that affects fine motor skills like writing, buttoning a shirt, or tying a shoelace — as well as the mental processes associated with writing, like picking a topic, organizing ideas, and making a coherent point. Since most children with dysgraphia are otherwise bright (and are often skilled readers and speakers), writing-related challenges early in life are frequently missed or chalked up to sloppiness. This means that a child with dysgraphia could easily reach adulthood without receiving a diagnosis — missing out on life-changing treatment and suffering harsh blows to her self-esteem.

Since so many adults with dysgraphia remain undiagnosed, it’s difficult to estimate just how many are living with the condition. In children, the rate is often estimated between 4 and 20 percent — and since dysgraphia can’t be outgrown, just as many adults are living with this learning disability. Dysgraphia affects men more often than women, and can go hand-in-hand with other learning disabilities or a related condition like ADHD.

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Dysgraphia Symptoms at Home

If writing has been a lifelong challenge, you’ve likely devised strategies to compensate or to avoid writing altogether. With that in mind, symptoms of dysgraphia in adults will manifest as more than just messy handwriting — they’ll also appear in the purposeful avoidance of writing and in weak fine motor skills. Symptoms of dysgraphia at home might look like:

  • Highly illegible handwriting, often to the point that even you can’t read what you wrote
  • Struggles with cutting food, doing puzzles, or manipulating small objects by hand
  • Uses a pen grip that is “strange” or “awkward”
  • Slow to understand the rules of games or follow sequential directions
  • Trouble reading maps
  • Difficulty drawing, tracing, or painting
  • Avoids writing whenever possible; prefers a digital grocery list to a written one, for instance
  • Makes spelling errors in simple notes
  • May also dislike texting

Dysgraphia Symptoms at Work

As more and more jobs depend on computers, writing may not factor in to your day-to-day life at work. Even if that’s true for you, dysgraphia can still cause challenges at work by making other fine motor tasks — like handling small objects — difficult. Symptoms of dysgraphia at work might include:

  • When using spell-check on a computer, often has difficulty picking out the correct word from a list of similar words
  • Trouble filling in routine forms by hand, particularly if they require fitting words into set boxes
  • Illegible handwriting; can’t read own meeting notes or coworkers complain that memos are indecipherable
  • Mixes lowercase and uppercase letters, or print and cursive letters, seemingly randomly
  • Often leaves out individual letters or the ends of words, particularly when writing quickly
  • In some cases, may have trouble with typing as well
  • Experiences hand cramps or pain when writing
  • Has trouble telling when words are misspelled
  • Often uses grammatically incorrect sentences in emails or reports
  • May be overly reliant on simple sentence structures
  • Prefers to give or get directions orally, instead of in writing
  • Has trouble “getting to the point” in written communication; emails may be rambling, or reports may repeat the same ideas several times
  • Able to explain self clearly when speaking, but not when writing

Dysgraphia is a brain-based disorder, and it can be improved with accommodations and, in some cases, occupational therapy. If you think you might be showing signs of dysgraphia, talk to your primary care doctor. He or she should be able to refer you to a neuropsychologist or another learning specialist who can diagnose you with dysgraphia and work with you on an effective treatment plan.

Updated on October 30, 2018

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  1. Im pretty sure i suffer from dyslexia dysgraghia dyscalculia i also get migraines and i get motion sick light sensitivity i have panic disorder ptsd and depression are all or most of these linked

  2. Okay so let’s say I look at this list and recognize a lot of symptoms, but definitely not all. Where do I go to learn more, and get a more definitive answer to whether I might be dysgraphic?

    1. Luckily for me in the very early 1990s (stayed at this one up until 2nd grade (I started 3rd grade at a new elementary school in 1998) and I still find this a shocker as America was still EXTREMELY POOR about handling disabilities at this point and didn’t really start until I left 5th grade in 2001) I was diagnosed with dysgraphia! I say lucky as back then or now (now it may be a bit more common with the every kid has something BS) who would consider an actual USA public school to actually have an on grounds occutpational therapist!?!

      This disorder is typically more in the wheel house of an occupational therapist as it deals with the smaller/fine motor functions vs. that of a physical therapist which tends to deal with more of the “bigger picture”. So, while they go hand-in-hand career wise, a lot of physical therapists I have met have NOT heard of it! So, I would suggest talking to your primary and describing your symptoms carefully, if you have a pscyhologist and/or psychiatrist that may be an easier place to start as what is NOT stated here as some experts do NOT like to make the connection, but is one of the main reasons that it may be on their website is this! Due to some of the symtpoms like the disorganization, getting the point across and issues with comprehending things some link it to ADD and Autism and several with it may have one or both of those conditions! In my case I am positive on the ADD diagnosis BUT my “autism” was weirdly “daignosed!?!”, you could say and not by any shrink in any medical office and only in an in school program that on the surface made it look like with an in program shrink and psychiatrist they were ONLY treating children kids that had a pre-existing Autism Spectrum disorder! Secretly, though at the initially meetings with the children sans parents they actually tried to “diagnose our place on the spectrum” if they couldn’t locate it by our records!

      That said, regardless of whether or not you have ADD or ASD (an autism specturm disorder), since some experts see them as linked if you bring them up in covonversation with your physician or psychological counsel at about the former one or two it might be an easier segway to better help than what I got after I was 5! The OT (occupational therapist) I had shocked me that she was able to do her job at all considering she was born with the lower halves of BOTH of her arms and since it was the 90s she only had those stiff, plastic, imobile things that tried their best to be flesh colored! She discovered I needed a compromised grip, my preferred hand (I kept switching hands and trying every single finger to hold my pencil with in every way as it hurt so much!), she just put EVERYTHING into persepective! I was one of the lucky women to get diagnosed!

      So, talk to your primary and psychiatry team and if you have one possible your neurologist (even though this isn’t much of a neurologic disorder but with the processing issues and randomizing and comprehension problems they may just barely stretch over enough into their wheel house to have them help you)! Then one or more should either on their own or collaboratively take the next steps if they find any appropriate and logically send you to an occupational therapist! If they do not, then I would be flabbergausted but then again I do not know if the treatment in adults is different for children! However, since it is lifelong and it is more in the wheel house of an OT as I said I can assume that their next course would be that regardless of age!

      I also do not get the issues with a word proccessor thing! I typed this with almost 100% accuracy and my eyes closed in 10 minutes! LOL!

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