Over the years, researchers have been able to determine how well parts of our brains are functioning based on our handwriting.
When there is a disruption in this process, clues to what’s happening in the brain can be seen in a person’s ability to write or draw. When a trained professional looks at a person’s handwriting and detects certain errors, a diagnosis of dysgraphia may be made.
What is Dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia (dis-graf-ee-uh) is defined as “an impairment of handwriting ability that is characterized chiefly by very poor or often ineligible writing or writing that takes an unusually long time and great effort to complete.” (Merriam-Webster). When children are diagnosed with dysgraphia, it is usually a sign of a learning impairment, and as a result they also often display speech disorder symptoms such as oromotor Dyspraxia. When it occurs in an adult, it’s usually the effect of disease or trauma.
Examples of errors commonly seen with dysgraphia include:
- Irregular letter sizes and shapes
- Unfinished letters
- Unusual grip on writing tool
- Decreased or increased speed of writing and copying
- General illegibility
- Experiencing physical pain in the hand and/or arm when writing
- Poor use of lines and spaces
Children and Dysgraphia
It’s commonly a caregiver or school that recognizes early signs of dysgraphia in children. A teacher will contact a parent to discuss a potential difficulty the child is experiencing in the curriculum and maybe suggest a referral to a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). Following an evaluation, the SLP may recommend therapy to help the child achieve developmental milestones so that they do not suffer a delay in their learning.
Therapy for dysgraphia can include individual sessions with an SLP or an Occupational Therapist (OT), as well as compensatory strategies that can be implemented at home or at school.
Adults and Dysgraphia
For adults, dysgraphia can be an effect of neurological problems such as stroke, traumatic brain injury or progressive neurological diseases (i.e., Parkinson’s Disease or Dementia), or in some cases, the first sign that problems are occurring. In the case that an adult seeks medical treatment because of these difficulties, a source of the problem will be investigated. In the case that the cause is already determined, therapy may be recommended.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The more practice a person has with a particular activity, the easier it becomes for the brain to carry out the task. With practice, the brain increases its effectiveness and efficiency. And the more the brain is challenged by learning to read and write unfamiliar letters and forms, the more it grows. It’s one of the great benefits of neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to adapt and grow when stimulated.
Treatment: Complimenting Therapy With a Good Home Program
Most treatment for dysgraphia will occur with a therapist. But there are other things you can do at home and during school to help improve dysgraphia:
- Typing (improve character recognition and memory)
- Assistive Devices (devices to support handwriting)
- Therapy Shoppe® has products such as raised-line paper, specialized pencil grips, and even programs designed to help with handwriting.
- Multi-sensory training and biofeedback (using the brain’s own impulses to improve brain function)
- Coordination Exercises (also called Cross-Lateral Coordination—encourages both sides of the brain to work together)
- Exercises such as jumping jacks or jump rope
- Activities requiring the use of scissors
- Specific types of Yoga and Tai Chi movements
Dysgraphia is a very treatable disorder of handwriting that requires a variety of treatment strategies including evaluation by a trained professional. However, there are many strategies and complementary treatments we can implement at home to help progress. For more information check out the following resources:
Peer-reviewed journal article (in English & French): Neuroanatomy of Handwriting and Related Reading and Writing Skills in Adults and Children with and without Learning Disabilities: French-American Connections