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Understanding Dysgraphia

The frustrating thing about advocating is understanding the drivers, the connections, the science and being denied so vehemently by people who just don’t get it. They just don’t.

Recent events have really hit home for me, HARD, how much those in charge absolutely do not know anything about this world we as parents have to dive so deeply into. That’s why the denial is just so pathetic. There I said it…PATHETIC!

I’m tired of being nice and dancing around feelings. No one cares about the extensive damage that is done to my child, much less all children, so I’m really over being “kind” to everyone who is denying my child. Time to call a spade a spade.

Case in point, my child’s dysgraphia.

As I’ve written before, much didn’t click for me because I just didn’t dive in on dysgraphia. His inability to read was the major, in our face, burning forest fire, so that’s where we went to work. Now that I’m learning more, I hope by sharing I can spare other parents the same pain.

So, let’s state the obvious thing. DYSGRAPHIA IS MORE THAN MESSY HANDWRITING! I stole those words from a lecture by Dr. Brenda Taylor of Texas A&M University because it’s just so apropos.

Why do I state the obvious? Because my child’s district keeps offering handwriting help, and I’m very frustrated by this lack of understanding. Why are they doing this? Because I learned two weeks ago that my child is 5 years behind in his written expression, AND the school district has KNOWN this for a year and withheld the information from me even after I asked for it. Talk about a Child Find failure!

THEN, they had the gaul to say that a) the Texas Dyslexia Handbook doesn’t require them to actually remediate dysgraphia (um, Chapter 5 people!) AND that IDEA doesn’t require it either AND that the district doesn’t have a program for it anyway, so they weren’t going to do anything about it. Um, ok. (Yes, I have this on a recording from our last IEP meeting.)

So, if dysgraphia is MORE than messy handwriting, then what is it exactly?

So glad you asked. Recently I wrote an email and I used this quote from a great article and sadly since then I can’t find the article, but I still love the quote so I’m going to use it here.

“A learning disability in written expression affects the ability to write and organize thoughts using appropriate detail, sequence, sentence structure, and literary form. In order to progress academically, students must be able to effectively express their knowledge in writing. For students with writing disabilities, writing difficulties exist on two levels: (Schumaker & Deschler, 2003)

  1. Transcription skills, which include handwriting, spelling, punctuation, and grammar
  2. Composition/expressive writing skills, which include generating ideas, planning, organizing, and revising thoughts/ideas to communicate meaning in a written product (composition).”

So, I’m slamming the offering of handwriting, BUT IT IS CRITICAL.

Why? Well, again, I’m so glad you asked! It just so happens that the IDA Annual Conference is actively happening and one of the lectures is called “Handwriting W4 + H – Why, Who, What, When and How” by Bonnie Meyer, Certified Instructor of Teaching, Slingerland® Institute for Literacy, and Sue Winters M.Ed., Certified Instructor of Teaching, Slingerland® Institute for Literacy. They shared that six lessons from Handwriting research are:

  1. Manuscript handwriting helps children learn to read (Berninger, 1997)
  2. Production of letters for writing enhances perception of letters for reading (James, Jao, & Berninger,  2015, Longcamp, Richards, Velay, & Berninger, 2017)
  3. Teach manuscript and cursive formations directly and practice to automaticity across grade levels (Wolf, 2016)
  4. Daily practice and review build automaticity in performance (Berninger et al., 2008)
  5. Cursive writing contributes to better spelling and composition (Alstad, et al 2015)
  6. Learning alphabetical order helps with reading and writing (Niedo,  Lee, Breznitz, & Berninger, 2014; Berninger et al., 1995)


All children benefit from handwriting instruction:

  • develops automatic letter formations
  • helps the brain use resources more efficiently
  • 1 in 5 children struggle with handwriting and/or keyboarding (with and without dyslexia)
  • grapho-motor skills (planning and sequencing and fine motor control) can be improved with correct models and guided practice

And, furthermore…

  • First graders improved whether taught cursive or printing.
  • Grade-appropriate handwriting skills = completing written assignments (McMenamin & Martin, 1980)
  • Handwriting legibility contributes to better spelling skills (Strickling, 1974)
  • Slow note-taking skills due to poor handwriting = difficulty with lecture comprehension (Blalock, 1985)

So, now that I’ve explained that handwriting IS important, let’s go back to the fact that it IS NOT the only important thing for our dysgraphic students. Again from the quote above:

“1. Transcription skills, which include handwriting, spelling, punctuation, and grammar

2. Composition/expressive writing skills, which include generating ideas, planning, organizing, and revising thoughts/ideas to communicate meaning in a written product (composition).”

Did you note I highlighted “better spelling skills” above? Why would I do that? Spelling is critical! Spelling is important in fluency (which for the record is NOT just how fast a child can read so stop doing that stop watch torture!), comprehension and writing. Can’t deny the science, folks! Look it up if you don’t believe me.

So writing, like reading and all things in life really, has to start with the cornerstone and be built up from there. Shaping the letters and learning handwriting is first. Adding in spelling, punctuation and grammar / syntax is critical stones that start to shape the building that is written expression.

Think about it, if a child struggles with the basic structure of a sentence then why do you think they can write an argumentative essay or any other form of writing? Please explain that to me.

The answer for those of you scratching your heads over that is THEY CAN’T!

Now, let’s talk about grammar and syntax. No, they’re not the same thing.


/ˈɡramər/, noun

Definition – the whole system and structure of a language or of languages in general, usually taken as consisting of syntax and morphology (including inflections) and sometimes also phonology and semantics.

Synonyms – syntax, rules of language, morphology, semantics, linguistics


/ˈsinˌtaks/, noun

Definition – the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.

Grammar is critical to successful writing. It just is. Sorry, folks. A good writer must have a quality grasp of grammar. Note: I do not support Grammar Nazis because no one needs to be that freaking anal about freaking grammar (and seriously folks, get a life!), but everyone should have a good, quality, sound, deep appreciation for all things grammar. Period.

Syntax goes hand in hand with grammar. You can’t shape a sentence if you don’t understand syntax.

Now, a quick note. There are disparate camps on HOW to teach a dyslexic child grammar. Some think it’s cruel to teach sentence diagramming to a dyslexic child, others don’t. Some think grammar can be taught as a stand-alone, others think it has to be taught inside of writing instruction. The point is there’s no one right perfect answer here. Find the method that works best for your child and run with it.

So we’ve got handwriting, grammar, syntax and you have to have that to understand WHY you’re using capital letters and punctuation. To everyone out there writing IEP goals for capitalization and periods at the end of the sentence please stop. The child will not be successful in that goal, not really, not by mastery standards, without the other core components. I know you don’t know that, but I’m explaining that here so please pay attention.

So, once you have the foundations for writing, NOW you can teach writing, meaning all of the various forms of writing and HOW to actually construct those forms, i.e. point two in the fantastic quote I’ve shared twice so far in this article. Within this you teach “generating ideas, planning, organizing, and revising thoughts/ideas to communicate meaning.” This, folks, is written expression.

See, as an example I’ve poured my written expression about dysgraphia all over this blog, and I’m going to hit publish without much of an edit, well, because I’m just that way; and I’ll read it twenty times over the next few days, hit edit, and correct everything I find wrong, and even a year from now will probably still find grammatical and syntax mistakes that I will continue to correct. That’s just how I do things. I was egotistical enough in college that I never edited a paper before turning it in. Yup, I did that and still made A’s and B’s in my English program. Lol!

My point is, I learned all of this about written expression. I remember sentence diagramming in elementary school, and then Mrs. Ezernak’s English class in 8th grade was the bane of my freaking existence, but guess what? Because of that task master of a woman I mastered a number of the parts of speech, and it made me a better writer. I’ve edited documents for a number of people, written on the odd occasion for a paycheck, and have an undergrad degree in Creating Writing. I couldn’t have done that without explicit instruction in all things writing related, but that’s not what we’re giving our children, much less our dysgraphic children, and they are all suffering from it.

Writing, like reading, is a human invention and must be taught explicitly and properly.

Oh, and one thought to chew on…if you don’t teach grammar and syntax and composition then how on earth is a computer going to help? I mean, AT is great, and it shouldn’t be a band-aid, but seriously, if you don’t understand HOW to write, then there’s no computer in the world that can fix that for you and fake it for school. There’s no fake it until you make it with written expression, folks! Sorry to burst that bubble for you!

So, I hope I’ve made my point that dysgraphia is more than messy handwriting, and more needs to be taught. Written expression / writing is so much more than the shape of the letters on the page, because once you understand this, it is then that we set the potential of our children free.

#DyslexiaRevolution #DysgraphiaRevolution #ForMyLittleMan

One comment on “Understanding Dysgraphia

  1. Renee Harding says:

    The frustration I feel is overwhelming, like screaming into a vacuum…

    Liked by 1 person

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