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Deciphering Dysgraphia

Does your young student struggle when gripping a writing utensil? Is his handwriting illegible? Your pediatrician may point to a learning disability called dysgraphia, but Jan McCleskey, MA, ORT, who works with hundreds of struggling area students, warns that this hot-button term is often overused.

“If a student has poor or sloppy handwriting, they are often labeled as having dysgraphia. Only about three out of 10 children who come to our clinic with a diagnosis of dysgraphia actually have the true problem,” she explains.

Why the inconsistency? “Handwriting problems are exhibited across all ages. Often, gifted children have the worst handwriting because they start writing so young,” says McCleskey. She adds, “Many young children don’t learn proper writing techniques; they’re just taught to copy letters and memorize.” Thus, the learning platform for handwriting wanes, producing a number of students with sloppy writing, improper pencil grips and a number of other problems.

True dysgraphia, however, does occur in young students, appearing in three forms: dyslexic, fine motor and visual motor. “Therapy helps dysgraphic children gather their thoughts for composition, tune their eye and hand coordination and reproduce letters on paper,” McCleskey details. “It’s important that instead of using the term dysgraphia that a professional diagnose what the problem is (fine or visual motor or dyslexic). Other children who are experiencing legibility or spelling problems quickly bounce back with a little instruction.”