Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how people process the world around them. While individuals with autism share common symptoms, since it’s a spectrum disorder, the symptoms can range from mild to severe. Everyone experiences ASD differently.
Some of the common symptoms people with autism experience are:
- Obsessions with certain topics
- Engaging in repetitive behaviors
- Difficulty with social interactions
Yet you can’t call autism a “learning disability,” even if it affects learning, especially language skills. Learning disability refers to several different problems with learning, often in math, reading, writing, and problem-solving.
While autism and learning disabilities can occur together, they are two separate things. You can even have one without the other.
One common comorbid condition in autistic people is dysgraphia. This is a condition that affects handwriting. Since it’s a brain-related issue, it makes writing much slower. It often results in impaired letter writing and processing of written words and even affects muscle movement.
But what exactly is dysgraphia and how can you learn to cope with it? Discover the answers you seek in this article.
What Is Dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia refers to the inability or difficulty of writing, especially if the person is old enough to practice writing. Dysgraphia is common at all ages in children. Nearly 60% of people with ASD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have dysgraphia.
Dysgraphia comes from dys (hard) and graphia (writing). In the simplest of terms, it means hard to write. It usually occurs when the brain knows what it wants to write—and how to write—but people have trouble communicating ideas using their hands.
People with dysgraphia put a tremendous amount of effort into their writing. As a result, they write very slowly and struggle with poor handwriting, including spacing, alignment, and size problems.
The problem usually persists as the child ages, unaffected by hours of writing practice. To not be confused with dyspraxia, difficulty in movement.
Types of Dysgraphia
Three types of dysgraphia stem from different issues—and have various symptoms. Someone can have a combination of these different types of dysgraphia or just have one of the types but with different symptoms.
Spontaneously written work is illegible, spelling is bad, and copied work is good. The handwriting might look decent when someone copies a text, but not much when writing without a reference. It’s different from dyslexia, and it does not come from cerebellar damage.
Motor dysgraphia can be caused by cerebellar damage, and it’s due to a deficiency in motor skills and muscle tone. Even if the text is written, the handwriting is poor and illegible. It requires extreme effort and careful concentration to have good writing in short passages, but it cannot be sustained for long periods.
Spatial dysgraphia does not impact someone’s ability to spell, but it involves a misunderstanding of space. This may result in poorly spaced and sized letters, illegibly written work, or illegible copied work.
Symptoms of Dysgraphia
Many people who experience this condition complain of pain while writing. It begins in the center of the forearms and spreads along the nervous system to the entire body. The symptoms worsen when the child is stressed.
Symptoms often manifest through a mixture of upper/lower case letters, unfinished letter formation, struggling to use writing to communicate, irregular letter shapes and sizes, odd grip, etc. Sometimes it even manifests through refusal to complete writing assignments.
Why Does Dysgraphia Occur?
Dysgraphia happens because there is a simple disconnect between the brain's communication channels and the hands. However, since brain-body communication is very complex, there are many points where the error can be found.
As a result, the error point is not the same among all individuals with dysgraphia. The same factor does not cause dysgraphia. Some might be caused by motor deficiencies or muscle weakness, while others can be due to neurological issues such as brain damage.
Can Dysgraphia Be Treated?
Dysgraphia has a broad range of symptoms, so each person is affected differently by it. Managing symptoms of dysgraphia is challenging. Moreover, there is currently no medication that treats dysgraphia, but there are educational interventions that can teach new ways to write.
Here are some methods:
- Accommodation: Your child must access the mainstream education curriculum with assistive resources and without changing the educational content.
- Modification: Your school needs to adapt your kid’s goals and objectives and provide the services to reduce the effects of dysgraphia.
- Remediation: Your school needs to provide specific interventions to decrease the severity.
First, the child should be evaluated for vision problems and muscle tone. Then, it's essential to strengthen muscles and correct vision issues. Other treatments should address neurological problems. Some experts suggest using computers to avoid problems with poor handwriting.
Occupational therapy helps strengthen muscles, improve dexterity, and ensure proper pencil grip. An occupational therapist should evaluate a child's hand-eye coordination and ambidexterity since it slows fine motor skill development.
If you are looking for pencil grips, then here are some options:
Read: Tips for Choosing Your ABA Therapist.
How Is Dysgraphia Diagnosed?
Dysgraphia doesn't have specific criteria for diagnosis, which makes it challenging to diagnose. An assessment for dysgraphia involves careful consideration of the following factors:
- Educational history
- Learning strengths and weaknesses
- The type of writing difficulties they are having
- The extent of these writing challenges
One of the most important things you can do is advocate for your little one in the classroom. Some schools offer voice-recognition technology or a keyboard for typing to replace or supplement a child’s handwriting.
Other accommodations can be made at school, such as multiple choice instead of written-answer tests.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Prevent Dysgraphia?
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent dysgraphia, but you can manage the symptoms by finding different writing methods. Early diagnosis is vital, so talk to your healthcare provider if you see a sign of dysgraphia.
What Is the Outlook for Dysgraphia?
If undiagnosed and left untreated, children will struggle to succeed in school. Writing is a crucial academic skill often associated with overall academic achievement.
As a result, teachers and peers often mislabel children who struggle with writing as lazy or sloppy. It's not often recognized as a learning disorder, so you should speak to your child's teachers about issues.
Children with dysgraphia might have self-esteem issues or think they are not smart enough. In these challenging times, it’s important to offer positive support.
How Common Is Dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is pretty common, with researchers estimating that 5% to 20% of individuals have this condition. The range might be even larger because dysgraphia goes misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.