Demystifying Dysgraphia: Defining Dysgraphia

Similar to Dyslexia, Dysgraphia is another type of learning disability.  However, unlike Dyslexia, which is specific to a reading disability, Dysgraphia is specific to a writing disability. Specifically, dysgraphia is a Greek word whose prefix “dys” means “impaired” and whose base “graph” means “letter-form produced by hand.”  The suffix “ia” makes it a noun, whereas “ic” (as in dysgraphic) makes it an adjective describing the condition of having impaired ability to process or produce letters and written words. Interestingly, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) mentions “Dyslexia” and “Dyscalculia” as “alternative” terms to Specific Learning Disorder in reading and math, respectively.  However, the DSM-5 does not mention Dysgraphia under SLD in written expression.  That said, the DSM-5 stated SLD is a neurodevelopmental disorder with a biological origin that is the basis for abnormalities at a cognitive level associated with the behavioral signs of the disorder. Depending on the researcher the subtypes vary.  According to Dr. Feifer’s model, three subtypes of dysgraphia are graphomotor dysgraphia (i.e., motor skill deficits in which the voluntary execution of a skilled motor movement is impaired), dyslexia dysgraphia (e.g., spelling miscues with dysphonetic, surface, and mixed types), and executive dysgraphia (i.e., inability to master the implicit rules for grammar which dictate how words and phrases can be combined).  In addition, Dr. Feifer as a test (Feifer Assessment of Writing [FAW]) that assists in the identification of these subtypes.  However, Dr. Feifer’s model is not without its’ critics (see here). However, among various researchers, it appears to be a consensus that individuals with dysgraphia nearly always have handwriting difficulties with or without spelling problems.  Children with dysgraphia also sometimes have orthographic spelling problems (i.e., inability to “see” the entire word [e.g., spelling “psychologist” as “sikeowlghist”) related to fluent access to precise spellings in long-term memory.  In contrast, spelling difficulties in individuals with dyslexia tend to be phonologically based (e.g., spelling “flood” as “flud”). In the next blog post, I will discuss how to assess for dysgraphia.  Also, feel free to contact me for a free consult if you suspect your child of having dysgraphia.