“Dysgraphia” – More Than Just Sloppy Handwriting!

by Danielle Shulman OTR/L, MSOT

Although our children’s exposure to technology continues to grow, handwriting remains a large part of a child’s school day. They are asked to keep written journals, complete writing assignments, and participate in art projects that involve writing descriptions. They use handwriting to write letters to their friends, parents, and teachers. Children also need legible handwriting in order to take tests and state exams.

Many children have difficulty with handwriting, a problem that is termed “dysgraphia”.  Dysgraphia can manifest in a child’s pencil grasp, pencil pressure, speed of handwriting, overall control of the pencil, alignment of letters, letter formation, sizing of the letter, spacing between or within words, and the memory of how to start the letter in the correct place.  A child that has dysgraphia, or difficulty with handwriting, can begin to have decreased self esteem. For example, they may observe their peers handing in their work faster than them or they may get marked off on spelling tests because the teacher cannot read their handwriting.

Some Signs and Symptoms of Dysgraphia

• Cramping of fingers while writing short entries
• Odd wrist, arm, body, or paper orientations such as bending an arm into an L shape
• Excessive erasures
• Mixed upper case and lower case letters
• Inconsistent form and size of letters, or unfinished letters
• Misuse of lines and margins
• Inefficient speed of copying
• Inattentiveness over details when writing
• Frequent need of verbal cues
• Referring heavily on vision to write
• Poor legibility
• Handwriting abilities that may interfere with spelling and written composition
• Having a hard time translating ideas to writing, sometimes using the wrong words altogether
• Pain while writing

What can I do to help my child?

If your child is having great difficulty with handwriting and fine motor skills, it is important to consult with an occupational therapist that specializes in working with children with dysgraphia.  Talk to your child’s teacher and pediatrician if you have concerns.

Please see below for some helpful ideas to help improve your child’s fine motor skills and make handwriting easier and more fun for them:

1. Allow for sensory experiences such as having a child use his/her finger to make letters in sand, foam soap or shaving cream
2. Build letters with playdoh or pretzel dough to develop hand strength
3. Use letter stamps to develop pincer grasp for holding pencil
4. Air write letters
5. Finger paint letters or shapes
6. Make letters with wikkie sticks or pipe cleaners
7. Write letters on dry erase or blackboards, or magnadoodles
8. Trace tactile letters with pointer finger
9. Make letters with “do-a-dot art” (dotart.com)
10. Use broken crayons or special small crayons to develop pincer grasp
11. Use small markers or animal markers to add fun
12. Stencils (tape down for preschoolers) to help develop bilateral coordination/dexterity
13. Snip straws with scissors to help develop proper grasp for holding scissors to cut paper
14. Paint with Q-tips
15. Use mini sponges to stamp decorations to develop pincer grasp
16. Eat with“Zoo sticks or chopsticks” to develop pincer grasp/ strength/ dexterity
17. Construct with big pop beads to develop bilateral coordination/strength
18. Glue small beans to make letters, to help develop pincer grasp
19. Legos (big then small) to develop bilateral coordination, hand strength, and grasp
20. Hide small things in playdoh/putty and then find them to develop hand strength/pincer grasp
21. Clothespins help to develop pincer grasp – play with them or hang the laundry!


danielle_joshDanielle Shulman, founder of WriteSteps Pediatric Occupational Therapy, has over 13 years of experience in providing occupational therapy treatment to children. At WriteSteps, located in Carmel Valley, Danielle provides expert treatment in helping children with fine and gross motor skill development, handwriting, sensory integration difficulties, and feeding disorders (including food refusal and picky eaters). She received her Masters in Occupational Therapy from Tufts University in Boston and later went on to receive advanced training in Sensory Integration Therapy through completion of coursework at the University of Southern California. She also received additional certification in treating feeding disorders.

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