‘Reluctant Writers’ May Have A Learning Disability Called Dysgraphia

For many years, my 10-year-old confounded me. She has tested at a ninth-grade reading level and has read classics like L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series since the first grade.

So, how could a child with such advanced reading and comprehension levels disregard proper syntax and grammar when writing? Why were basic punctuation marks like commas non-existent in every assignment? Why was she failing every spelling test?

I soon learned that my daughter, who has an autism spectrum disorder, also has a disability called dysgraphia ― or, essentially, “disabled handwriting.”

People with dysgraphia often have high IQs, but struggle with writing. Symptoms include writing inappropriately sized letters, flipping written letters and jumbling numbers. They can struggle with translating thoughts to paper and spelling words properly, even while testing in average and above ranges in reading comprehension. Slow or labored writing, which can also be neatly done, is also a sign of the disorder.

To further complicate matters, dysgraphia can appear alone but often accompanies other conditions, like dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders.

Federal law specifies written expression as one of the areas in which students with learning disabilities may be affected, which helps ensure assistance. But there is one problem: The testing used to assess written expression disabilities often doesn’t score handwriting or spelling problems, masking the disability. 

If your child is a reluctant or struggling writer, it is important to determine why.
BethAnn Pratte

Even more alarming, children who are “twice-exceptional” ― a popular term for gifted children with intellectual disabilities ― are at greater risk of being under-diagnosed.

“The ability to write is extremely complex, using a diverse set of skills and cognitive functions,” says BethAnn Pratte, a Pennsylvania-based advocate with a Ph.D in education and a mother of a son with…

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