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How I Learn (sort of...)

What is dysgraphia?

It sounds scientific (from the Greek roots *dys* and *graphia*) and specific but when you start looking at medical dictionaries and other reference tools you will encounter quite a range of descriptions. One medical dictionary described it as "writer's cramp." Here is the current description used by professionals dealing with learning disabilities.

Dysgraphia describes a person whose writing skills fall substantially below those expected given the individual's chronological age, measured intelligence, and age-appropriate education. The person must exhibit average to above-average intelligence. Additionally, any learning disability cannot be the result of sensory impairment (e.g., visual problems, hearing problems), broad-based neurological impairment (e.g., epilepsy), or psychological problems (e.g., depression, anxiety). Cultural and language factors must also be ruled out as possible explanations.

It is believed there are three possible causes of any learning disability: genetic transmission, problems during early fetal or childhood development, or traumatic brain injury. Genetic causes are believed to be the most prevalent.


Hello, I have been diagnosed with dysgraphia.

Don't panic! It is not contagious, it is not a terminal illness, and it doesn't mean that I am likely to do strange, socially unacceptable things.

Before you rush off to find a medical dictionary let me explain. Dysgraphia, in simplest terms, describes a person who has difficulty writing. Like other learning disabilities, dysgraphia is a neurological disorder which often has a genetic (or hereditary) component - in other words, it tends to run in families (if your parents, siblings, or other family members have it you are more likely to have it too). Although I am the only member of my family (so far) who has been officially diagnosed with dysgraphia, the symptoms are evident in my father, three of my siblings, both of my children, and my grandson.

My case of dysgraphia is quite specific

It affects primarily my handwriting. I do not have difficulty with reading or with understanding spoken language. I can write using a typewriter (remember those quaint old machines?) or computer with relative ease - although even here I am slower than average. I do not have difficulty with spelling, grammar, composition, sentence structure, or punctuation. My handwriting is not especially messy or illegible. I was never able to master cursive writing so everything is done in block letters. It's not that I couldn't or didn't learn cursive writing, the dysgraphia just makes cursive writing even slower and more difficult than the printing I learned first.

In either case, handwritten or machine-assisted, my slowness in writing is not caused by slowness in the mechanical process - both my typing speed and the rate at which I form handwritten letters are good - it is the result of the time it takes to form thoughts into words and sentences. The problem is not that I can't write, it's just that writing comes **much** more slowly than for the average person.

What does this mean in my day-to-day life?

Outside of school it is not much of a hindrance. I dislike filling in forms or doing anything else that requires handwriting more than a few words at a time. I use a machine for any writing tasks that I can.

In school, I have no difficulty at all with tests which are administered in multiple-choice, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank formats. Short answer exams are more difficult and exams composed entirely of essay questions are nearly impossible for me to complete within a normal time. These writing-intensive exams are less a problem for me if modified in one of the following ways (listed in descending order of my preference): allow additional time to complete the exam using a computer or typewriter, oral face-to-face examinations, or tape-record my oral answers to the exam questions. Other writing assignments require little adjustment, but I don't write well on assignments with short time deadlines.

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