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EDUCATION REPORT - Learning Disabilities, Part 3: Dysgraphia - 2004-02-18

Broadcast: February 19, 2004

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Education Report.

People who have unusual difficulty with skills like reading, writing, listening or working with numbers may have a learning disability. We talked last week about dyslexia, a reading disorder. Today we discuss a condition with writing, called dysgraphia.

Writing is not an easy skill. It is both mental and physical. A person must be able to move the muscles in the hands and fingers to form letters and numbers. Some people are not able to move these muscles easily.

Experts say teachers and parents should suspect dysgraphia if they see handwriting that is unusually difficult to understand. Letters may be formed or spaced incorrectly. Capital letters may be in the wrong places.

Children with dysgraphia often hold their writing tools in an unusual position. They may also place the paper in an odd position for writing. The disorder generally appears when they first learn to write. Children continue to write wrong or misspelled words even after their teacher tries to show them the correct way.

Experts at the National Institutes of Health say the cause of the disorder is not known. Some people with dysgraphia are able to improve their writing ability. But others are not. As with other disorders, the most important part of treatment is for someone to first identify the problem.

There are some simple interventions that can help students with dysgraphia. For example, schools can give them more time to complete writing activities and provide help taking notes. Students might be permitted to type their work instead of having to write by hand. Teachers can also permit students to take examinations by speaking the answers instead of writing them.

Dysgraphia often appears with other learning disabilities. Some students may not be able to organize their thoughts and think about how to write at the same time. So a teacher might advise them to type their ideas first, without thinking about writing skills.

Experts say people with dysgraphia may be able to write well if they work slowly and develop their skills. Technology can help. One way to avoid the problems of handwriting is to use a computer. Students can use the computer spell checker to help make sure every word is correct.

We continue our series about learning disabilities next week. Our programs are on the Internet at

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Nancy Steinbach. This is Steve Ember.