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Dysgraphia and Writing Difficulties

Learning to write is a complex process for all young learners. When foundational writing skills are not secured by a certain age, or when they come only with great effort and labour, a writing difficulty is identified. 

A diagnosis of Dysgraphia is often applied when an individual's writing and fine motor skills are significantly impaired.

Student writing in class

Dysgraphia and Cognitive Functions

Dysgraphia can be a result of weaknesses in the following cognitive functions:

Motor Symbol Sequencing

Automation of motor plans in writing and eye tracking

Symbol Recognition

Visual memory for letters and numbers

Kinesthetic Perception

Sense of hand grip, pressure, and position

Dysgraphia is Observed Through Two Physical Features – Both of Which Start in Our Brain.

Student writing in class

The messages our brain sends to our hand to grip and move the pencil, and the automated motor plans that create letters and words. 

When the two cognitive functions responsible for these processes are weak, writing can be a chore, and often feel impossible.

Examples of these two features: 

  • difficulty with forming letters, making them the same size, and spacing them correctly 
  • trouble holding a pencil, holding it awkwardly or gripping it too tightly and applying too much pressure when writing
  • writing fatigue – writing can be tiring, cause hand cramps or even pain

Expressive writing often comes under the Dysgraphia umbrella. In these cases, other cognitive functions come into play, including the capacity to sequence language together in a logical way (Predicative Speech), to stay on topic (Symbolic Thinking) and to develop logical arguments (Symbol Relations). Depending on the individual’s diagnosis, a host of cognitive causes can be identified.

Discover Your Unique Cognitive Profile

Arrowsmith Cognitive Questionnaire

Take our 30-minute cognitive profile questionnaire to start the journey into understanding your brain's strengths and weaknesses through a cognitive lens.

Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment

The Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment, administered by an Arrowsmith trained professional, will provide you with an in-depth insight into your unique cognitive profile. 

Dysgraphia is Rarely Experienced in Isolation

Writing problems are also associated with academic struggle and low self-esteem, which can persist into adulthood. 

So much of one’s academic and professional performance is measured by their written output. No matter what their knowledge or understanding of the subject matter – if they cannot effectively communicate in writing – their performance suffers. What’s more - the act of writing has been shown to help the brain remember, organize and process information. 

Common accommodations for Dysgraphia and writing problems include assistive technology and oral assessments. These work-arounds can provide temporary relief to writing struggles. Most students and educators acknowledge however that these are not enduring solutions and are rarely available beyond the school years.

adults writing

Millie’s Arrowsmith Success Story: Understanding and Addressing the Causes of Dysgraphia

Read the Case Study

Dysgraphia Does Not Need to be Lifelong

Contrary to popular belief – the digital world will not replace the need to write. Each cognitive function underlying the mechanics of writing is also required in learning how to type, to remember spelling conventions, to track across a series of words and numbers. Technology will not replace the need to communicate, to express oneself, to effectively participate in a fast-paced world.

If you or your child has been diagnosed with dysgraphia, or is simply experiencing challenges with written expression, spelling, or completing written tasks and tests on time – Arrowsmith can strengthen the cognitive functions underlying these difficulties and create new possibilities for learning and performance. Contact us to learn more.

Written Expression Before and After Arrowsmith

These students had 15 min to produce a writing sample. See the difference that 12 months of Arrowsmith Motor Symbol Sequencing Program makes.

Click images to view larger


Interested in Exploring Dysgraphia in More Detail?

You can find more information on this topic in Chapter 14, Nothing to Write Home About, of Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.


The flow from my brain to pen or keyboard is much smoother because my mental ‘gridlock’ is gone. I used to think my brain was ahead of my hand, but I am happy to say when I write now, my brain and my hand are working together nicely.

Accountant, Arrowsmith participant, Canada

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