Specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression (dysgraphia)

A specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression (dysgraphia) often remains undiagnosed. It is a persistent difficulty with written expression, handwriting and/or spelling that may occur in isolation, but more often, occurs in conjunction with dyslexia.

Dysgraphia can be defined as:

… a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterised by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent written expression and by poor spelling and handwriting skills. These ongoing delays in writing are often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.

In the past, a specific learning disability with impairment in written expression was identified as either a language-based dysgraphia or a motor-based dysgraphia. It is now more common to use the term specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression when describing the language-based difficulties and developmental coordination when describing the motor-based difficulties associated with written expression. 

When looking at identifying a Specific Learning Disorder with impairment in written expression (dysgraphia), deficits in one or both of the following key academic areas are usually present:

  • Difficulties with spelling (e.g., may add, omit or substitute vowels or consonants).
  • Difficulties with written expression (e.g., makes multiple grammatical or punctuation errors within sentences; employs poor paragraph organisation; written expression of ideas lacks clarity).

When spelling and the composition of sentences and texts are explicitly taught, students have a greater chance of achieving an acceptable standard of writing. A firm understanding of English orthography allows students to reduce cognitive load and ‘free up’ their working memory to concentrate on high order writing skills, such as the planning of content and structure.

While explicit instruction can benefit students who have a specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression (dysgraphia), weaknesses in writing fluency are likely to endure. Students who have a specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression (dysgraphia) often have to work much harder and longer to produce written work to the same standard as an individual with typically developing writing skills.


What you might see in the classroom.

Pre/Lower Primary School Mid/Upper Primary School Secondary School
  • Reading appears adequate but difficulties with writing are apparent
  • Avoids writing tasks
  • Poor spelling
  • Difficulties learning basic sentence structure and grammar
  • Writing is slow and laborious
  • Difficulties are more apparent as demands on writing ability increase through middle and upper primary school
  • Process of writing is effortful and tiring
  • Poor knowledge of writing conventions, such as punctuation, as well as lack of automaticity in spelling
  • Difficulty choosing correct spelling alternatives
  • Sentence and paragraph structure is poor
  • Inconsistency between verbal ability and written skills
  • Difficulties writing at the same speed as their peers
  • Great difficulties noted in transferring thoughts into written words
  • Apparent gap between oral and written language skills
  • Knowledge and application of essay structure is underdeveloped
  • Lack of detail in written expression
  • Written output is limited with far less work being produced in allocated writing time
  • Writing and spelling skills do not appear automatic
  • Poor spelling, including lack of knowledge of patterns in words and morphological knowledge (affixes and base words)



Information reproduced from AUSPELD Understanding Learning Difficulties: A practical guide (Revised edition).