by Rachna Varia, PhD, Mindwell Psychology
Dysgraphia is a disorder of written expression. Signs and symptoms of dysgraphia can include messy handwriting, inconsistency in letter spacing and capitalization, pain or discomfort when writing, fine motor skill challenges, trouble with spelling, or trouble with composing written work. Students with dysgraphia are able to express themselves when speaking, but often can't seem get their thoughts onto paper.
There are three main ways that psychologists diagnose dysgraphia.
First, we do tests of visual motor integration. Popular measures include the Beery Visual Motor Test of Integration – Sixth Edition (VMI-6) and the Rey Complex Figure Test. For the VMI-6, the student is asked to copy increasingly more difficult drawings without erasing. The drawings include overlaps, angles, and three dimensionality. Visual motor skills are very developmental and different standards are expected for every age until age 16. The Rey Complex Figure is a more complicated design that has an overall gestalt with integrated details. The student is allowed to erase when replicating this design. Tests of visual motor integration provide information about the student’s ability to perceive a visual drawing and be able to translate that information into a motor (copying) response. Some students with dysgraphia struggle with this basic eye-hand coordination and planning piece.
The second way dysgraphia is evaluated is through spelling. Often those with a corresponding dyslexia diagnosis have weak spelling. Students may spell phonetically, add letters, delete letters, or make sequencing errors. Both spelling production and recognition tasks are administered. Spelling from the WIAT-3 or WJ-IV are scored. Spelling from the Test of Orthographic Competence (TOC) can also be useful to analyze.
Dysgraphia can also be diagnosed by evaluating a student’s written expression. Psychologists analyze the student’s sentence structure, use of contextual conventions, and story construction skills. Popular measures of administration include the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement – Fourth Edition (WJ-IV), Wechsler Individual Achievement Test – Third Edition (WIAT-3), and the Test of Written Language – Fourth Edition (TOWL-4). Students with dysgraphia may have run-on sentences, fragment sentences, lack punctuation and capitalization, and show weak spelling.
A student can have dysgraphia if they meet any one of the above mentioned challenges. Early and thorough testing is recommended! It is recommended that testing be completed in the context of a full psychoeducational or neuropsychological evaluation.
Dr. Varia is clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience and expertise in testing for dyslexia. Mindwell Psychology is in Chantilly, Virginia and can be found at www.mindwell.us or 703-378-7998.