The Science of Dysgraphia

Our understanding of the science of dysgraphia is incomplete because a lot more research is needed. (This is something Dysgraphia Life would like to change!)  

Dysgraphia was first described in the scientific literature by Samuel T. Orton who described five different kinds of learning disorders including special disability in writing (1).

Learning to write involves many different processes at the same time:

  • motor skills (using hands for letter formation)

  • sensory systems (listening and viewing letters, touch of pencil)

  • language systems (producing and saying letters from memory) 

  • cognitive processes or thinking (translating ideas into written text)

  • attention and executive function (focus and sustained attention)

  • social and emotional systems (understanding that writing is key to communication)

Researchers recommend teaching approaches (such as the Orton-Gillingham approach) that take all of these factors into consideration and help students use their strengths to overcome their weaknesses (2). ​

Scientists are identifying key questions about the pathways that contribute to dysgraphia to prioritize and accelerate dysgraphia research (3)

Medical Definitions

There are official medical definitions for dysgraphia:

The World Health Organization defines dysgraphia under a “specific developmental disorder of academic skill.” Its ICD-10 diagnosis code system has code F81.81 for "disorder of written expression." This applies to either a specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression or a specific spelling disorder (or both).

The American Psychological Association defines dysgraphia as a "specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression” (diagnostic code 315.2 in DSM-5).  

It is then divided into problems with either:

  • Spelling accuracy

  • Grammar and punctuation accuracy

  • Clarity or organization of written expression

There have been up to seven different types of dysgraphia described:  Information Processing, Visual-Spatial, Motor, Memory, Word Formation, Sentence Formation, and Paragraph Formation (4)


(1) Orton S. Reading, Writing and Speech Problems in Children: A Presentation of Certain Types of Disorders in the Development of the Language Faculty,1937.

(2) Berninger and Wolf. Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, OWL LD, and Dyscalculia: Lessons from Science and Teaching. 2016

(3) McCloskey and Rapp. Cogn Neuropsychol. 2017

(4) Dotterer, Handwriting Brain-Body Disconnect, 2018.