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Webinar: Dr. Brenda Rapp and Dr. Michael McCloskey

Understanding Your Child’s Dysgraphia: A Cognitive Science Perspective

This webinar was presented live by Dr. Michael McCloskey and Dr. Brenda Rapp, cognitive science professors from Johns Hopkins University on Wednesday, February 16, 2022. 

This webinar is for parents and teachers seeking a better understanding of the difficulties children may experience in learning to write.


In the first part of the presentation, we distinguish three forms of dysgraphia:

1) difficulty learning to spell;

2) difficulty with the motor aspects of writing, leading to slow, effortful writing that often borders on illegible; and

3) difficulty with composition—that is, difficulty in organizing and expressing thoughts coherently in writing.

These forms of dysgraphia may or may not occur together, and may or may not be associated with reading difficulty.


In the second part of the presentation, we look in greater detail at spelling difficulties. We describe the cognitive processes required for spelling, and the knowledge these processes draw upon. Difficulty learning any of the required knowledge or processes will lead to poor spelling, with the specific form of difficulty depending upon what knowledge or processes are affected. Using examples from our research, we show how the underlying problem can be identified from indicators such as the types of spelling errors a child makes. Finally, we consider implications for helping children (and adults) with dysgraphia.

Downloadable handouts from the webinar can be found here: 

Brenda Rapp is a Professor in the Cognitive Science Department at Johns Hopkins University.  She earned her undergraduate degree in Elementary and Special Education and worked for a number of years as a learning disabilities teacher with children with  dyslexia and dysgraphia in both English and Spanish. She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology at Johns Hopkins University where she joined the faculty in 1994.  She has done extensive research in the area of acquired and developmental dysgraphia and co-edited the book Developmental Dysgraphia with Prof. Michael McCloskey.  She has published more than 125 papers, served as the Chair of the Board of Governors of the Academia of Aphasia, and is currently the editor-in-chief of the journal Cognitive Neuropsychology.


Michael McCloskey is Professor of Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins University. Prof. McCloskey received his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Princeton University in 1978, and joined the Johns Hopkins faculty at that time.  He has been studying dysgraphia in adults and children for 30 years, and recently co-edited the book Developmental Dysgraphia with Prof. Brenda Rapp. Prof. McCloskey is the author of the book Visual reflections: A Perceptual Deficit and its Implications, and has published over 100 journal articles on a variety of topics. He has also served at the National Science Foundation as director of the Human Cognition and Perception Program, and chair of the Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence Program.

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