When Josh was in 6th grade, his mother’s concern about his handwriting reached a head. Josh’s capital S still looked like the hasty squiggle of his early elementary years. His lower case n was not much more than a tiny arc. “Josh read on level, his vocabulary was fine, and his math skills were advanced,” says 45-year-old Jean Steffen of Yorktown Heights, NY. “Why couldn’t I read his writing?” After talking with Josh’s teacher, Steffen had her son tested by a specialist. The result: Josh was diagnosed with dysgraphia, a learning disorder that affects the ability to translate thinking into motor skills in the hands. “That explained a lot, including why he is so slow at tying his sneakers,” says Josh’s mom. Josh’s handwriting is improving thanks to school-based occupational therapy — though he now types most of his work on a computer.
Identifying the Cause
Children acquire and develop academic skills, such as the classic three Rs — reading, writing, and arithmetic — at different rates. Most grasp them at grade level, and the majority of kids who lag behind eventually catch up. Experts advise parents not to jump to conclusions if their child doesn’t keep up, but to consult first with the teacher or your child’s pediatrician about possible obstacles.
When Josh’s mother took the next step — having her son tested by an educational specialist — she learned that dysgraphia, which affects only a small portion of the population, is one of three common learning disorders, each of which on its own or in some combination with the others can hinder the ability to master one or more of the three Rs. The others are dyslexia, which can affect reading, and dyscalculia, which affects math. Here’s a closer look at all three.