Dysgraphia and Autism

Dysgraphia is defined as impaired handwriting legibility. It is categorized with developmental coordination disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The Journal of Attention Disorders published research on the prevalence of dysgraphia by age across all grade levels in students with ADHD or autism.

dysgraphia ADHD autism

Dysgraphia and School

Think of how often students need to write in school.  There are many assignments especially in English Language Arts that require written expression. Even math and sciences require students to write. In the younger grades, before technology is introduced, everything is hand written.

If you students who significantly struggle with handwriting, you probably have seen how hard school work can be for these children. It can be especially frustrating for the students when they can not communicate their ideas or problem solutions that are in their brain but can not get recorded on paper. Teachers and parents too do not like to see their students struggle in this way either.

Dysgraphia is a disability that affects the way people write. It can make it difficult for students to learn, complete schoolwork and communicate their ideas or demonstrate knowledge in any subject. Dysgraphia causes significant frustration for students and it affects academic outcomes negatively too! Read more about dysgraphia here.

Written expression and writing problems are common in the general population (around 35%) and even higher in children with autism (60%) and ADHD (63%).

Previous Research

Previous research on dysgraphia and autism indicated that children with ADHD and autism showed:

  • poorer handwriting quality (e.g., legibility, letter formation, alignment, spacing, and sizing)
  • reduced handwriting speed.

Methodology of the Study on Dysgraphia and Autism or ADHD

The researchers wanted to determine the prevalence of dysgraphia and autism or dysgraphia and ADHD by age across all grade levels.

The overall goals was to gain valuable information for the assessment and treatment of dysgraphia in schools. If dysgraphia prevalence is high and does not decrease with age, educators and clinicians would need to focus on offering remediation and compensatory strategies and not ignore writing problems in these students.

This study included 1034 children with normal intelligence and ADHD–Combined, ADHD–Inattentive, or autism.  Each participant in this study completed the Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration (VMI) and Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC).

Results from the Study on Dysgraphia and Autism or Dysgraphia and ADHD

Following data analysis, the results of the testing indicated the following:

  • VMI and WISC Coding scores were significantly lower than IQ and the normal mean of 100 for all diagnoses.
  • 59% had dysgraphia
  • 92% had a weakness in graphomotor ability relative to other abilities.
  • the prevalence of dysgraphia did not decrease with age or diagnosis, despite older children having up to 10 years more writing instruction in school than younger children.

The authors concluded that dysgraphia is common at all ages in children and adolescents with ADHD and autism.

Resource Guides for Students with WRitten Output Disorders

Implications for School Instruction

For students who continue to struggle with written expression, educators need to mindful of providing different opportunities for students to record their responses.

This research indicates that dysgraphia is difficult to remediate and is present at all ages. Schools should focus on compensating for dysgraphia with accommodations in addition to trying to improve handwriting.  Technology may be helpful such as keyboarding, word processing and/or speech recognition software.

In addition to using technology, based on each individual student’s needs try modifying the following regarding the workload at school:

  • decrease the amount of written work.
  • provide notes and outlines instead of requiring copying.
  • offer multiple choice answers.
  • allow dictation.
  • do not penalize for messy handwriting.

Reference:  Mayes, S. D., Breaux, R. P., Calhoun, S. L., & Frye, S. S. (2017). High Prevalence of Dysgraphia in Elementary Through High School Students With ADHD and Autism. Journal of Attention Disorders, 1087054717720721.

Resources and Additional Information about Dysgraphia

Special Edition for Kids with ASD – Assistive Technology, Classroom Implementation Strategies & Resource Recommendations for Kids Who Struggle to Write

Special Edition for Kids with ASD – Assistive Technology, Classroom Implementation Strategies & Resource Recommendations for Kids Who Struggle to Write digital download  is an assistive technology Resource Guide for OTs, parents and other professionals working with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, over 50% of whom have educationally significant handwriting challenges that make it difficult/impossible for them to complete written schoolwork using paper and pencil.  Research shows that these challenges tend to persist over time, no matter what handwriting therapies have been tried.

Are you a teacher who has students with dysgraphia?  Perhaps you are an Occupational Therapist who receives referrals for students with dysgraphia?  Maybe you are a parent wondering how can occupational therapy help students with dysgraphia? Read more on how Occupational Therapy can help students with dysgraphia here.

There are 5 different types of dysgraphia although some children may have more than one type of Dysgraphia. Read more information on dysgraphia here.

Suggested Sequence of Handwriting Interventions Created by an OT:

A: Dysgraphia Handwriting Intervention – Occupational Therapy Tools A: Formations

B: Handwriting Interventions – Occupational Therapy Tools for Blocked Handwriting Modification

C: Handwriting Interventions: Blocked & Random Therapy Tools for Dysgraphia



dysgraphia ADHD autism