International Specialisterne Community

Specialisterne Foundation

Specialisterne Foundation is a non-for-profit organization that works to enable one million jobs for people with autism and similar challenges. The foundation owns Specialisterne Denmark and the Specialisterne concept and trademark.

There are a number of neurodivergencies, but two that people often confuse with one another are dysgraphia and dyslexia. Dysgraphia and dyslexia both impact learning in relation to language, but dysgraphia primarily affects writing, whereas dyslexia primarily affects reading. They can be easy to confuse as they share many of the same traits, but they have some distinctions as well. It’s also possible for someone to be diagnosed with both dysgraphia and dyslexia. 

As mentioned, dysgraphia involves difficulties related to the physical act of writing, as well as organizing and expressing ideas in a written format. 

From the outside, dysgraphia may look like illegible handwriting, incorrect punctuation, poor spelling and grammar, writing using a mix of print and cursive letters, difficulty copying from one page to another, and difficulty gripping a pencil. It may also involve spacing words and letters oddly, utilizing run-on sentences, having a lack of paragraph breaks in writing, difficulty organizing written information, and slow or labored writing. 

Dealing with barriers related to dysgraphia can have many emotional and social impacts, as dysgraphic people are often told they’re “sloppy” or “lazy” and others may make it out to seem as though they just aren’t trying. Frustration and confusion surrounding written processes may lead to anxiety, avoiding taking risks, and low self-esteem. 

Some things that may be able to help with dysgraphia are occupational therapy to help build dexterity and fine motor skills, utilizing graphic organizers to aid in the writing process, taking a break between writing and proofreading, and using checklists for the editing process to ensure correct spelling, neatness, syntax, grammar, and the clear progression of ideas. 

Additional tools and accommodations that may help with dysgraphia include being able to respond in formats other than writing, instruction in and working on keyboarding skills, access to lesson or meeting notes, breaking written work or assignments into steps, using certain apps to aid in the editing process, utilizing speech-to-text tools, sentence starters demonstrating how to begin a written response for a particular question or project, and extended time on deadlines that involve writing. For people struggling with letter formation, it may also help to have specific handwriting programs geared towards building up certain skills and working on correct letter formation using techniques that don’t require writing, such as writing in shaving cream or finger writing in the air. 

Dyslexia involves difficulties related to reading, and it can also impact writing, spelling, and speaking. Many dyslexic people may find it hard to isolate sounds, match sounds to corresponding letters, or blend sounds into words. 

From the outside, dyslexia may look like difficulty sounding out words and memorizing sight words, struggling with reading, avoiding reading aloud, poor spelling and grammar, and difficulty comprehending what’s been read. It may also include confusing the order of letters, difficulty organizing thoughts when speaking, and trouble following a sequence of directions. 

Like dysgraphia, dyslexia can have a variety of emotional and social impacts. Not meeting expectations can make dyslexic people feel inadequate, and missing things such as sarcasm, verbal jokes, and subtle meanings in language can have negative social impacts. Struggling to answer questions in a timely fashion or to come up with the right words can also prove to be difficult. Each of these can build up over time and can result in self-esteem and anxiety issues. 

Some things that may be able to help with dyslexia include reading programs that use a multisensory approach (such as Orton-Gillingham) and provide specific instructions on identifying sounds and decoding words, access to lesson or meeting notes, additional time for activities related to reading or writing, and being given simplified directions, shortened tasks, or assignments. Additional tools or supportive strategies that may help are listening to audiobooks or others reading aloud, using particular fonts (such as Dyslexie), and utilizing speech-to-text tools and spellcheck programs designed for dyslexic people. 

It’s important to note that for dysgraphic and dyslexic people, written work does not reflect knowledge or ability. Many people struggling with difficulties related to dysgraphia or dyslexia may produce written work that is below their ability level, and they may not be able to express themselves in writing in the same ways as they can orally.

The tools available for dysgraphic and dyslexic people are slowly increasing as awareness and technological advancements are made. Recognizing difficulties related to dysgraphia and dyslexia and providing the correct tools can be a key component in supporting people before these difficulties may negatively impact confidence and self-esteem.