• Dyslexia and Dysgraphia

    Definitions and Characteristics of Dyslexia

    The student who struggles with reading and spelling often puzzles teachers and parents. The student displays ability to learn in the absence of print and receives the same classroom instruction that benefits most children; however, the student continues to struggle with some or all of the many facets of reading and spelling. This student may be a student with dyslexia.

    Texas Education Code (TEC) §38.003 defines dyslexia and related disorders in the following way:

    “Dyslexia” means a disorder of constitutional origin manifested by a difficulty in learning to read, write, or spell, despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence, and sociocultural opportunity.

    “Related disorders” include disorders similar to or related to dyslexia, such as developmental auditory imperception, dysphasia, specific developmental dyslexia, developmental dysgraphia, and developmental spelling disability. TEC §38.003(d)(1)-(2) (1995) http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/ED/htm/ED.38.htm#38.003

    The International Dyslexia Association defines “dyslexia” in the following way:

    Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge. (Adopted by the International Dyslexia Association Board of Directors, November 12, 2002)

    Students identified as having dyslexia typically experience primary difficulties in phonological awareness, including phonemic awareness and manipulation, single-word reading, reading fluency, and spelling. Consequences may include difficulties in reading comprehension and/or written expression. These difficulties in phonological awareness are unexpected for the student’s age and educational level and are not primarily the result of language difference factors. Additionally, there is often a family history of similar difficulties.

    The following are the primary reading/spelling characteristics of dyslexia:

    • Difficulty reading words in isolation
    • Difficulty accurately decoding unfamiliar words
    • Difficulty with oral reading (slow, inaccurate, or labored without prosody)
    • Difficulty spelling

    It is important to note that individuals demonstrate differences in degree of impairment and may not exhibit all the characteristics listed above.

    The reading/spelling characteristics are most often associated with the following:

    • Segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness)
    • Learning the names of letters and their associated sounds
    • Holding information about sounds and words in memory (phonological memory)
    • Rapidly recalling the names of familiar objects, colors, or letters of the alphabet (rapid naming)

    Consequences of dyslexia may include the following:

    • Variable difficulty with aspects of reading comprehension
    • Variable difficulty with aspects of written language
    • Limited vocabulary growth due to reduced reading experiences


    Definition and Characteristics of Dysgraphia

    Difficulty with handwriting frequently occurs in children with dyslexia. When Texas passed dyslexia legislation, the co-existence of poor handwriting with dyslexia was one reason why dysgraphia was called a related disorder. Subsequently, dyslexia and dysgraphia have been found to have diverse co-morbidities, including phonological awareness (Döhla and Heim, 2016). However, dyslexia and dysgraphia are now recognized to be distinct disorders that can exist concurrently or separately. They have different brain mechanisms and identifiable characteristics.

    Dysgraphia is related to dyslexia as both are language-based disorders. In dyslexia, the impairment is with word-level skills (decoding, word identification, spelling). Dysgraphia is a written language disorder in serial production of strokes to form a handwritten letter. This involves not only motor skills but also language skills—finding, retrieving and producing letters, which is a subword-level language skill. The impaired handwriting may interfere with spelling and/or composing, but individuals with only dysgraphia do not have difficulty with reading (Berninger, Richards, & Abbott, 2015).

    A review of recent evidence indicates that dysgraphia is best defined as a neurodevelopmental disorder manifested by illegible and/or inefficient handwriting due to difficulty with letter formation. This difficulty is the result of deficits in graphomotor function (hand movements used for writing) and/or storing and retrieving orthographic codes (letter forms) (Berninger, 2015). Secondary consequences may include problems with spelling and written expression. The difficulty is not solely due to lack of instruction and is not associated with other developmental or neurological conditions that involve motor impairment.

    The characteristics of dysgraphia include the following:

    • Variably shaped and poorly formed letters
    • Excessive erasures and cross-outs
    • Poor spacing between letters and words
    • Letter and number reversals beyond early stages of writing
    • Awkward, inconsistent pencil grip
    • Heavy pressure and hand fatigue
    • Slow writing and copying with legible or illegible handwriting (Andrews & Lombardino, 2014)

    Additional consequences of dysgraphia may also include:

    • Difficulty with unedited written spelling
    • Low volume of written output as well as problems with other aspects of written expression

    Dysgraphia is not:

    • Evidence of a damaged motor nervous system
    • Part of a developmental disability that has fine motor deficits (e.g., intellectual disability, autism, cerebral palsy)
    • Secondary to a medical condition (e.g., meningitis, significant head trauma, brain trauma)
    • Association with generalized developmental motor or coordination difficulties (Developmental Coordination Disorder)
    • Impaired spelling or written expression with typical handwriting (legibility and rate) (Berninger, 2004)

    Dysgraphia can be due to:

    • Impaired feedback the brain is receiving from the fingers
    • Weaknesses using visual processing to coordinate hand movement and organize the use of space
    • Problems with motor planning and sequencing
    • Difficulty with storage and retrieval of letter forms (Levine, 1999)

    Despite the widespread belief that handwriting is purely a motor skill or that only multisensory methods are needed to teach handwriting, multiple language processes are also involved in handwriting. Handwriting draws on language by hand (letter production), language by ear (listening to letter names when writing dictated letters), language by mouth (saying letter names), and language by eye (viewing the letters to be copied or reviewing for accuracy the letters that are produced from memory) (Berninger & Wolf, 2016).

    (Information adopted from “The Dyslexia Handbook: Procedures Concerning Dyslexia and Related Disorders” Texas Education Agency, updated September 2021)

    Serving the Student with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia
    Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD provides dyslexia services for all students with dyslexia and related disorders. Each student is served by either a licensed Dyslexia Therapist or a certified Special Education Teacher on the home campus. The EMS ISD Dyslexia interventions are provided through one of the following programs: Take Flight, Reading by Design, or Esparanza/Wells Transition.  These intervention programs address the components of phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency, and reading comprehension strategies.  The dysgraphia program addresses the components of handwriting, writing fluency, written expression, spelling, and keyboarding.

    The instructional strategies for dyslexia and dysgraphia are research-based, explicit, multisensory phonetic methods and use a variety of writing and spelling components to meet the specific learning needs of each individual student.

    Instruction is organized and presented in a way that follows a logical, sequential plan and proceeds at a rate commensurate with each student’s needs, ability level, and demonstration of progress.

    All requests for the evaluation of dyslexia or related disorders must be submitted in writing to the campus administration as part of the special education referral process. 

    For more information regarding Dyslexia, please contact:
    Elizabeth Epps, Director of MTSS and Dyslexia
    817-232-0880, ext. 2607
    Education Service Center
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