Fifteen-year-old Natasha Verma* enjoys painting, drawing, dancing and watching television. She plays the harmonium and the keyboard, and
is consistently among the toppers in her class. Not so long ago, however, she was a very different Natasha. She found school trying; lessons did not come easily to her and no matter how much effort she put in at home, her long study sessions would end in her scribbling in a notebook. She found it difficult to keep track of things. Her relationship with her mother was volatile. What was wrong with Natasha?
When she was 13 years old, Natasha was diagnosed with Dysgraphia (‘dys’ meaning poor, and ‘graph’ meaning writing), a learning disability that primarily affects the writing abilities of the individual. People with dysgraphia have poor hand writing, difficulties with spelling, and trouble putting their thoughts on paper. Dysgraphia is multifaceted (See Box in the next page); the differences in symptoms, albeit minute, make a huge difference in the prognosis and the rehabilitation.
Looking back, Natasha’s mother, Priya Verma,* remembers that there were some unusual things about Natasha when she was younger. Says Natasha, “I could not recall points in order, and I used to blank out when I had to put things on paper. If the same word was repeated three or four times in a page, the spelling would be different each time.” Both mother and daughter tried to address these issues. “I used to sit with her for lessons at home. Four hours a day was the average,” says Priya. Predictably, the intensive, stressful sessions took a toll on their relationship.
The many faces of Dysgraphia
The most severe type of dysgraphia, copied work is barely legible and spontaneously written work is completely illegible. The child shows many symptoms of dyslexia, like poor spelling, both while writing and spelling out loud.
Children diagnosed with this form have slanting handwriting. Letter formations are at best legible in extremely short samples. However, there is no impairment in the spelling abilities.
The rarest of the three types, some words may appear ‘squished’ together and other words may be so far apart that it is difficult to comprehend what the child has written.
Causes of dysgraphia
The most probable reason in school age children is the presence of the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR); a glitch in neurological motor coordination. While the head turns to follow the direction of the writing hand, the arm and the hand persist in extension, impeding the process of holding the pencil, bending the arm and bringing the hand back to write on the left hand side of the page.
Another possible cause is the inability to process rational or sequential information with speed and accuracy that manifests in the child misspelling words or leaving sentences incomplete.