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How Can a Child Read but Not Write?

I walked into his home on my first day. I had just left a career in adult rehab and entered the role of a direct service occupational therapist in a cyber school setting. I had no idea what I was doing. One of the first questions his mom asked me was,

"How can my child read but not be able to write?"

Having no response, I answered with the typical,

"I don't know, but I will do my best to find out."

That answer took about six or seven years to answer.

I have continued to research dysgraphia and its impact on student's educational process. What if a student has ADHD? What about autism? How do obsessive-compulsive tendencies relate?

Summarizing my anecdotal research, a student with dysgraphia needs significant support with visual and memory supports. They demonstrate decreased letter formation in the early years and lack creativity with writing later in their schooling career. Visual samples are imperative to supporting these students. Examples can range from letter strips early on to paragraphs or even math formulas in later years.

Imagine feeling defeated because you cannot keep up with your peers. Your writing ability is labored. That's how one of three students think! You read that correctly, that 110 million people in the United States alone. It can appear like they are simply complaining or just being lazy, but inside, the frustration becomes traumatic and takes their breath away. Behaviors are seen by others as disrespectful, not caring, or lazy.

Many therapists, teachers, and parents provide trial and error style support. This trial-and-error style consumes years to resolve. The child grows, and they enter college unprepared.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), dysgraphia is not mentioned. Instead, it describes the following challenges these students face. The new term is called a disability in written expression (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

  • Grammar

  • Punctuation

  • Capitalization

  • Sentence structure errors

  • Paragraph organization

  • Clarity

  • Spelling errors

  • Activity demands exceeding student's capacity

  • Interference with activities of daily living

The definition further describes what is NOT included in a disability in written expression.

  • Intellectual disability

  • Visual or auditory disability

  • Mental health disorder

  • Neurological disorder

  • Psychological adversity

  • Lack of proficiency in language skills

  • Inadequate instruction

Over time, I've translated my research into this pyramid (my son calls it my trapezoid).

Visual-Spatial Dysgraphic kids display difficulty recognizing letters, numbers, and symbols.

Motor Dysgraphic kids lack control, accuracy, precision, and speed in their motor function.

Memory gaps create challenges at every level of written expression.

Word Formation, or spelling and vocabulary errors, create havoc as parents' expectations and school allowances are not aligned.

Sentence structure and understanding grammar, capitalization, and punctuation basics vary from one sentence to the next.

Creativity of narrative, expository, and technical writing are below expectations.

The types of dysgraphia and primary interventions are discussed in Handwriting Brain-Body DisConnect. The book is available on Kindle, paperback, and hardcover.

Following the release of the book, readers asked if I share more interventions. I created the Dotterer Dysgraphia Method. Therapists with 20 years' experience write me often saying how much clarity the course gave them.

Kathy was one of my first. She called me several months after completing the course and shared this story (all names have been changed for privacy):

Kathy was sitting at an initial IEP meeting. John had been expelled from the third school because he routinely ran away from teachers and the school. He tended to be violent, throwing desks and other objects.

As his mother, Beth, spoke, Kathy recognized the underlying symptoms as lack of recognition of letters and words so he could write them, hand pain, clumsiness, poor vocabulary, inability to write proper sentences and paragraphs. His frustration, combined with his lack of clarity to explain why he couldn't put things on paper, yielded his violent behavior. Additionally, he was behind on reading and math.

Kathy began asking questions during the meeting. By the time school started, John had a new IEP, including a new category, goals, and Specially Designed Instruction that fit his needs.

During our phone call, Kathy admitted that she would never have differentiated the behaviors Beth was describing if the meeting had been before she enrolled in the course.

She added, Beth called her earlier in the day, sobbing. She found John running the bus down before school that day.

"He is so excited about coming to school now. He anticipates the bus arriving at the house. If it wasn't for you, I don't know where I'd be. Your school was my last hope."

Now, both Kathy and I were sobbing, another transformed life that will impact many to change more lives! Kathy is a Word Changer! You can be too! Anyone who changes the written words of a child is a WORD CHANGER.


I have added two more options to gain clarity about differentiating dysgraphia.

The Dotterer Dysgraphia Toolkit is a self-study version of the course.

I have taken the material and converted it into a virtual one-day workshop.

I have a seminar on November 20 and December 29, 2021. JOIN TODAY!

In conclusion, handwriting is a complex neurological process. Combining it with reading, oral expression, and typewritten works completes the neurological function of learning. If one aspect is missing, ineffective communication will plague the student for a lifetime.

It is time to change these statistics to restore the enthusiasm for learning in our students and teachers to transform language skills and change the lives of students.

Dysgraphia is more than just handwriting; it is a developmental delay that can be overcome with remediation. Become a Word Changer and Design Student Success today!

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Cheri Dotterer is the author of Handwriting Brain-Body DisConnect. She is an international speaker, author, and consultant who designs professional development materials to help students overcome the social-emotional trauma associated with dysgraphia and supports teachers in cultivating successful students. She is an occupational therapist and adjunct instructor. She lives with her husband of 31 years. They have two adult children.

CHECK OUT the BROADCAST 11/17/2021 6:30 pm Mountain tonight!

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