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Handwriting and Dyslexia

What an earth does that say? Is that English? Can you read that? These are just some of the select few comments I have received about my handwriting since primary school. For as long as I can remember I have always had very small writing, which varies even within words as to whether it is joined up or not. Frequently, my writing is written in some sort of ‘messy code’, as often several letters or even most of the whole word are missing. I’ve been told numerous time that I have ‘doctor’s handwriting’ and have spent many a year being threatened with handheld magnifying glasses by teachers who couldn’t read my work. To be totally frank I can’t read my own writing most of the time! Usually I can recognise a few letters or part of a word, logically piece together individual words and then progressively a whole sentence. When I write it’s like my brain is working overtime. I have so much to say and get down on the page before I forget. However, because my brain is working at this frantic pace my arm can’t keep up causing my writing to become increasingly small, scruffy and illegible. Over the years I have tried to write bigger. However, its successfulness is inconsistent and fluctuates depending on the time I have to write for, my mood, fatigue level and if I can remember how to spell the words I’m writing.

I blame my dreadful handwriting on two things: being dyslexic and a left-hander. This ‘double whammy’, as I’ve labelled it, is interesting to think about and consider. I’ve lost count the number of times I have said over my life that the world is not designed for left handers. Using tin openers, a computer mouse, finding left-handed scissors and writing or painting without smudging and smearing ink over the side of your arm are all a bloody nightmare. Although these may all appear trivial menial matters, they can be an added daily annoyance that can affect approximately ten percent of the world’s global population.

The study of the physical characteristics of handwriting, Graphology, can be used analyse individuals writing in order to reveal and unlock parts of the writer’s identity. Although it is not wholly scientific according to some, it can be highly useful. As an exemplar very small handwriting like mine is often viewed as an indicator of shyness and neuroticism; which fits my personality to some extent. Contrastingly, individuals with larger handwriting are often viewed as more extroverted and sociable. Therefore, handwriting could reflect ones personality traits. Looking back over my dyslexia diagnostic assessment report, handwriting was discussed in some depth. Crucially the assessor theorised why my writing may be so small and somewhat illegible. It was suggested that I write small in order to ‘cover up’ any spelling or grammar mistakes that may be ridden within my work. I do think this is a valid explanation that makes logical sense, which may well be applicable to other dyslexics. Despite these more negative factors surrounding small handwriting, for me it does bring two advantages. Firstly, I am generally pretty good at reading and deciphering the ‘scruffy’ handwriting of others. Secondly, no one could ever copy off me during my school days!

Moving away from my own experiences, I researched other ways that dyslexia can affect ones handwriting. Interestingly several studies and researchers have found that many dyslexics write less, and possibly more messily, compared to non-dyslexics in a set time-controlled task. This is not necessarily because they write slower but because they tended to pause more during the allocated writing time (Sumner, Connelly & Barnett, 2013). These pauses can be for a number of reasons. Including, to recall spellings, for proof reading and to provide themselves with personal thinking and processing time. In addition, for some dyslexics the mere act of writing can be highly laborious and even sometimes physically painful. Overlapping with dyspraxia (also known as Developmental Co-ordination Disorder), which affects the development of motor movements and skills, individuals may find the hand, arm and wrist movements to form letters/words difficult. Subsequently, this can cause individuals to both pause more when writing, especially if they are pain, and potentially have writing that is difficult to read if they struggle with the motor formation of letters.

Because of these associated difficulties some dyslexics use computers, assistive technology or a scribe to help record their work. Individuals may use these alternative methods because there handwriting is hard to read, if they are unconfident to write in a pressured exam situation or because they find typing easier. Thus, even if a dyslexic person’s handwriting is laborious and/or difficult to read they can persevere and write or use other widely accepted arrangements. Moreover it cannot be ignored that difficulties with handwriting is a real-life accepted condition. Dysgraphia, another neurodiversity that interlinks with dyslexia, can be identified by poorly formed letters, an uneven or lack of spacing between words and letters and general untidy handwriting. In this way, those with dysgraphia can struggle to get their words and thoughts on paper. However, despite these difficulties, it is essential to note that being diagnosed with dysgraphia (and/or dyslexia) does not affect intelligence levels and one’s overall capabilities (Cicerchia, 2016).

'Poor' handwriting can be a potential indicator for dyslexia. But it is not the ‘be all or end all’ as many other factors in conjunction are used to identify and diagnose dyslexia officially. Nonetheless, a lot of dyslexics do struggle with handwriting for numerous reasons. For me, I can write relatively quickly but I can’t make it readable to others without writing slowly and risk forgetting and loosing track of my thought processes. It is a pain in the metaphorical backside. But, despite the often unreadable nature of my writing, the most important thing is that I can still get my ideas down. These can then be typed or re-written if needed so they are not lost. This is vital too for all those, dyslexic or not, who struggle with writing. Even if writing is scruffy and hard to read, this does not reflect the quality of the writing and intelligence of the author which may well be superb.

Useful Links

Cicerchia, M. (2016). Handwriting Difficulties, accessed on the 25th February 2019 at

Sumner, E, Connelly, V & A Barnett. (2013). Children with Dyslexia are Slow Writers Because they Pause More Often and not Because they are Slow at Handwriting Execution, Reading and Writing, 26(6): 991-1008.

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