Dysgraphia means difficultly with writing in terms of both fine motor skills and grammatical and syntactic coherence.  In other words, your writing looks terrible! Probably always will.  But we need to be careful regarding what we think it means when we see someone with lousy handwriting or jumbled typing.

I was reminded of this again yesterday.  Through a convoluted series of emails I encountered a brief note from someone who is advocating for changes in the law regarding how dyslexia is treated in schools.  This gentleman wanted to have direct contact to discuss how we might work together on legislative policy.  He was clearly passionate but the note he sent was horrific in terms of spelling and grammar…And this was with a computer!

What was interesting was my initial response.  My immediate thought was “Hmmm, I’m not sure I want to contact this guy.  I’m not sure he isn’t going to be a handful.”   And then I stopped myself and re-read his note.  Wow!  After 25 years in this field, I still missed the whole point.

I have no idea what this gentleman’s level of functioning is because what little I saw came through the worst choke point for expression he probably has!  But I was very quick to judge him harshly–even after all my training.  He could be a searingly bright CEO but by virtue of his dysgraphia (and highly probable dyslexia) his written output looks like he’s five years old.  Now, remember too that those of us who are adults now often went through their academic years without ever being diagnosed or given proper remediation.  They just fought their way through any way they could.

I had to remember that writing and typing for him was like using my left hand instead of my dominant right hand…It’s not a pretty sight…(Actually, using my right hand for writing is not a pretty sight either–and I went to Catholic school!)

If I’m quick to judge this guy, what do you think people without my background do to him all the time?  Discount him?  Underestimate him?  Avoid him?  I don’t know but it sure snapped me back in place.

Let us be careful not to judge.

I will finish by telling you the first time I learned this lesson.  About twenty years ago I was teaching in a class of 8th graders at a school for kids with language-based learning issues.  Dyslexia.  The kids were working in pairs and each child was required to write a paragraph on some topic or another.  I was substituting for the usual teacher so I didn’t know all the kids.  One child I did know in one of the pairs…She was in the lowest level of the average range in intellectual functioning.  When I took a look at the two girls’ handwriting sample, the one child I knew had written in this beautiful cursive…Just gorgeous and really shocking.  The other young lady’s writing sample was appalling on every level.  I was quite concerned for her so I checked her file.

Ends up she has a 140 IQ.  Nowadays I hear she’s a Masters-level computer scientist at a start up in the Seattle area.  But I bet her writing still looks terrible!  And you know what?  Who cares?!