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What Are Graphomotor Skills? - Definition & Deficits

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kristen Goode

Kristen has been an educator for 25+ years - as a classroom teacher, a school administrator, and a university instructor. She holds a doctorate in Education Leadership.

Graphomotor skills are skills that are necessary for handwriting. Look into the definition of graphomotor skills, find out the symptoms of graphomotor deficits, and understand the impact of these deficits in graphomotor skills. Updated: 01/20/2022

Graphomotor Skills

Johnny is in the third grade. He is a fluent reader and has no trouble with comprehension. Johnny spells his spelling words perfectly at home when his mother quizzes him orally. His mother is concerned and confused because Johnny continues to perform poorly on spelling tests. He cannot seem to spell correctly when he is asked to write words on paper.

What is going on with Johnny? Why can he not transfer his spelling knowledge to written form? It is possible that Johnny is lacking certain skills necessary for accuracy in writing. He may have a disability or deficit in graphomotor skills.

Put simply, graphomotor skills are skills that are required for writing. While it sounds simple, a lot goes into the process of being able to write something by hand. It requires a fine balance of several different skills, and when one or more of these specific skills is underdeveloped or falls short, the whole process can be thrown off.

There are five distinct areas of skill that must all work together in order for handwriting to take place. These include:

  1. Visual perceptual skills, which are the ability to see a letter or word and assign meaning or judge accuracy
  2. Orthographic coding, which is the ability to store letters or groups of letters in memory and then retrieve them when needed
  3. Motor planning and execution, which is also called ''praxis,'' the ability to carry out necessary motor movement
  4. Kinesthetic feedback, which is the ability to know where a part of the body is in space (in the case of handwriting, the hand and fingers) for the purpose of carrying out necessary motor movement
  5. Visual-motor coordination, which is the ability to correlate motor movement with visual perception, or the ability physically to create letters and words on the paper

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Symptoms of Graphomotor Deficits

When deficits occur in any of the individual areas of skill involved in the graphomotor process, problems may arise in several modalities including handwriting, composition, and even reading. Deficits can occur in any of these individual areas and, in most cases, will involve more than just one skill.

Johnny is having trouble transferring his spelling knowledge to paper; he is showing symptoms of graphomotor deficits. Symptoms of graphomotor deficits might include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Trouble remembering how to spell words
  • Trouble recognizing or naming words or letters on a page
  • Inability to remember how to form letters or words on the paper
  • Sloppy or illegible handwriting
  • When writing is legible, it's slow and difficult to create
  • Awkward pencil grip
  • Poor spatial planning and/or inconsistent spatial relationship between letters or words
  • Cramping or pain in the hand when writing
  • Inability to multitask when writing, such as being unable to listen and write at the same time
  • Preference for oral delivery over written
  • Avoidance of writing assignments (including misbehavior, frequent requests to leave the room, or simple refusal to do the work)
  • The appearance of laziness or a lack of motivation (which is often out of character) when it comes to writing
  • Inability to organize thoughts sequentially when writing

Impact of Deficits in Graphomotor Skills

As any teacher can imagine, deficits in graphomotor skills can have a huge impact on language learning and literacy development.

  • The most obvious area of struggle is handwriting. There are many factors in graphomotor deficit that can hinder the handwriting process: poor pencil grip, inability to form letters correctly on a page, problems with placement and spatial planning, and cramping in the hand when writing. All of these factors can significantly delay the handwriting process and make handwriting difficult to read.

  • Spelling is often affected as graphomotor deficits prevent a student from successfully recalling the precise letter arrangement necessary to spell correctly. He or she may be able to spell orally, but when asked to write words on paper, there is a disconnect that causes problems in spelling.

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