Coppell resident Elizabeth Restivo’s son was in preschool when she noticed the red flags—the difficulty relating sounds to letters, the light not turning on with reading. She recognized the signs clearly after her eldest daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia years prior.

Restivo acted early pushing for interventions and evaluations, but it wasn’t until her son was in second grade that she finally got one, revealing he did indeed have dyslexia as suspected. He was then placed into CISD’s two-year intervention program, she said. However, in January, about one year into the program, she learned her son also had dysgraphia.

The details

Dysgraphia is a specific learning disability that impairs handwriting ability, which can interfere with learning to spell words, writing speed, translating thoughts to writing, and storing words in working memory, according to the International Dyslexia Association.

The district has seen an 85% increase over the last two years in students with a Specific Learning Disability, a category within special education which includes areas of reading, writing and math, said Stephanie Flores, executive director for intervention services. Dyslexia and dysgraphia fall into this category, although not all learners struggling in reading and writing qualify for the conditions.

Dysgraphia can manifest independently of dyslexia, but an estimated 30% of dyslexic students display symptoms of dysgraphia, according to the National Library of Medicine. This is an important distinction when students like Restivo’s son show symptoms of both conditions, as dysgraphia can go unnoticed when the focus is on dyslexia, she said.

“He just took so long to do his work, and we couldn't figure out if it was because he wasn't understanding the concepts,” Restivo said. "It turns out that he is understanding the concepts, but the dysgraphia piece is hindering him from getting it on paper and working at the pace that he should be.”

Zooming in

Amendments to the dyslexia handbook in 2021 updated dysgraphia identification procedures, by requiring districts to perform full individual and initial evaluations for students, according to the Texas Education Agency. The state also outlined a single pathway for dyslexia and dysgraphia students, shifting command of services solely to special education programs.

The district has been implementing the state's changes since 2022. The evaluation requires additional time and staff, but it does provide more information than a stand-alone dyslexia evaluation, Flores said.

“Ultimately it is a tool that aids the campus teams in determining the best intervention moving forward,” she said. “The change will help the district in serving learners identified with dyslexia and dysgraphia.”

The action taken

After evaluations, special education services creates an individualized education program, or IEP, and pairs students with qualified therapists as needed, Flores said.

The district has been implementing resources such as handwriting labs, which schedule time for students to work with a special educator to work on handwriting skills and letter formation, Flores said. The lab helps improve the brain-hand connection while also strengthening hand muscles to make writing easier.

The district also strives to stay up to date with current research, Flores said. A professional training day Feb. 16 included an entire section specifically on dysgraphia to ensure staff is informed on best practices districtwide.

The impact

The difference has been night and day since the district admitted Restivo’s son into the intervention program, she said. Test scores have increased, and the process has opened his mind to a new way of thinking. But perhaps most importantly, it has built his confidence, which Restivo said is the biggest impact dysgraphia and dyslexia has on students.

Oftentimes the child is more intelligent than they feel, and seeing other kids working and picking up on concepts quicker can be frustrating. They may struggle processing a word problem despite knowing the mathematics to solve it, Restivo said.

​​”But if they can understand ‘this is normal because my brain just works in a different way,’ it builds their confidence and gives them some grace,” she said. “They're not so frustrated when they work, and they're getting the support that they need.”

The takeaway

Between 10% to 30% of children experience difficulty with writing, according to the National Library of Medicine, meaning dysgraphia’s prevalence is unlikely to decline anytime soon. Its impediment on student comprehension if undiagnosed will always be a concern for CISD, Flores said.

“Even if we're not physically writing with paper and pencil as we used to, the act of writing is still something that is important and critical for learning as we move forward,” she said.