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Learning Disabilities

Signs of a Writing Disability

kids writingWriting problems can occur at any age and rarely occur in isolation. Because writing is a highly complex process, a problem in any of several developmental processes can negatively impact a child’s writing ability. The following are some of the developmental functions most directly related to the writing process and signs that may indicate a problem in this area:

Graphomotor function is the use of the neuromuscular system in the fingers and hands to effectively maneuver a pen or pencil and put letters and words on paper. Children with graphomotor problems struggle with this, especially as assignment length increases. This function affects a student’s ability to keep pace with the flow of ideas. Signs of a graphomotor problem may be:

  • very short passages in all written work
  • exceptionally slow and difficult writing
  • awkward pencil grip
  • difficulty forming letters
  • Attention
    Writing often requires considerable mental energy and focus over long periods of time. Writers must not only preview what they want to convey but also continually monitor what they’ve already written to stay on track. Signs of an attention problem may be:

  • difficulty getting started on writing assignments
  • easy distractibility during writing tasks
  • mental fatigue or tiredness while writing
  • inconsistent legibility in writing
  • many careless errors
  • poorly planned papers and reports
  • Spatial Ordering
    Children who struggle with spatial ordering have decreased awareness regarding the spatial arrangement of letters, words, or sentences on a page. Signs of a spatial ordering problem may be:

  • poor use of lines on the paper
  • organizational problems
  • uneven spacing between letters
  • many misspelled words
  • Sequential Ordering
    Children who struggle with sequential ordering have difficulty placing in order or maintaining the order of letters, words, processes, or ideas. Signs of a sequential ordering problem may be:

  • poor letter formation
  • transposed letters and spelling omissions
  • poor narrative sequencing
  • lack of transitions
  • difficulty separating big ideas from details
  • Memory
    The rate at which children generate ideas must coincide with their retrieval of necessary vocabulary, spelling, and prior knowledge, as they must be able to think about a topic, draw upon facts and concepts, and sequence ideas and facts in the right order. Signs of a memory problem may be:

  • poor vocabulary
  • many misspelled words
  • frequent capitalization, punctuation, and grammar errors
  • Language
    Language is an essential ingredient of writing. The ability to recognize letter sounds, comprehend words and their meanings, understand word order and grammar to construct sentences, and describe or explain ideas all affect a person’s effectiveness as a writer. Signs of a language problem may be:

  • poor vocabulary
  • awkward phrasing and unconventional grammar
  • inappropriate use of colloquial language
  • difficulty with sentence structure and word order
  • trouble reading back what is written
  • difficulty with word sounds, spelling, and meanings
  • Higher-Order Cognition
    In the upper grades, writing relies on higher-order cognitive functions. By early adolescence, many written assignments demand critical thinking skills and conceptual ability – such as evaluating opposing arguments and drawing conclusions – that must be integrated with spelling, grammar, and punctuation rules. Signs of a problem with higher-order cognition may be:

  • trouble generating ideas or elaborating on them
  • difficulty developing and organizing ideas
  • lack of opinion or sense of audience
  • difficulty with writing tasks that require creativity and/or critical thinking
  • Difficulties and mistakes are to be expected as children develop their writing skills. Young writers may reverse words, spell poorly, or have difficulty producing their thoughts in writing. As in any academic area, teachers and parents must watch carefully and try to understand an individual child’s strengths and weaknesses to ensure progress. One way to monitor progress is through collecting a portfolio of a child’s work over time. This may help in identifying a problem early on and developing effective strategies.

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