Most people never consider the complexity and difficulty of the writing process. In fact, relative to all other academic activities, writing requires more basic skills than perhaps any other. Even during their earliest handwriting exercises, children must combine complex physical and cognitive processes to render letters precisely and fluidly.
As writing tasks become more difficult, students must call on an increasingly wide range of skills to not only write legibly, logically, and in an organized way but also to invoke rules of grammar and syntax. This combination of requirements makes writing the most complex and difficult use of language.
Like all learning problems, a writing disability can be devastating to a child’s education and self-esteem and can dramatically limit what that child can achieve later in life. School requirements demand a high level of writing proficiency, and a child who struggles with a writing disability will find it increasingly difficult to express his knowledge on many subjects, as the writing process itself will stand firmly in the way of learning.
The term dysgraphia is often used when discussing writing disabilities. Dysgraphia can refer to extreme problems with handwriting, spelling, and written composition. It can also refer to handwriting difficulties only.
We will use the first definition, and look at its subcategories of spelling, handwriting, and written composition. Some with a writing disability may experience difficulties in one or more of these areas.
Due to a lack of a clear-cut definition for dysgraphia and the dearth of research focused specifically on it, there are few statistics regarding prevalence. However, written language disabilities are very common in students with learning disabilities and they tend to be persistent.
- Fine-motor difficulty
- Inability to remember motor patterns associated with letters
- Inability to revisualize letters.
Types of graphomotor dysfunction:
- Motor-memory dysfunction (inability to combine motor output and memory input)
- Graphomotor production deficit (inability to produce graphomotor movements, awkward pencil grip, and muscle coordination)
- Motor feedback difficulty (trouble tracking location of pencil, face too close to the paper, use of larger muscles or joints to write)
- Language awareness and memory problems (including letters and words)
- Difficulties analyzing sounds, syllables, and meaningful word parts
- Problems learning other symbolic codes (i.e., math facts/symbols)
- Difficulty comprehending spelling rules, patterns, and structures (in older children); lack of phonemic awareness (in younger children)
- Those with dysorthographia have orthographic memory problems (i.e., visual memory for spelling)
- Production problems (overly simplistic; too many common words; or complex with errors in syntax, morphology, or semantics)
- Memory capacity deficiencies (short-term, long-term, and active working memory)
- Unsophisticated ideation (difficulty selecting a topic, brainstorming, researching, thinking critically, coming up with ideas, etc.)
- Organizational problems (don’t know where to begin, confusion with steps)
In early writers:
- Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position
- Avoiding writing or drawing tasks
- Trouble forming letter shapes
- Inconsistent spacing between letters or words
- Poor understanding of uppercase and lowercase letters
- Inability to write or draw in a line or within margins
- Tiring quickly while writing
In young students:
- Illegible handwriting
- Mixture of cursive and print writing
- Saying words out loud while writing
- Concentrating so hard on writing that comprehension of what’s written is missed
- Trouble thinking of words to write
- Omitting or not finishing words in sentences
In teenagers and adults:
- Trouble organizing thoughts on paper
- Trouble keeping track of thoughts already written down
- Difficulty with syntax structure and grammar
- Large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech
As early as 1896 Baldwin noted that human learning is a stratified process. This implies that certain skills have to be mastered first, before it becomes possible to master subsequent skills. One has to learn to count before it becomes possible to learn to add and subtract. In the same way, there are skills that a student must have mastered first, before he or she will be proficient in writing. Unless underlying shortcomings are addressed first, the child’s writing will not improve.
According to the website PBS.org, the following skills underlie the act of writing:
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.
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.
Children who struggle with spatial ordering have decreased awareness regarding the spatial arrangement of letters, words, or sentences on a page.
Children who struggle with sequential ordering have difficulty placing in order or maintaining the order of letters, words, processes, or ideas.
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.
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.
Edublox offers multisensory cognitive enhancement programs, founded on pedagogical and neurological research and 30 years of experience demonstrating that weak underlying cognitive skills account for the majority of learning difficulties. Specific cognitive training can strengthen these weaknesses leading to increased performance in reading, spelling, writing, math and learning. Edublox’s writing programs aim at addressing the underlying shortcomings that interfere with spelling, writing and/or handwriting performance. Visit our website for more information.
Hard work pays off! The writing below belonged to an eight-year-old German boy with severe perceptual-motor problems. His parents started with very intensive Edublox training in April. The second example was taken from his schoolwork three months later.