Dyslexia is a common learning disability that primarily affects a child’s ability to read and write. Defined by the International Dyslexia Association as the following, “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” While many people are aware of the reading challenges associated with dyslexia, it’s equally important to understand why kids with dyslexia often encounter difficulties with writing. In this blog post, we’ll explore the reasons behind these struggles and offer insights into how to support children with dyslexia in their writing development.
First of all, it is important to realize that writing is the hardest task we ask students to do. Let’s look at the steps it takes to write a simple sentence – a task we ask a kindergartener. When we write, we have to think of what we want to say and hold it in our mind. Then, we have to think about the letters needed to spell the words through typing or handwriting. If we’re handwriting next we need to think about how to form each letter so that it can be read. And if we’re typing, we need to locate each letter on the keyboard. Finally, we have to group the letters into words that make sense, apply conventions like punctuation and spacing and voila! We have a sentence. Simple, right? Not so much for a child with dyslexia with poor spelling abilities.
Difficulty with Phonological Awareness
Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds of language. Kids with dyslexia often struggle with phonological awareness, making it challenging for them to break down words into their individual sounds. As a beginning writer, breaking words down into sounds is an essential part of spelling and therefor writing. Irregular words, or words that contain a part that sounds atypical, can pose an extra challenge here. This difficulty can lead to spelling errors and difficulty in sounding out words while writing.
Working Memory Challenges
Working memory is essential for writing, as it involves holding and manipulating information in one’s mind while composing sentences or organizing thoughts. Children with dyslexia may have working memory deficits, making it difficult for them to remember sentence structures, grammar rules, and the content of their writing simultaneously. They work so hard just to get their thoughts down, managing to recall conventions like punctuation and spelling can quickly lead to overload.
Slow Processing Speed
Kids with dyslexia might have slower processing speeds when it comes to reading and writing tasks. This can make writing a time-consuming and mentally taxing process. They may struggle to keep up with the pace of a typical classroom writing assignment, leading to frustration and fatigue. And, when a task is extremely challenging and exhausting, students are often reluctant to take it on. This can lead to the proficiency gap often seen with reading in the area of writing as well.
Poor Spelling and Handwriting
Dyslexia often co-occurs with difficulties in spelling and handwriting. This can result in illegible handwriting and frequent spelling errors in written assignments. Letter reversals can be challenging here, and lead to difficulties accurately writing words long past the age when reversals have usually self-corrected. Kids with dyslexia often become discouraged by their perceived shortcomings in these areas and may avoid writing whenever possible.
Difficulty Organizing Thoughts
Organizing one’s thoughts into a coherent and structured piece of writing is challenging for many children with dyslexia. They may have difficulty outlining their ideas and creating well-structured essays, which can affect the overall quality of their written work. Many students with dyslexia could narrate a beautifully detailed story to you orally, but will only be able to write simple sentences. This can also lead to frustration around the task of writing.
Reduced Self-Esteem and Avoidance
Experiencing consistent writing difficulties can lead to reduced self-esteem and self-confidence in children with dyslexia. They may become self-conscious about their writing abilities and avoid writing tasks whenever possible. This avoidance can slow their progress and further create a difficulty around accepting the challenge of writing assignments.
Supporting Kids with Dyslexia in Writing
Assistive Technology: Introduce assistive technology tools like speech-to-text software, spell checkers, and word prediction programs to help children with dyslexia overcome spelling and handwriting issues. These technologies can be a helpful tool, but will not necessarily “solve” the problem of writing. Often navigating a speech-to-text software can lead to challenges with editing and capturing outside sounds that can easily frustrate a learner trying to use it.
Explicit Instruction: Much like with reading, explicit instruction in grammar and the skills needed to be a successful writer will help a student with dyslexia. Experiential learning is not helpful for a student with dyslexia, and the opportunity to learn basics like parts of speech, identifying sentences or fragments, conjunctions and paragraph writing is crucial.
Encourage Revision: Encourage children to revise and edit their work. Emphasize the importance of the writing process and that it’s okay to make mistakes and correct them. While delivered softly, correction of errors is essential. Invented spelling should phased out by second grade and gentle feedback on correct spelling and/or assignments that connect with current spelling instruction to provide practice is ideal.
Supportive Environment: Create a supportive and non-judgmental environment where children feel safe expressing themselves through writing. Encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas without fear of criticism if the goal is to build stamina and a love for writing. If the goal is to complete an assignment for school, then allow other scaffolding to support the student in completing the assignment so that correct spelling and punctuation will be produced. Balancing the goal of each assignment is important so as not to overload the dyslexic student.
Professional Evaluation: If writing difficulties persist, consider seeking a professional evaluation from a specialist in dyslexia. This can help identify specific areas of challenge and inform targeted interventions.
Kids with dyslexia may face various challenges when it comes to writing, from phonological difficulties to struggles with working memory and spelling. It is important to provide them with the support, understanding, and appropriate resources they need to build their writing skills and boost their self-confidence. With the right strategies, explicit teaching of concepts and a supportive environment, children with dyslexia can develop into competent and confident writers.