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Dyslexia is considered a language-based learning disorder and is thought of as a reading disability but it also impacts a student's ability to write. There is often a large discrepancy between what a student thinks and can tell you orally and what he can write down on paper. Besides frequent spelling errors, some of the ways dyslexia affects writing skills:
- Essays are written as one paragraph with several long, run-on sentences
- Using little punctuation, including not capitalizing the first word in a sentence or using end punctuation
- Odd or no spacing between words
- Cramming information on the page rather than spreading out
In addition, many students with dyslexia show signs of dysgraphia, including having illegible handwriting and taking a long time to form letters and write assignments.
As with reading, students with dyslexia spend so much time and effort writing the words, the meaning behind the words can be lost. Added to difficulties in organizing and sequencing information, writing paragraphs, essays and reports are time-consuming and frustrating. They may jump around when writing, with events occurring out of sequence. Because not all children with dyslexia have the same level of symptoms, writing problems can be hard to spot. While some may only have minor problems, others hand in assignments that are impossible to read and understand.
Grammar and Conventions
Dyslexic students put much effort into reading individual words and trying to understand the meanings behind the words. Grammar and writing conventions, to them, may not seem important. But without grammar skills, writing doesn't always make sense. Teachers can take extra time to teach conventions, such as standard punctuation, what constitutes a sentence fragment, how to avoid run-on sentences and capitalization. Although this may be an area of weakness, focusing on grammar rules helps. Choosing one or two grammar rules at a time helps. Give students time to practice and master these skills before moving on to additional skills.
Grading students on content rather than grammar also helps. Many teachers will make allowances for students with dyslexia and as long as they understand what the student is saying, will accept the answer, even if there are spelling or grammatical errors. Using computer programs with spelling and grammar checkers can help, however, keep in mind that many spelling errors common to individuals with dyslexia are missed using standard spell checkers. Specific programs developed for people with dyslexia are available such as Cowriter.
Young students with dyslexia show signs of sequencing problems when learning to read. They place letters of a word in the wrong place, such as writing /left/ instead of /left/. When recalling a story, they may state events that happened in an incorrect order. To write effectively, a child must be able to organize the information into a logical sequence in order for it to make sense to other people. Imagine a student writing a short story. If you ask the student to verbally tell you the story, he probably can explain what he wants to say. But when trying to put the words on paper, the sequence becomes jumbled and the story no longer makes sense.
Allowing a child to record his story or writing assignments on a tape recorder rather than on paper helps. If necessary a family member or another student can transcribe the story on paper. There is also a number of speech to text software programs that allow a student to say the story out loud and the software will convert it to text.
Dysgraphia, also known as written expression disorder, is a neurological learning disability that often accompanies dyslexia. Students with dysgraphia have poor or illegible handwriting. Many students with dysgraphia also have sequencing difficulties. Besides poor handwriting and sequencing skills, symptoms include:
- Grammar and spelling errors
- Inconsistencies in written assignments, such as different size letters, mix of cursive and print writing, letters with different slants
- Omitting letters and words
Non-existant spacing between words and sentences and cramming the words on the paper
- Unusual grip of pencil or pen
Students with dysgraphia can often write neatly, but this takes an enormous amount of time and effort. They take the time to correctly form each letter and will often miss the meaning of what they are writing because their focus is on forming each individual letter.
Teachers can help children with dyslexia improve writing skills by working together to edit and make corrections in a written assignment. Have the student read a paragraph or two and then go over adding incorrect grammar, fixing spelling errors and correcting any sequencing errors. Because the student will read what he meant to write, not what is written, having him orally read the written assignment back can help you better understand the student's meaning.
- "Dysgraphia," Date Unknown, Author Unknown West Virginia University
- "Teaching Dyslexic Students," 1999, Kevin L. Huitt, Valdosta State University