The Influence of Spelling Ability on Vocabulary Choices When Writing for Children With Dyslexia

Though the correlation between kids with dyslexia and poor writing ability is widely accepted, there have been few studies that attempt to measure the difference in quality between written and spoken compositions of dyslexics.

An article published in the 2016 Journal of Learning Disabilities titled “The Influence of Spelling Ability on Vocabulary Choices When Writing for Children With Dyslexia” discusses the findings of a recent study done with elementary students (with dyslexia and not) that focused on the aspects of writing caused poor compositional quality in dyslexics.

In this study, conducted by Sumner, et al., student participants consisted of three groups; dyslexic students, students of similar chronological age (CA) to the dyslexics, and students who were of similar spelling ability age (SA) to the dyslexic group. Participants were asked to complete a written and verbal composition task, and were scored based on their vocabulary usage, spelling accuracy, lexical diversity (or word choice), and overall composition quality. During the written composition task, the participants’ pause behavior (associated with hesitancy of a word’s spelling) was measured to determine if lack of confidence in a word’s spelling affected the child’s compositional decisions and spelling.

Results of this study show that participants with dyslexia had a poorer spelling score than the CA group on written compositional tasks, and a comparable spelling score to SA group (who were mostly of younger chronological age). The dyslexics’ pause behavior was high, as were their spelling mistakes and lack of lexical diversity, which seemed to affect their written compositional organization and overall quality, in addition to their spelling. In contrast, the dyslexic participants scored similar to the CA group on the verbal compositional task. The dyslexics’ lexical diversity, vocabulary, and overall quality of composition had better scores on verbal composition than their written composition scores, which suggests that the pause behavior and hesitant spelling recorded during the written tasks affected the participants’ vocabulary choices and compositional quality in a negative way.

These results suggest that dyslexics’ hesitant and poor spelling abilities hinder their written compositional quality—while their verbal compositional skills had much better lexical diversity, vocabulary usage, and overall compositional quality. The spelling difficulties that dyslexics face affect not only their spelling abilities, but their overall word choice and written compositional quality. These results, while fairly predicted, show the gap between verbal language skills and writing skills for dyslexics, and will hopefully encourage more research and focus on spelling during language-learning intervention for dyslexics.

The Influence of Spelling Ability on Vocabulary Choices When Writing for Children With Dyslexia (Sumner, E., Connelly, V., and Barnett, A.L., Journal of Learning Disabilities. 2016. Vol. 49. Pages 293-304)

Read the abstract or full article (paid subscription) on the Sage Journals website.