Many people who struggle with writing think that good writers just write well.

Not necessarily so. We need to convey that good writing is a process and everyone has to work at it. Johnson & Myklebust (1967) discussed the connections between writing and oral language. They noted that “a child who cannot read cannot write” (p 197). The reason for this is that, in part, writing requires one to take the sounds of our language and connect them to the visual representation of that sound (i.e., a letter or combination of letters). It is in essence this same skill that is required for reading -- one is encoding and the other is decoding.

In addition to knowing how to write the letters of alphabet and knowing how sounds are represented by these letters and combinations, a child must have adequate experience to be able to “talk” or, in this case, write about a topic.

Writing is very complex. Beyond getting the letters and words down on paper (or to keyboard), it requires staying on topic by keeping ideas and thoughts in mind, appropriately sequencing ideas, connecting relationships between ideas, and planning. In addition to reading, writing requires visual-motor coordination, visual memory, and short-term memory, as well as morphological understanding, spelling, syntax, formulation abilities, grammar, and punctuation. You can see how sophisticated and complex writing is.

Spelling is a linguistic skill. Spelling difficulties can affect the quality of writing produced by  our bright dyslexic students. These students will avoid using a sophisticated vocabulary word because they cannot spell it. While spellcheck does help, many of our dyslexic clients report that their spelling is not always good enough for spellcheck to identify the word they want.

Writing is also affected by limited vocabulary, resulting in very concrete and limited written expression.

Frequently, a child with dyslexia will be unable to formulate a thought onto paper. These children are able to talk about a topic, but when asked to write, they simply cannot begin to formulate their ideas. They have difficulty initiating a simple sentence. Many of these children will not exhibit difficulty with the writing tasks in school until asked to write essays. Frustration occurs because these students know that their written work does not represent what they know. For these children, a software program that allows them to dictate their thoughts to the computer can be helpful. They can get their ideas down and then go back and edit the document.

The process of writing or how we write

Many people who struggle with writing think that good writers just write well. They think that a good writer just sits down at the keyboard and the final document is born. We need to explicitly teach the process of writing to children, beginning in the elementary grades. We need to convey that good writing is challenging for everyone. We need to have accommodations and supports in place to level the playing field for children with dyslexia and language and learning disabilities; however, they need to know the process of writing.

We begin with an idea or in many cases with an ‘assignment’ whether from the teacher or our boss. We then have to determine how we are going to approach communicating that idea. Typically, this requires a plan, which can be drafted into an outline or a semantic web. We need to think about references (i.e., where are we going to get our information) whether that be via the Internet, a book, an interview, etc. We then need to go to our source and compile the information. This requires reading (difficult for the dyslexic) or, in the case of an interview, perhaps transcribing the interview. We then need to look for themes among our sources. We need to connect these themes for the reader. We need to keep our audience in mind as we are writing. We need to make our first draft. We then edit. We may give it to someone else to read and comment. And this process can go on for a number of iterations until we are satisfied with the final product.

Spelling is one of the classic red flags alerting parents and teachers of a serious underlying problem.

To learn about dysgraphia and how it affects writing, visit LD Online.