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Writing Disabilities

Kim is a bright, energetic fourteen-year-old who has just moved to a new school district. During her first week at the new school, she made the debate team and the school band. She turns assignments in on time and does well if the tests are multiple choice and true/false. However, her English teacher, Mrs. Bruno, is worried because Kim's in-class assignments are illegible, unorganized, and filled with misspelled words and erasures. When Mrs. Bruno talks to Kim about the problem, Kim shrugs and says she just can't write. She tells Mrs. Bruno that her former teacher let her bring a laptop computer to class, and this helped a bit. Mrs. Bruno doesn't want to give Kim a poor grade in English because Kim will be dropped from the debate team, but she wants Kim to learn to write correctly and not rely solely on computers.

When students find it difficult to write, it affects not only their work in language arts, but content area subjects as well. Poor writing skills often limit their career choices and leisure time pursuits, also.

Definition and Symptoms

Because the writing process is so complex, it's difficult to establish a clear definition for writing disability. Generally, a writing disability is learning disability that affects the ability to express oneself in writing. Students' papers often have errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, handwriting, etc. Writing compositions may also be short and unorganized with poor ideation.

Students may also have trouble executing the cognitive processes that underlie effective written expression (e.g., creating content, constructing text, planning, revising). Many people with writing disabilities have limited knowledge of the writing process and often overestimate their own writing capabilities. On the other hand, many students underestimate their capabilities and fail to achieve their potentials as writers.

The term dysgraphia is often used when discussing writing disabilities, and may or may not be accompanied by dyslexia. Some students with writing difficulties have initial problems with reading, but they respond well to reading instruction while writing continues to be a problem. Other children have writing problems without experiencing reading difficulties. Still others have both reading and writing problems that continue over time.


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.

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.

Spatial Ordering:
Children who struggle with spatial ordering have decreased awareness regarding the spatial arrangement of letters, words, or sentences on a page.

Sequential Ordering:
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.


The Audiblox Dysgraphia Program addresses the above-mentioned skills: It develops attention and concentration, spatial and sequential ordering, memory, and grahomotor function.

The writing below belonged to an eight-year-old German boy with severe perceptual-motor problems. His parents started with intensive Audiblox training in April. The second example was taken from his schoolwork three months later.


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