Learning Disabilities and Assistive Technologies Guide: Chapter 4 - Writing

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Writing, Spelling, Handwriting, and Grammar

Problem: Individuals with written language disorders may have difficulty with one or more aspects of written language such as proper use of grammar and syntax, punctuation, spelling, organizational skills, and initiating writing. The physical act of handwriting for persons with dysgraphia can make the task of writing even more complicated. Assistive technology can help with written expression as well as the physical act of putting words onto the paper. This section will address both of these concerns separately, but often persons with learning disabilities will have problems in both areas.

The Mechanics of Writing

The physical act of putting pen or pencil to paper can be a daunting task for a person with a learning disability or dysgraphia. Legibility is difficult as well as the need to know the relationship between the symbol and the sound of letters and words. Misspellings can not only come from lack of knowledge of the word but replacing one letter for another such as a “b” for a “d”. Persons who have to work extremely hard to put word to paper often lose comprehension, fluency, and their ideas when writing. Compensatory strategies are imperative if progress in written expression is to be made.

Written Expression

The number one tool that makes a better writer is practice. Allowing a user access to word processing can help alleviate hesitancy in writing caused by poor spelling, lack of grammar skills, poor handwriting, and inability to proofread and edit hand written work easily. Therefore when the goal of the activity or task is written expression and not handwriting or grammar work access to word processing on a computer or stand alone keyboard is imperative for a person with handwriting or written expression difficulties. Persons who have access to word processing report that they write more frequently than they did without the computer.

Word processing can help make writing easier because of built in supports in most word processing applications. Writing errors can be corrected easier using editing techniques. “Cut and paste” and “click and drag“ features allow the writer to move words, sentences, and paragraphs within the text. Spell checkers and grammar checkers help users make fewer errors in finished products. However, they are not foolproof methods. Spellcheckers only capture misspelled words not correctly spelled words used improperly, such as homonyms or even use of a wrong word. Users must still be able to proofread their work using text to speech software or other methods to insure error free documents.

Word processing software can also facilitate a sequential approach to writing when used with accompanying outlining software. Often persons with learning disabilities have trouble getting started with a written project because of poor organizational and sequencing skills. Outlining software such as Inspiration or Draftbuilder allows users to input data in smaller segments and slowly build segments into a finished document.

Voice Recognition software has improved dramatically in the last years and is now a viable option for those individuals whose keyboarding skills are too slow for efficient writing. This method still requires a good amount of training and works better for users who already know and understand the difference between oral language and written language. Being able to talk is not the prerequisite to using voice recognition.

Improving writing skills continues to be a difficult task for many individuals. Having the appropriate tools as well as some basic skills can make the task less daunting.

The individual with writing difficulties may have one or more of the following problems:

  • Poor handwriting/writing illegibly:

☐ does not follow lines on paper; ☐ writes too small or too large; ☐ writes too light or too hard; ☐ pencil grip incorrect; ☐ does not visually track writing;

  • Writes letters or numbers backwards or upside down (especially when tired);
  • Mixes capital and lower case letters inappropriately;
  • Poor spelling skills:

☐ spells phonetically and cannot remember patterns; ☐ spells words differently in the same document (Divorce, for example, may appear as devoice, devocie, devoeace); ☐ reverses letters in spelling;

  • Difficulty with copying or completing work on a printed page:

☐ difficulty copying from a board; ☐ difficulty copying from a book or other printed material; ☐ difficulty filling out forms; ☐ difficulty completing bubble answer sheets; ☐ difficulty completing fill-in-blank worksheets;

  • Difficulty taking notes from oral presentation:

☐ unable to write homework assignments correctly; ☐ writing is too slow to get lecture points on paper; ☐ takes notes but unable to distinguish important information from extraneous information; ☐ reverses or ignores numbers, parts of sentences, and/or whole words when taking notes;

  • May have problems with grammar, syntax and organization:

☐demonstrates inconsistent memory for sentence mechanics (e.g., lack of punctuation and capitalization); ☐persistent problems with sentence structure (sentences may be incomplete or syntax may be incorrect or disassociated); ☐does not have all parts of a well organized paragraph (topic and supporting sentences, transitional sentence)

  • Demonstrates writing skills inconsistent with verbal abilities:

☐writes short and/or simple essays even though he can verbalize more complex thought; ☐can verbalize answers to tests but written answers are wrong, left blank, or incomplete; ☐oral vocabulary more complex than written vocabulary

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