« A Package of Articles on Response to Intervention | Main | Committee Sets Hearing on Restraints, Seclusion »

The Forgotten Learning Disability


Just as many children may have trouble writing words as reading them, according a study in the May 2009 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The authors titled their paper "The Forgotten Learning Disability" because they say there have been no epidemiological studies of how frequently writing disorders occur. According to their work, the prevalence of writing disorders ranged from about 7 percent to 14 percent in the group of children they studied, depending on what formula the researchers used.

Boys were two to three more times likely to be affected than girls. And there was a lot of overlap with reading disabilities, though interestingly, about 25 percent of the affected children didn't have an additional reading disorder.

The full study is available for purchase here. A short news article on the subject is here.

I'm aware of any number of lesson plans that are created to treat children with dyslexia. Is writing usually a part of the practice? There's such a large overlap between the two groups that it seems worthwhile to address both issues in tandem.


As the parent of a kid with a writing disorder, and the perspective now to look back over an almost total journey through the public school's special education offerings, this just suggests to me a need for much more systematic screening and diagnosis of disorders. I recall suspecting around second or third grade that writing was far more difficult than it seemed it should be. it took a couple years to get an evaluation--which came with a recommendation from a very gung ho OT who was up on helpful (word prediction and text to speech) software. Of course, the district wasn't doing this yet with any kids (they were assigning 30-60 minutes a week with an OT to "practice writing skills" and handing out pencil grips)--but she was savvy enough to put it in writing (before she disappeared from our lives), so that a year or two later, it was available on a computer. They provided the teacher with about 15 minutes of inservice-basically how to turn it on--not how to use it to support learning. Some two years later (when I began crabbing about the fact that I never saw any written work from him) I discovered that they didn't know how to make the thing print out either. Something was set wrong so that it printed out a bunch of garbage that bore a limited relationship to what was seen on the screen. And the OT (of the pencil grip school) was "using" the software as an add-on to what she was doing. The process looked like 1. speak a sentence to the OT, who writes it down. 2. Copy the sentence that the OT wrote for you. 3. Use the computer software to write the thing all over again. 4. Print out the garbage.

It sounds like malpractice doesn't it? But the woman sincerely believed in teaching kids to "write." She truly believed that more practice would help improve. Now--this was not the only thing going on in his life. He was facing roller coaster mood changes, ongoing social exclusion (comes with the territory, apparently)--not to mention being in an environment with others who had more than their share of things to deal with. So--it wasn't necessarily surprising that this poor woman might conclude that if he would just apply himself consistently, things would get better.

In fact, there are a lot of folks working (and learning) in special ed who are lucky to make it through the day many days of the week. Survival frequently outweighs anything like arriving at a reasonable diagnosis and coordinating with other teachers working with the same kids. But looking back over the patchwork of school--and seeing where the holes are--is just a reminder of how poorly coordinated the whole thing has been. One year there is one reading program. Another year, someone else believes that the answer is something else and goes off in another direction. I can look back over many earnest believers in things that might have "worked," but only had one earnest champion (I recall one year of sensory integration--followed by some timid attempts to "comply" with mom's insistence of continuation in the form of offering manipulatives).

It is way easy to overlook kids with any specific disability--and so often our kids aren't neatly packaged--they present with overlapping, and sometimes changing, sets of symptoms. Schools respond to the ones that they are most comfortable with, or the one that someone is most passionate about.

But, we ought to be able to identify some key indicators for across the board screening--just as we do eye charts, temperatures and look at throats and into ears. These things might not provide diagnoses--but they do tell is when there is a problem that needs attention. We are probably more conversant right now with the symptoms of H1N1 virus than we are with the symptoms of many learning disabilities.

We really need to become more systematic in identifying the needs of our kids when it comes to learning.

Writing diffiuclties in childern are precipitents of their failure to develop the neural (brain) skills for reading and reading comprehension. The developmental process for specific neural development has critial signifiance at ages 3 -5. Motor skill development is impacted, just as cognitive development is impacted by poor health issues. Special Educatio sreform will have to center around the assesment and designation of the "learning disability" labeling of children.

For addition information/dialog contact me at this e-mail or 912 -235003

I am very upset about this e mail-all these symptoms belong in the remedial/intervention of dyslexia-no expert who knows precisely how to intervene would see this as a problem-we need to understand that remediating to all simultaneous modalities and using speech and phonemic awareness as well as articulating shapes of sounds are all part of a lesson and address this symptom of dyslexia...teaching reading without teaching spelling and writing at the same time should be an off the market solution but we don`t really monitor what`s sold in the school market do we-sad...

Steve Graham has done extensive research on the writing process and educational writing intervention strategies in both atypically and typically developing students. Reading his work has helped me enormously in improving my classroom writing instruction.

Comments are now closed for this post.

Follow This Blog


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments