Writing with Learning Disabilities

Helpful Hints to get Learning Disabled Kids to Write

Getting a child with a unique learning style to write can be a difficult process,especially if he has a learning disability. Though most bright children are good writers on the inside (able to create multi-chapter books in their minds), the physical act of putting pen to paper may be an agonizing task. The writing process involves a complex set of skills that nearly any learning disability can hamper. The first step is learning to recognize just where the difficulty lies. Then it's easier to make accommodations to help the child. Some examples of these disabilities are:

Auditory Sequencing Deficit: Affects ability to spell and to write sentences that follow a logical sequence. Also affects memory for small details such as grammar rules, sentence structure, and vocabulary usage. Children with this disability can't see their own errors until they are pointed out by someone else.

Visual-Perceptual Deficit: Skewed spatial relationships may make it difficult to write straight on the page. Words may have no spaces between them or may curve downward until they fall off the page, leaving half of the usable space untouched. Sentences may run on and on with no punctuation or paragraph breaks. Letters may be backwards, mirror image, or switched.

Kinesthetic/Fine Motor: Affects the ability to use the fingers efficiently, including poor pencil grip, difficulty in keyboarding, and poor posture when writing. The child may not have chosen a dominant hand yet, and neither hand is strong enough to write legibly. The weak fine muscles tire easily, which causes a great deal of exhaustion, frustration, and task avoidance.

Organizational Difficulties: May have too many scattered ideas, or one big idea with no knowledge of how to sequentially break it down into workable parts. The child may frequently get stuck with the beginning, middle or conclusion of his story and then promptly give up before seeking help.

Perfectionism/Giftedness: While this may not be considered a handicap in most cases, when it comes to writing, the desire for perfection (or getting the exact picture the child has in mind onto paper) can be overwhelming and stifling. The child's ideas are often too big and too complex for his writing skill level. His frustration at his perceived inadequacy may cause him to give up before even attempting to write. When gifted-perfectionism is combined with a significant writing disability, watch out! You'll be lucky to get the child to pick up a pen at all.

AD/HD: In the case of the AD/HD child, writing simply takes too long. It's labor intensive, and the slow editing process, with all the attention one must pay to the minor details of proper grammar, spelling, and organization is enough to make a highly active and impatient child want to climb out of his skin.

The next step to getting any child to express thoughts through writing is to work with his areas of strength and interest. Mastering the finer skills of perfecting a written piece comes later. The most common areas of strength for bright children reside in their verbal expression and vivid imagination. Their interests tend to encompass things that engage their imaginations, affect them emotionally, and present them with open-ended problems to be solved creatively.

To tap into this, we've developed a creative writing game, Legends of Druidawn that gets children to write by capitalizing on these areas of strength and interest. It allows them to build up to more difficult forms of writing slowly, after they have overcome a long pattern of writing anxiety and frustration. Writing can be fun when using this role-playing system. It breaks down writing barriers on a fundamental level. But while this game is a great motivator to get students to write, some may still need an extra boost, especially if they have one of the aforementioned disabilities.

The following is a list of ways you can assist a child who has difficulties:

  • Tell the child to get his ideas on paper any way he wants to with no worries about spelling or grammar.
  • Offer to write every other sentence for the child.
  • Allow the child to type the paper if handwriting is too hard. Encourage use of an Alphasmart or computer.
  • If nothing else works, allow the child to dictate the paper to you and work your way up to having him/her write small parts independently.
  • Another way to take the pressure off of poor spellers or the sequentially impaired is to have them dictate to you while you write or type it, then they have to copy the whole thing in their own handwriting or copy the typing. This relieves them from the pressure of spelling and organizing the information.
  • Remember that the first few times you do this, you may have to do more of the work for the child than you want to. Allow the child to get used to the system. It takes time and patience to help a child overcome writing anxiety.
  • Springboard into more complex forms of writing and editing techniques once the child has overcome anxiety and he has learned ways to compensate for his disabilities.

Related Articles:

Writing With Dyslexia by Miriam Darnell
Reading With Dyslexia by Miriam Darnell

For further information on any of the disabilities listed above, consult the following experts:

Dr. Linda Silverman, The Gifted Development Center, 1452 Marion St., Denver,CO 80218 303-837-8378

Marlo Rice, director of The Brideun School for Exceptional Children and TheCenter for Education Enrichment, 250 S. Cherrywood Drive, Lafayette, CO80026. 303-926-9500 www.brideun.com

Dr. Rebecca Hutchins, Developmental Optometrist, 7916 Niwot Road, Niwot, CO80503. 303-652-0505 rhvision@aol.com

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