What is Dysorthographia? - Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Dysorthographia is a learning disability. This lesson will discuss its symptoms and treatments and will end with a brief quiz to see what you have learned.

What Is Dysorthographia?

Let's say that you are grading your students' first spelling tests of the year and notice one student, Amy, missed nearly every word. This surprises you because you have not noticed any issues with Amy's reading or verbal skills. On the test, Amy omits letters from words, spells words with letters in combinations that do not make sense, confuses letter sounds, confuses consonants and vowels, copies words incorrectly, and has extensive grammatical errors. Amy also takes much longer than the rest of the class to complete the spelling test.

These clues may be indicative of dysorthographia. Dysorthographia is a learning disability that interferes with an individual's ability to spell and/or write correctly. Learning disabilities are neurological or developmental impairments that cause issues with learning.

Dysorthographia is characterized by bizarre spelling and a disconnect between the letters in a word and the sounds they make. For example, a student with dysorthographia might spell the word exhibition as esbtnn or escape as xkayp. Grammatical errors can include issues with tenses, contractions, punctuation, or correct word usage. When paired with the spelling impairment, extreme disruptions might look like 'eye gode two skul' instead of 'I went to school.'

Grammatical and spelling interruptions are so severe in these students that it makes it tough to follow them in their writing. Timing issues compound the problem with students who have dysorthographia. For example, a word that most students could spell in seconds might take a student with dysorthographia five or ten minutes or more. This makes it difficult for afflicted students to complete assignments on time and can add to the overall decrease in performance.

Now that we know what dysorthographia is, let's take a closer look at some of the symptoms related to it.

Symptoms of Dysorthographia

In our previous example, we mentioned that although Amy struggled with her spelling, she had not demonstrated any verbal or reading issues. This is often the case with students with dysorthographia. This can make it tough to spot. Common symptoms of dysorthographia include: problems with written spelling, problems with written grammar, and slower than normal speed in writing and/or spelling. Let's discuss these symptoms in a little more detail.

Problems with written spelling, such as omitting letters in written words, using strange or nonsensical letter combinations when spelling words, or copying words incorrectly when writing, are all signs of dysorthographia.

Grammar is important for fluency in writing and we may see many students without learning disabilities struggle with grammar. However, students with dysorthographia often demonstrate a profound disruption in grammatical understanding and problems with written grammar. This makes it very difficult to understand their writing.

We expect writing and spelling speed to increase as children grow and develop. Unfortunately, many students with dysorthographia demonstrate extreme slowness when spelling and writing. This can create a significant barrier for these students in terms of keeping up in class.

While these symptoms can indicate a problem like dysorthographia, they do not always mean this is the case. Therefore, students who demonstrate these symptoms should be referred to a specialist who can screen the child for potential problems and to rule out vision and hearing impairment or any other psychological or intellectual issue that may present similar symptoms.

Treatments for Dysorthographia

Many students go untreated for dysorthographia due to technological advancements that automatically correct spelling. However, early detection and intervention is key in the successful treatment of this learning disability. Once a diagnosis has been made, we can institute specific treatments that can improve spelling.

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