Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cognitive aspects of language: Disorder of written expression

Disorder of written expression is a learning disability in which a person's ability to communicate in writing is substantially below the level normally expected based on the individual's age, intelligence, life experiences and educational background. This disability affects both the physical reproduction of letters and words and the organization of thoughts and ideas in written compositions.
Steven Pinker
People are not born to read or write. These skills have to be acquired by learning. Taking the computer analogy, Canadian cognitive-neuroscientist Steven Arthur Pinker said: “Children are wired for sound, but print is an optional accessory that must be painstakingly bolted on.”
 The Graphomotor skills are combination of complex mental and physical skills which enable a person to write. A child with Graphomotor problems will find writing difficult because there is detachment between their thoughts and their ability to express them through writing.  Reading and writing are intricately linked with oral language skills, and with each other. Writing is also strongly linked to skeleton-muscular motor system. In child development reading and writing represent the last and most complex language-related skills to develop, and are the most vulnerable to insult, injury, and adverse genetic influences.  In human evolution the history of reading and writing proceed in parallel.
How to identify disorder of written expression?
Following are the signs that suggest disorder of written expression:
  1. Poor or illegible handwriting
  2. Poorly formed letters or numbers
  3. Excessive spelling errors
  4. Excessive punctuation errors
  5. Excessive grammar errors
  6. Sentences that lack logical cohesion
  7. Paragraphs and stories that are missing elements and that do not make sense or lack logical transitions
  8. Deficient writing skills that significantly impact academic achievement or daily life.
These symptoms must be evaluated in light of the person's age, intelligence, educational experience, and cultural or life experience. Written expression must be substantially below the level of samples produced by others of the same age, intelligence, and background. Normally, several of the symptoms are present simultaneously.
There are no specific tests to diagnose disorder of written expression. This disorder is not normally diagnosed before age eight because of the variability with which children acquire writing skills. It is most commonly diagnosed in the fourth or fifth grade. Requests for testing usually originate with a teacher or parent who notes multiple symptoms of the disorder in a child's writing.
Several standardized tests accurately reflect spelling abilities, but do not assess other writing skills with the same reliability. Tests that might be helpful in diagnosing disorder of written expression include the Diagnostic Evaluation of Writing Skills (DEWS), the Test of Early Written Language (TEWL) and the Test of Adolescent Language. However, assessment using standardized tests is not enough to make a diagnosis of disorder of written expression. In addition, a qualified evaluator should compare multiple samples of the student's written work with the written work normally expected from students of comparable backgrounds. The person being evaluated may also be asked to perform tasks such as writing from dictation or copying written material as part of diagnostic testing.
Students with Graphomotor problems are frequently called "lazy", "unmotivated" and/or "oppositional" because they are reluctant to produce written work. Many times, these are the children who dislike school the most. Because they are sometimes able to write legibly if they write slowly enough, they are accused of writing neatly "when they want to". This statement has moral implications and is untrue; for children with Graphomotor problems, neat handwriting at a reasonable pace is often not a choice.
There is no medicine for this disorder. Emerging evidence indicates that a preventive approach of providing instruction in handwriting, spelling, and composition in kindergarten and primary grades, for children already at risk of reading delay is effective in improving these children’s subsequent spelling and reading abilities. This is because handwriting is not just a motor process or penmanship. Rather, handwriting draws on letter knowledge and in turn may reinforce orthographic representations of letters and spellings, so that practicing a word’s spelling appears to reinforce phonetic awareness and facilitate word reading. Also, since transcription skills (spelling, handwriting) uniquely predict compositional fluency throughout elementary grades, it is not surprising that writing instruction in kindergarten facilitates the development of both content and fluency of written expression in later grades. Both the parents and the teachers can participate in instructional exercises. 

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