Basic Writing Disabilities in Children

Causes, Characteristics, and Testing for Writing Disabilities

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Learning disabilities in basic writing skills affect the learner's ability to write words with correct spelling, appropriate word choice and basic mechanics, such as letter formation, grammar, and punctuation.

People with learning disabilities in basic writing may not understand the relationship between letters and the sounds they represent and often cannot distinguish the correct written word from the incorrect word.

Learning disabilities in basic writing are sometimes referred to as dysgraphia. Get the facts on such disorders and how they're treated with this review of basic writing disabilities.


Learning disabilities in writing can have many causes. They may be hereditary, caused by differences in brain development, brain injury, or stroke. They are not solely the result of problems with expressive language or receptive language, visual or hearing problems, or hand-eye coordination, but they can be complicated by these conditions.


Common characteristics of people with learning disabilities in basic writing skills include difficulty completing schoolwork, using writing in everyday situations, and being at risk for school failure. They may have difficulty producing letters on paper and may not understand the relationship between letters, words, and sounds. They may also have problems in basic reading because of weaknesses in understanding letter and sound connections.

Weaknesses in fine motor skills requiring special instruction may also be present.


Evaluation of the disability can provide information to help educators develop effective specially designed instruction (SDI). Typical strategies focus on work with hands-on-materials to help learners develop an awareness of letterforms and their connection to sounds and words. Teachers may also work on language-based aspects of writing, recognition of letter clusters, and root words. Occupational therapy can help students who have motor problems.


Many learning disabled students are at-risk for being underestimated by other students, adults, and teachers. People with learning disabilities in basic writing skills have general learning ability or general intelligence that is as high as, or higher than their peers. They simply have a skill deficit in this area of basic writing.

These children may become frustrated because of the effort they must put forth to get their work done. Students may withdraw, avoid writing, or may develop behavior problems to elude classwork that involves writing.

A student's frustrations can be magnified further if adults such as parents and teachers do not understand the source of their frustration. It's important for adults to recognize that a learning disability in basic writing comes with frustration in order to foster the self-esteem of the child.


Diagnostic assessments and writing tests can be used to determine what specific types of problems are affecting the learner's writing skills. Through observations, analyzing student work, as well as cognitive, language, and occupational assessment, educators can make recommendations to develop individualized instructional plans.

Helping Your Child Succeed

If you believe you or your child has a learning disability in basic writing, contact your school principal or counselor for information on how to request a referral for an assessment.

For students in college and vocational programs, their school's advising office can assist with finding resources to help ensure their success. Also, college students should ask if there's a writing center on campus that provides one-on-one instruction for students who struggle to write.

Learn more about how to advocate for your learning disability in college. From writing centers to free tutoring, to scholarships designed only for those with learning disabilities, it is possible to succeed in college. (This is important to understand even if your child is still young and you worry about college in the future.) Don't let learning disabilities keep your child out of college!

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Center for Learning Disabilities. LD Online. What Is Dysgraphia?

  2. Chung PJ, Patel DR, Nizami I. Disorder of written expression and dysgraphia: definition, diagnosis, and management. Transl Pediatr. 2020;9(Suppl 1):S46-S54. doi:10.21037/tp.2019.11.01

  3. Rodrigues JC, da Fontoura DR, de Salles JF. Acquired dysgraphia in adults following right or left-hemisphere strokeDement Neuropsychol. 2014;8(3):236-242. doi:10.1590/S1980-57642014DN83000007

  4. Learning Disabilities Association of America. Types of Learning Disabilities.

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.