The Industry Profile on Education Technology:
Learning Disabilities Technologies and Markets
By Wendy Strobel*, Sajay Arthanat, Jennifer Fossa, Susan Mistrett, and Jennifer Brace
© June 2006
This manuscript may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of the publisher. Individual portions may be reproduced with proper acknowledgement.
This is a publication of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer, funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the Department of Education under grant number H233E030025. The opinions contained in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Education.
Editor: Jonathon Hendrix
Format Editor: Michelle Tipps-Ankrah
Graphic Designer: Laurie Yarnes
* Wendy Strobel, the communicating author, can be reached by phone at 716.829.3141 x140 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC)
Center for Assistive Technology
School of Public Health and Health Professions
State University of New York at Buffalo
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Table of Contents
Chapter One: Introduction to Learning Disabilities
Types of Learning Disability
Life After High School
Chapter Two: Demographics
Review of Demographics for Learning Disabilities
Impact of Learning Disabilities in the U.S.
Chapter Three: Education Technology
Chapter 4: Legislation, Funding, and Education Technology
Legislation and Funding for Innovation and Transfer
Legislation and Funding for Technology Provision and Delivery
National Organizations and Associations
The Industry Profile on Education Technology:
Learning Disability Technology and Markets
Authors: Wendy Strobel*, Sajay Arthanat, Jennifer Fossa,
Sue Mistrett, and Jennifer Brace
Learning disability (LD) is defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 as:
“a disorder in 1 or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations (P.L. 108-446 § 602).”
As implied by the definition, LD permeates every aspect of a person’s life. Often times, the impact becomes obvious as children begin to face the rigors of education. While people with LD often learn to compensate for the challenges they face, the underlying LD does not go away as they enter adulthood. However, life outside of school often provides a great deal more freedom in choosing career paths, compensation strategies, and learning opportunities.
Technology holds great promise for people with learning disabilities. There are many useful tools available in the marketplace today. Text to speech engines, electronic spell checkers, and universally designed products that are used every day by people with and without disabilities. This document provides an overview of the education technology industry as it relates to technologies for people with LD. The contents have been designed to provide information for technology development, manufacture and sale. The Introduction will present some of the fundamental concepts of learning disabilities to ensure that the industry has a clear understanding of the challenges faced by people with learning disabilities. The technologies section provides an overview of the current state of the technology.
The Industry Profile Education Technology: Learning Disabilities Technologies and Markets is a reference document for technical and clinical research, product development, market analysis and segmentation, and general education. It provides an overview of the current state of the education technology industry as it relates to students with learning disabilities. A great deal of the information is also applicable to the general population of students as well as students who are at risk of failure in schools. The secondary market information provided in the Industry Profile is designed as a reference tool and a basis upon which to publish our primary market research for technologies for students with learning disabilities. The Industry Profile Education Technology: Learning Disabilities Technologies and Markets is also available in an accessible format on our website at http://cosmos.buffalo.edu/t2rerc/.
Please note that this IP is presented in a format that is different from those compiled in the past. These changes were made as a result of feedback on a survey conducted on the Industry Profile on Visual Impairment. We have attempted to capture the essence of the education industry for students with learning disabilities with the sections that are readers recommended were most helpful. The Industry Profile Education Technology: Learning Disabilities Technologies and Markets is presented in four chapters and an appendix that provides additional information for the reader:
Each section contains many subsections that provide a great deal of detail on each specific area. We will be assessing the presentation of this format as well and changes you suggest will be integrated into future Industry Profiles.
The authors would like to thank the School of Public Health and Health Professions (SPHHP) and the Center for Assistive Technology (CAT) at the University at Buffalo for their support and collaboration in preparing this document. We would also like to thank the staff and faculty of the T2RERC.
Chapter One: Introduction to Learning Disabilities
Currently, knowledge of learning disabilities is mostly limited to parents and teachers of children with a learning disability (LD), and professionals. Societal misconceptions about LD are very common and could impose detrimental consequences on individuals with a LD in terms of their personal expectations, educational participation, employment opportunities, and benefits received from state and national level funding programs (Stacey, 2001). In order for people with a LD to succeed within the current educational culture, it is highly important for the whole society to embrace the realities of LD. LD is significantly distinct from more common disorders such as mental retardation, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
LD is a neurological disorder that imposes difficulties in participation at school, work, and other basic life activities. Many individuals with a LD have a limited ability to receive, process, store, and respond to information. In schools, LD may undermine a child’s fundamental development in one or more areas including listening, reading, mathematics, writing, speaking, and fine motor skills. LD is a heterogeneous group of disorders that impose difficulties in a variety of academic and social skills (Cutting & Denckla, 2003). It is important to understand that LD is not a disease, but a neurological disorder that spans an individual’s life from childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. Therefore, individuals with a LD may not only lack age-appropriate academic skills, but may also have difficulty acquiring learning skills for transition to the subsequent developmental phase of life. Although many adults with a LD develop adequate strategies to overcome functional limitations, many experience difficulty in succeeding in the work world (Gerber, Ginsberg & Reiff, 1992).
In 2001, the United States Department of Education reported that LD affects nearly 5% of children in public schools, and an estimated 2.9 million students are currently receiving special education services for learning disabilities (National Center for Learning Disabilities [NCLD], 2004a). Alarmingly, it is also estimated that almost one-third of children with some form of LD remain undiagnosed (Shaywitz, 2003).
Origins of Learning Disabilities
It is important to keep in mind that the origin of LD is different from that of learning problems associated with visual, hearing, motor impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages (Learning Disabilities Association of America, 2005). While this fact is well researched and validated, the exact cause of LD remains unclear. Many scientists have attributed the occurrence of LD to genetics, high-risk pregnancies and exposure of the developing brain to chemical toxicity. The genetic basis of LD has been validated by reports of prevalence of LD in families. However, the genetic mapping of LD is an area that is still under exploration. In a study at University of South Florida, environmental toxicity, or exposure of the fetus to chemical toxins and alcohol during pregnancy, was deemed as a key cause for children born with a LD (Pressinger, n.d.). This finding is supported by the increase in prevalence of LD in accordance with the rise in environmental pollution and toxicity in the last two decades.
As mentioned above, the question of why LD happens has not been clearly established in the literature. However, researchers have been able to elucidate what happens in LD or its underlying neurological pathology. Examining the brain-behavior mechanisms using advanced methods such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has provided scientists with insights into the neurological involvement of LD. In most cases, it has been reported that the basic anatomical structures of the brain remain intact. Nonetheless, in LD there seems to be a disruption in information processing because of impairment in the neural wiring that transmits messages across these structures in the brain (Shaywitz, 2003). Comparison of brain images between children with and without LD reveal that the neural activation patterns during learning tasks are significantly different for these two groups, which indicates the disparity in neural processing. For children with a LD, the activation pattern is reduced because of lower blood flow to specific areas of the brain. In addition, their brain cells are reported to metabolize glucose at lower levels than children without LD. Moreover, children with a LD have been found to have fewer and smaller brain cells in specific areas of the brain, and a condition called dysplasia termed as movement of brain cells into the wrong region of the brain (Pressinger, n.d.).
Receiving Services for Learning Disabilities under the Law
According to Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) 2004, LD may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The classification provided by the law is quite broad and little guidance was given on how LD was to be measured functionally in schools. For many years, educators and clinicians used the Intra-Individual Differences Model to determine if a learning disability was present. In other words, when a child demonstrated a discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability he was assumed to have a LD. Using this “discrepancy formula” to positively diagnose a LD often required a student to fail academically before he could be diagnosed with a LD and, as a result of that diagnosis, begin to receive the services mandated by law that would enable them to succeed (Horowitz, 2005). For the first time in IDEA 2004, this requirement was removed. Now schools have the option to use a process based on systematic assessment of the student’s response to high quality, research-based general education instruction as is promoted by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Continuing research on the identification and development of research-based instructional interventions is planned (NCLD, 2005b).
A Review of the Models of Assessment for Learning Disabilities
Taking into account the complexity of defining and diagnosing LD, it would be worthwhile for teachers and clinicians to keep in mind a few guidelines by which LD can be classified and treated. The following section reviews two models that highlight the shift in focus of LD definition from IQ-achievement discrepancy (Intra-Individual Differences Module) to a response to intervention based approach (Problem-Solving Model).
Intra-Individual Differences Model (Discrepancy Formula)
The Intra-Individual Differences Model (as the term suggests) indicates the within child discrepancies in ability as a marker for LD. In other words, there is a failure on the part of the child to achieve a level of expected academic performance in one area based on his or her abilities in other areas (Kavale & Forness, 2000). This model is emphasized by “unevenness in development”. The child with a LD will have intact abilities in many areas while having limited abilities in others which results in underachievement in some areas of academic or social performance (Fletcher, Morris & Lyon, 2003). For example, the child may excel when curriculum is presented verbally but will fail in subjects that involve reading. This indicated that the child is indeed intelligent but either cannot read effectively or is unable to determine the meaning of what he/she has read.
This model differentiates the type of LD and also distinguishes LD from other developmental disorders such as mental retardation and attention deficit hyper activity disorder (ADHD) (Fletcher et al., 2003). Application of the intra-individual differences model in research has established that children with a LD can be effectively grouped into subtypes with strong implications for assessment and remediation (Catts, Hogan, & Fey, 2003; Aaron, Joshi, Palmer, Smith, & Kirby, 2002). This model of assessment supports the use of the discrepancy formula in which a child with adequate intellectual development may still fail to reach an expected level of performance based upon learning abilities. The weakness of this model is that it relies on theory-b--based LD classifications and extensive testing to identify and treat learning deficits. Therefore, it fails to provide a clear framework for intervention and monitoring of instructional outcomes on the child (Fletcher et al., 2003). This method has been the primary model for conceptualizing and diagnosing LD supported in schools and by federal legislation over the last few decades. Although the discrepancy between IQ and achievement is a clear marker for LD in areas of reading, writing, and math (Stuebing et al., 2002), findings from classification research on LD do not validate that LD can be clearly discerned in terms of expected and unexpected underachievement (Lyon, Fletcher, Shaywitz, Shaywitz, & Torgesen, 2001).
The merit of the IQ-achievement discrepancy concept has been an issue of contention in the field of LD. Many research studies have questioned the reliability of solely relying on IQ-achievement discrepancy scores as a method for labeling LD (D’Anguilli & Siegel, 2003; Siegel,2003; Francis et al., 2005). Researchers conclude that instead of relying on patterns of intelligence scores, clinicians may use patterns of achievement scores as a reliable method for diagnosing LD (D’Anguilli & Siegel, 2003). It is also vital to take into account the environmental, socio-economic and gender issues that affect learning abilities of children(Molfese, Modglin, & Molfese, 2003; Siegel,2003). It is important to note that LD mayappear along a continuum and cannot be considered categorically discrete from other forms of underachievement.
Problem-Solving Model/Response to Intervention Model
The problem-solving model, which is sometimes called the Response to Intervention (RTI) model, is based on the changing abilities of the child over time, as opposed to the within-ability discrepancies. This model is established as an intervention framework for LD and is an empirical approach to understanding methods for improving the learning skills of the child. The problem-solving model is not reliant on existing LD classifications for identifying and treating learning deficits. Instead, the model utilizes curriculum-based assessments that indicate the academic performance of a child. The model emphasizes constant monitoring of a child’s progress. Determination of LD is based solely on the child’s success or failure to respond to a particular intervention. The strength of the problem-solving model is that it clearly delineates who needs intervention for LD and which approach to intervention would be effective. The model departs from sub-typing LD based on any classifications and supports the concept of individualized intervention for children with a LD (Fletcher et al., 2003). While adopting the RTI model, it is recommended that teachers monitor the student’s progress with short assessments as often as every two weeks (Samuels, 2005).
In considering alternative models for identification, the focus should be on assessments that are related to instruction. The limitations identified should indicate that intervention is required. The RTI has been advocated as a model that can help identify and monitor learning problems in children at an early age and facilitate much needed early intervention (Samuels, 2005). For these reasons, models that incorporate response to a research-based intervention should be given priority in any effort to identify students with LD. Identification models that incorporate response to intervention represent a shift in special education toward the goals of better achievement and behavioral outcomes for students identified with LD because the students who are identified under such models are most likely to require special education and related services. Some concerns with the RTI model is that its focus is limited to students in elementary school wwwwith problems in reading. Critics contend the RTI concepts do not take into account other age groups and types of LD. In addition, the model may burden school teachers who may already be experiencing a heavy workload and who may not be trained adequately to administer educational evaluations (Maloney, as cited by Samuels, 2005).
Types of Learning Disabilities
LD can be broadly classified as an academic skill disorder and developmental speech-language disorder (LD Online, 2005a). Academic skill disorders result in learning disabilities that delay academic achievement in the areas of reading, writing, and arithmetic, while developmental speech-language disorders result in a delay in developing skills for articulation, reception, and expression of language. It is important to note that the simple classification of the types of learning disabilities apply only in theory. In reality, many people with learning disabilities will have difficulties in more than one area. Information in the following sections focuses on the three main manifestations of academic skill disorders: learning disabilities in reading, writing, and mathematics.
Learning Disability in Reading
Reading is defined by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 as:
“…a complex system of deriving meaning from print that requires all of the following:
(A) The skills and knowledge to understand how phonemes, or speech sounds, are connected to print.
(B) The ability to decode unfamiliar words.
(C) The ability to read fluently.
(D) Sufficient background information and vocabulary to foster reading comprehension.
(E) The development of appropriate active strategies to construct meaning from print.
(F) The development and maintenance of a motivation to read (20 U.S.C. 6368 §1221).”
As illustrated by this definition, the act of reading requires a child to have a fairly large skill set. An inability to perform in any one of these functional areas can significantly impede the child’s ability to succeed in school, primarily because reading (or obtaining meaning from print) serves as the foundation for the majority of all learning activities that are conducted in schools. Children with reading disabilities have functional limitations in language that can lead to trouble understanding words, sentences, or paragraphs. Deficits in basic reading skills, reading fluency and reading comprehension are direct manifestations of reading disorder.
Developmental reading disorders are the most common and highly researched of all learning disabilities. Reading disabilities affect nearly 80% of children with a LD (Shaywitz, 2003; Cutting & Denckla, 2003), which is nearly 2%-8% of children in elementary schools (LD Online, 2005a). It was reported that nationwide only 63% of the students with or without disabilities are able to read at the basic skills level, and only 32% read at the proficient or expected level (Donahue, Finnegan, Lutkus, Allen, & Campbell, 2001). Although some school-identified procedures report that the prevalence of reading disability is three to four times higher in males than females, individual testing by research methods have demonstrated that both boys and girls have more or less equal chances of acquiring reading disabilities (Shaywitz, 2003).
Early Warning Signs That Your Child Might Have a Learning Disability in Reading
Children with reading disability may have difficulties in one or more of the following areas (LD Online, 2005a):
Focusing attention on reading materials;
Recognizing the sounds associated with words;
Understanding words and grammar;
Building ideas and images;
Relating those ideas to existing ones;
Storing new ideas into memory.
It is important to understand the early signs and symptoms of developmental reading disorders, as early intervention may help a child succeed in school. Learning disabilities in reading may first manifest themselves as developmental speech disorders. Children who have a reading disability may speak their first words at the age of 15 months, as opposed to 1year of age (Shaywitz, 2003). Although this gap may not be significant, it is said to be a clear indication of problems with articulation or learning of new phonemes1. This phenomenon may lead to mispronunciations of words such as “aminal for animal” and “lephant for elephant”. Eventually, as the child begins to read, he or she will have problems making associations between letters and corresponding sounds. Research on children’s reading has also demonstrated that children who display early signs of a LD in reading may have difficulty discerning and expressing words that rhyme (Shaywitz, 2003). It is important to recognize that the children displaying some of these early warning signs have intact thinking and reasoning abilities in the absence of being able to phonologically perceive words. For example, a child may understand the meaning of a common word when it is spoken to him, but he will experience difficulty reading information and then expressing it in speech.
In elementary school, a child with a LD in reading may make consistent reading and spelling errors including reversing letters (b/d), inverting letters (m/w), transposing letters (felt/left), and substituting words (house/home) (LD Online, 2005b). The child may also have difficulty pronouncing words and may reverse or substitute parts of words. In later life, the process of reading will be noticeably slow and laborious. As they mature, children with reading disabilities generally slowly begin to associate letters with their proper sounds. However, the recognition is limited to only a few letters in a word. Consequently, when the child comes across a word, he or she will find it extremely challenging to recognize the word as a whole. In order to familiarize themselves with words, children with learning disabilities in reading may require more frequent exposure to certain words in order to clearly make representations of their letters and corresponding sounds. Many children with reading disabilities accommodate themselves by seeking to derive meaning of the word based on the context that it is presented in. However, this accommodation is not always effective, particularly with words such as “in, on, and, that,” whichdo not relate to the context of what they are reading. This strategy is also difficult to use when students fail to recognize large numbers of words as they may find in a new subject at school. In higher grade levels, the child’s reading comprehension may be undermined by his or her inability to pay attention to the reading material and memorize what was read (Schwab Learning, 2003). During retrieval of what was read, children with reading disabilities often accommodate their functional limitations by using words such as “things or stuff,” which lack meaning and specificity (Shaywitz, 2003).
Intervention for Learning Disability in Reading
It is well established that early intervention plays a major role in enhancing reading skills among children with reading disabilities. It is worthwhile for parents and educators to have a general awareness of the normal linguistic, intellectual, and academic developmental markers of children. Identification of the aforementioned warning signs is the key to early intervention. It is critical to understand that every child can read, but the proficiency at which each child reads will vary significantly depending on whether a child is diagnosed with a disability in reading. When the early warning signs occur, a formal evaluation and diagnosis by a child psychologist is an important step in the remediation of a reading disability. The remediation program can then be effectively promoted by fundamentally targeting the child’s age-appropriate developmental needs (Shaywitz, 2003).
Shaywitz (2003) describes the “sea of strengths” model, which focuses on alleviating the child’s weaknesses and capitalizing on his or her strengths. Initially, the parent must focus on facilitating the child’s representation of phonemes. Encouraging children to read aloud and allowing them to make strong associations of the letters and their sounds can help remediate early phonological weakness. Later, parental intervention can be facilitated by teaching the child to integrate the established phonemes in different words and phrases with graded difficulty. When the child confronts reading difficulties in school, accommodations play a pivotal role in LD intervention.
Accommodations must compensate for the phonological weakness and at the same time effectively using the child’s multiple learning strengths including reasoning, analytical skills, creativity, thought process, and above all, the available parental support. Identifying these strengths and enhancing them are critical to the child’s effective utilization of accommodations and could mean the difference in a child’s academic success and failure (Shaywitz, 2003). Accommodations could be effectively provided in one or more forms: simplification of the learning tasks; change in teaching strategies; integration of learning technologies (both assistive and instructional); and modification of the learning environment. Simplifying the task of reading may include providing extra time for reading and separating large sections of reading into multiple parts. Teaching can be augmented using multiple modalities such as verbal instruction and use of graphical information such as pictures and figures instead of text. The reading environment can be further enhanced by reducing noise, unwanted distractions and providing reading materials in electronic format for use with computers. Integration of appropriate technologies (both high-tech and low-tech) in the area of reading is beneficial in terms of learning and instruction. The application principles and types of technologies for reading are highlighted in later sections of this document. Note that the aforementioned accommodations are not exhaustive and several accommodations listed in literature can be applied based on the student needs, the learning environment, and the educator’s and school administrator’s discretion.
It is also important for schools to focus on late-emerging signs of reading disabilities even when early intervention was provided. In some cases, it was reported that reading disabilities are not only manifested by the inability to phonologically process the letters in words, but also with the inability to cognitively comprehend the meaning of the word (Leach, Scarborough, & Rescorla, 2003). Therefore, educators also need to utilize an intervention method that determines whether the problem in reading is attributable to processing letters in words or to comprehension of words.
Learning Disability in Writing
Learning disabilities in writing, or dysgraphia, is a form of LD that affects an individual’s writing abilities and is manifested by difficulties in hand writing, spelling, or organizing and composing ideas (NCLD, 2004b). Dysgraphia can also be a result of graphomotor dysfunction, which reflects difficulties with mechanical aspects of writing such as graphically representing letters and words when handwriting, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and formatting (MacArthur, 1999). Problems with handwriting are attributed to impaired fine motor control and coordination. Handwriting difficulties can be evidenced by problems in representing letters graphically and maintaining the appropriate spacing between words (Amundson & Weil, 1996).
Education at all levels is reliant on being able to graphically represent language and information. An inability to write skillfully can substantially undermine a child’s academic development, as writing skills are a pre-requisite to expressing knowledge, thoughts, and ideas. Children with a learning disabilities in writing tend to be more concerned with writing mechanics (i.e. formation of letters) rather than with the content, thereby failing to gain knowledge from written assignments (Jones, n.d.). In addition, difficulties with writing can affect the student’s motivation and self-esteem leading to an aversion for written expression. Sound writing skills are also important for readers to effectively comprehend the information being conveyed.
The problems associated with a LD in writing have been represented along a hierarchy of skills (Richards, 1999). It is postulated that lower level skills are a prerequisite to acquiring higher level writing skills. The basic underlying processing skills for writing include development in a variety of memory, motor, and language areas such as acquisition of physical components of writing, speed of motor performance, active working memory, and language formulation and ideation. Mechanical and content skills form the subsequent layer of the hierarchy. The mechanical skills span from the fundamental skills such as automatic letter form, use of space, basic spelling, capitalization, and punctuation to more mature mechanics, including writing speed, clarity of expression, and use of appropriate grammar. The content skills relate to organizing and expressing ideas. The upper-most level skills include ability to use different writing styles, flexibility in the writing process, consideration of the reader’s perspective, and enthusiasm in writing (Richards, 1999). Although the underlying mechanism of writing disability is established, parents, and especially educators, need to be aware of how writing difficulties are manifested on paper.
Early Warning Signs That Your Child May Have a Learning Disability in Writing
Children with a LD in writing may demonstrate deficits even at the preliminary stage of composition, which is planning, and at later stages such as revising and editing written material. Children with writing disabilities have difficulty planning and organizing their thoughts and ideas for written compositions (Graham & Harris, 2003). On paper, children with writing disability will have difficulty in content generation. Their writing will be short and incomplete and will lack elaboration and detail. The reasons for this inadequacy have been cited as difficulties with sustaining the writing effort, inability to access one’s knowledge base, and impairment in the mechanics of writing (Graham & Harris, 2003). Conceivably, these difficulties will be mostly observable in the mechanical or graphomotor aspects of the individual’s writing.
Handwritten work will be generally illegible with inconsistencies in skills in print and cursive, upper and lower case, size, and shape and slant of letters. Inconsistencies can also be observed in spacing of letters and words, and placement of the text with reference to the margin and lines on pages (Jones, n.d.). Handwriting in children with a LD in writing also manifests itself in the child’s inappropriate grasp of the writing utensil combined with an awkward positioning of the wrist, body and the writing page.
Difficulties with the thought process involved in writing will be evident when the child omits parts of letters and words or sometimes the whole word in text. In order to coordinate the entire writing process, the child may accommodate by using self feedback strategies such as talking to oneself, or carefully monitoring the hand while writing. Although these compensation strategies will make the writing more legible and complete, the writing task will continue to be very slow and tedious. Often times, the child will display extremely high levels of frustration when completing writing tasks. Most importantly, inconsistency will be noticeable in the child’s written content and his verbal language skills (Jones, n.d.).
While editing, children with a LD in writing fail to augment the quality of their compositions. They often avoid correcting the content and grammatical errors in the text. Revisions are mostly subjected to word substitution, correction of mechanical errors such as spelling and enhancement of legibility. Samples of edited compositions reveal that students with writing disability only correct 20% of the written content, and 70% of the corrections were focused on capitalization, punctuations, spelling, format, and legibility (MacArthur, Graham & Schwartz, 1991).
Intervention for Learning Disability in Writing
Intervention for LD in writing can only be promoted with a strong understanding of the hierarchical skills and sub-skills of writing (Richards, 2002). Identification of impaired skills is the first approach to intervention. These skills need to be specifically augmented or accommodated in order for children to gain proficiency in the tasks associated with writing. The overall writing skills can be augmented in children in areas of handwriting, planning and organization, and self-regulation.
Research has highlighted that handwriting instruction positively impacts written composition by children with a LD in writing (Berninger et al., 1997). Intervention to improve fine and gross motor skills can promote better handwriting. Gross motor enhancement is essential for postural control in terms of aligning one’s trunk, head, and upper body during writing, while fine motor control needs to be augmented for better grasp and dexterity with the writing instrument. Promotion of sensory integration therapy by means of engaging children in gross and fine motor activities has been shown to improve sensory awareness, sensory processing, and perceptual skills involved with writing (Keller, 2001). At home, parents can encourage children to perform activities directed towards improving their gross and fine motor control (American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc &American Occupational Therapy Foundation, n.d.). These activities may include sports (i.e. catching a ball), simple board games, crafts, and creative tasks. Professionals such as occupational therapists and special educators can focus on engaging children in activities specifically tailored for remediation of handwriting deficits. In cases when the approach of augmentation fails to yield benefits, accommodation for handwriting may be a more logical intervention. Accommodation within the context of handwriting involves the use of human assistance, low-tech tools, and technology to replace the mechanical and graphomotor demands of handwriting. Elimination of the mechanical demands of handwriting by provision of dictation or use of writing technologies has been reported to produce notable improvement on children’s composition skills (Graham & Harris, 2003). Although the use of a human note taker may create dependence, the application of different technologies for writing has been considered as an effective tool in LD intervention. These technologies are discussed in detail in subsequent sections. Nonetheless, it’s imperative that additional writing intervention supplement higher order skills in writing.
Writing skills are greatly dependent on thought process, content knowledge, planning, and organization. It is important to note that children with functional limitations in writing can be taught to employ the same writing strategies used by skilled writers (Graham & Harris, 2003). In addition, educators can create a learning environment where children are able to self-regulate their writing. Self-regulation is an instructional approach that is child-centered and flexible in terms of allowing the child to choose the content topic, write in a pleasant and supportive writing environment, write at one’s own pace, share one’s work, and be reinforced for proper planning and organization (Graham & Harris, 2003). Self-regulated writing does not develop innately in children with weakness in writing, and educators must actively facilitate this development. Graham & Harris (2003) review five critical characteristics of self-regulated strategy development (SRSD) instruction for advancement of writing:
1) Extensive teaching to boost knowledge of the content area;
2) Interactive learning between teacher and student with the student sharing the active role;
3) Individualized instruction and feedback geared to address the specific writing needs of the student;
4) Criterion-based instruction as opposed to time-based instruction in the sense that the instruction must not proceed to the next phase until the student has mastered the self-regulation strategy in the preceding phase; and