July 9th, 2016
Repurposed from ASHA website
See the written language disorders evidence map for pertinent scientific evidence, expert opinion, and client/caregiver perspectives.
The scope of this Practice Portal page is limited to written language disorders (i.e., disorders of reading and writing) in preschool and school-age children (3–21 years old). It can be understood best in relation to the companion Practice Portal on spoken language disorders.
A disorder of written language involves a significant impairment in fluent word recognition (i.e., reading decoding and sight word recognition), reading comprehension, written spelling, or written expression (i.e., written composition; Ehri, 2000; Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Kamhi & Catts, 2012; Tunmer & Chapman, 2007, 2012).
Written language disorders, as with spoken language disorders, can involve any of the five language domains (i.e., phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics). Problems can occur in the awareness, comprehension, and production of language at the sound, syllable, word, sentence, and discourse levels, as indicated in the table below (Nelson, 2014b; Nelson, Plante, Helm-Estabrooks, & Hotz, 2015).
|Sound-, Syllable-, And Word-level Difficulties||Sentence- And Discourse-level Difficulties|
The relationship between language disorders and learning disabilities is intricate, as indicated in the definition of specific learning disability below:
“The term ‘specific learning disability’ means a disorder in one of more of the psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.”
(Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act [IDEA], 2004)
Language disorders are typically diagnosed before learning disabilities and often affect the child’s academic performance. Once academic struggles with reading and writing arise, a learning disability label may be used, even though the underlying issue is a language disorder (Sun & Wallach, 2014).
A written language disorder may occur in the presence of other conditions, such as the following:
The relationship between spoken and written language is well established (e.g., Hulme & Snowling, 2013; Kamhi & Catts, 2012). This relationship is underscored in the “simple view of reading” which “presumes that, once the printed word is decoded, the reader applies to the text exactly the same mechanisms which he or she would [apply to] its spoken equivalent” (Gough & Tunmer, 1986, p. 9). More specifically, the integration of word recognition, vocabulary, and oral language comprehension are important for the development of adequate reading comprehension skills (Tunmer & Chapman, 2012).
Children need strong knowledge of both the spoken and the written word in order to be successful readers and writers. Children with spoken language problems frequently have difficulty learning to read and write, and children with reading and writing problems often have difficulty with spoken language (Kamhi & Catts, 2012). For more details, see the Practice Portal page on spoken language disorders; see also language in brief and disorders of reading and writing.
Reading is the process by which an individual constructs meaning by transforming printed symbols in the form of letters or visual characters into recognizable words. Components of reading are outlined in the following definitions:
For information about research supporting the five key components of reading instruction (i.e., phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension), see the National Reading Panel report(National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000).
Writing is the process of communicating using printed symbols in the form of letters or visual characters, which make up words. Words are formulated into sentences; these sentences are organized into larger paragraphs and often into different discourse genres (narrative, expository, persuasive, poetic, etc.).
Writing includes the following:
Spelling, also known as encoding, requires the ability to segment words into phonemes and map those phonemes onto graphemes (letters or letter combinations) in an acceptable sequence in written form. Words may be spelled “regularly,” which means that each grapheme is associated with a corresponding phoneme (e.g., cat), or “irregularly,” such that not all graphemes in a word are represented by one phoneme (e.g., right). However, irregularly spelled words may have predictable features based on their morphological makeup.
Spelling depends on semantic awareness; knowledge of phonological, orthographic, and morphological representations of words and their parts; and the ability to create mental models of their interrelationships (e.g., Apel & Masterson, 2001; Berninger, Nagy, Richards, & Raskind, 2008; Bourassa & Treiman, 2001; Ehri, 2000; Masterson & Apel, 2007).
There is a bidirectional relationship between spelling and word reading such that difficulty or progress in one area can influence performance in the other area.
Reading and writing are highly interrelated, and it is difficult to isolate any aspect of reading development that does not have a writing counterpart. For example, syntactic patterns that children read in texts also emerge in their writing (Scott, 1999), and children become fluent orthographic readers at about the same time that their spelling reflects similar orthographic sophistication (Ehri, 2000).
The interrelationship between reading and writing is also evident in the school setting. For example, kindergarten children are asked to “read” what they “write,” and secondary students “read to find out what to write and write to demonstrate that they understand what they read” (Scott, 1999, p. 224).