Understanding Disortografia: A Specific Learning Disorder (SLD)
As anticipated, "disortografia" is a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) that affects the area of writing. The difficulties that the student encounters refer to a lack of understanding of the transition from spoken language to written language. The child's intellectual abilities are not affected, and a thorough diagnosis usually occurs at the end of the second year of elementary school, around 7/8 years old.
Emotional and Psychological Aspects
If the intellectual aspect is not affected in any way, the emotional and psychological aspects are. It is not difficult to find children with depressive syndromes and high levels of stress caused by this SLD. An early diagnosis of disortografia can allow the child to experience their educational journey and personal development in a peaceful manner.
Similar to a child with dysgraphia, a child with disortografia presents specific characteristics. Writing involves various skills that give rise to cognitive processes. Let's see some of them:
- Eye-hand coordination
- Sound-symbol encoding ability
- Short-term memory
- Conscious recognition of phonemes and establishing a relationship between language and writing
Example of a text with errors, written by a student with disortografia:
The student with disortografia, lacking in the mentioned processes, makes a series of errors which are conventionally distinguished as phonological and non-phonological. Here is a brief list:
- Omission of syllables and words (e.g., "montagna" becomes "montana")
- Errors in using complex consonants (e.g., "ragni" becomes "rani")
- Confusion when encountering similar sounds
- Omission of words (e.g., "caldo" becomes "cado")
- Problems with correctly separating words (e.g., "diritto" becomes "di ritto")
In addition to the above, there are other situations that can alert families and teachers. Very often, children with disortografia have problems organizing their space and moving within it. They also have difficulties in oral expression (language), distinguishing sounds visually and orally, and rendering symbols graphically.
Manifestation and Differences with Dysgraphia
During the early stages of the learning process, it is normal for children to encounter difficulties in vocabulary, language, and learning. This is why it is premature to talk about disortografia. Teachers carefully observe the child's academic progress and if they consistently make frequent errors in class and homework.
When there is a mnemonic difficulty or a lack of awareness in transforming sounds into symbols and vice versa, families and teachers become alert and involve various specialists. These specialists, using appropriate diagnostic tools (test batteries and exams), gradually define the most suitable Personalized Educational Plan (PEP) for the child. The group of experts usually consists of psychologists, pedagogists, neuropsychiatrists, and pediatricians who have known the child since they were young. The expertise of these professionals allows the child to continue their learning journey in a calm and balanced manner.
It is important to make a distinction between disortografia and dysgraphia, as they are often confused. Disortografia is not dysgraphia and vice versa. The former, as we have analyzed, involves the entire linguistic domain, short-term memory, and the processes of transformation between phonemes and graphemes. The child makes a high and constant number of errors. The latter does not involve the verbal apparatus but only the graphic processes, motor skills, and the student's perception of the surrounding space. We remind you that we are not dealing with a pathological or disease situation, as in the case of other Specific Learning Disorders (SLDs). We never talk about disabilities, but it is important to underline that there may be a condition of comorbidity, that is, the coexistence of multiple SLDs in the same student (dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia).
How to Deal with Dysgraphia: Tools and Solutions
Students with SLDs follow personalized paths designed according to their needs, and this also applies to those who have a problem with dysorthography. The teacher and the support network introduce a series of strategies:
- Use of a computer
- Ability to use a dictionary during tests and written exams
- Structuring multiple-choice tests or open-ended questions that require a short answer
- Having more time available during assessment tests and evaluations
At school, students with dysorthography have the right to obtain an Individualized Educational Plan. We remind you that dysorthographic students are entitled to all the interventions provided by law 170/10, such as software for word processing and concept mapping. The aim is to quickly achieve the ability to find the correct correspondence between phonological and orthographic representation and gradually improve writing skills.
In the case of dysorthography, dispensatory measures are recommended only if compensatory measures have not achieved the goals set by the working group and the support network for the student. Compensatory measures aim to gradually make the student autonomous, in order to improve self-esteem and experience the learning process in a serene manner. Finally, when we talk about Specific Learning Disorders, it is important to completely abandon the idea of "cure" and "disease".
Students with SLDs learn to live with their condition, thanks to the synergy of the people around them. Personalized paths are created for them, tailored to each individual. Every child with a Specific Learning Disorder puts in a lot of effort and is not negligent or lazy; they just need different support in their learning process. For this reason, it is always advisable to rely on capable professionals who can fully support the child in their developmental process.
Article by Mariana Ciaglia, pedagogue