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Whether you work in a school or an employer, you’re bound to encounter someone whose spelling is not up to scratch.

If this is the case, you might have become frustrated with their performance, failing to understand how to support their needs and even forcing yourself to take measures that might not have been kind to the struggling person.

For those living with spelling disabilities, life can be just as challenging for them as it is for someone trying to communicate with them. So, we have put together an article that aims to clear up any misunderstandings, helping people to understand what causes these disabilities and how they can help to include them in society.

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Signs of a spelling disability

If you’ve ever struggled with spelling, you may have wondered if something is wrong with your brain. After all, why would someone who has no trouble memorizing the multiplication tables or remembering their locker combination struggle so much to spell words?

Some of the signs of a spelling disability include:

  • You read and write significantly slower than your peers do
  • You confuse the order of letters appearing in a word
  • You have very poor or inconsistent spelling
  • You understand information that is presented verbally to you but not when written.
  • Your struggle to plan and organize in a written way, such as using a diary.
  • You get confused by similar letters, like ‘b’ and ‘d’.

If this sounds like you, it might be worth seeing a professional. Likewise, if you see these traits in someone else, it’s best to inform a parent or loved one, or if they are an adult, you should tell them of your concerns.

Be assured this does not reflect someone’s intelligence levels or ability to accomplish tasks. It could just mean that they have a form of neurodiversity that prevents them from reading and writing effectively. And if they do, there are plenty of alternatives and interventions they can undergo to help.

What causes a spelling disability?

You might find it hard to believe, but spelling is difficult for everyone. It’s a skill that requires many different factors, such as phonological awareness and visual processing. For example, suppose you have dyslexia or other learning disabilities related to reading and writing. In that case, your brain will struggle with everything on top of what would be an already difficult task for someone without these conditions. This is why most of these learning difficulties are picked up in childhood. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can improve your spelling ability if it’s diagnosed early.

Various conditions can cause a spelling disability. These include:

  • Difficulty reading (dyslexia)
  • Difficulty writing (dysgraphia)
  • Difficulty speaking (dysphasia)
  • Difficulty hearing (auditory processing disorder)
  • Difficulties processing information in general, which ADHD and ASD can cause, or an undiagnosed learning difficulty.

All of these diagnoses can have significant impacts on someone’s ability to read and write efficiently, but in different ways to each other.

Dysgraphia, for example, primarily affects someone’s motor coordination when writing. This means they will have difficulties forming words and phrases on paper but might be perfectly fine speaking instead. Dysgraphia tends to be associated with orthographic coding and sequencing, the abilities that allow us to translate the sentences in our heads into writable language. Someone with dysgraphia will need help from an early age to manage their condition as they continue their education.

In comparison, dyslexia is caused by a person’s ability to recall language generally, so it is characterized very differently from dysgraphia.

How can you help someone with a spelling disability?

If you want to help someone with a spelling disability, here is what you can do to be inclusive and supportive.

  • Try not to be judgmental. While you might be annoyed by their lack of apparent engagement with their work, passing judgment can make you appear frightening to someone struggling with a disability.
  • Avoid making fun of the person, especially if they are a child or someone you care about. Sadly, it can be easy to laugh at someone’s differences if you do not understand them, but you should aim to remember that this is highly unfair. Put yourself in their shoes and realize how unhappy you would feel if someone mocked something unpreventable that you were doing.
  • Be patient and understanding, remembering that this can take time for people to learn how to deal with and overcome on their own – even if it seems like an insurmountable mountain at times.
  • Help them learn the rules of spelling so that when they make mistakes, they know what caused them so that they can correct themselves in future situations. Maybe they could even help you in your writing process – the ideas part, maybe not the spelling!
  • Reassure them that they are not dumb because of their disability—just as you would remind yourself if faced with similar challenges. Recognize their immense talent and unique perspective in other areas of their lives.

Remember that even if you’re irritated by someone’s lack of cooperation in a task due to poor spelling, that’s no reason to treat them with less respect and dignity. We are all human and must co-exist, recognizing strengths and flaws.

What to do if you have a spelling disability

If you’re struggling with spelling as well as reading, there is a good chance that you have dyslexia. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in the United States, affecting as many as one in five students.

Dyslexia is characterized by difficulty with reading and spelling despite average intelligence and adequate education. It has also been found to be associated with other learning disabilities, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and auditory processing disorders (APD). Sometimes, it can coincide with autism spectrum disorder (ASD or ASC).

If you have dyslexia, it may be challenging to learn how to spell or apply what you have been taught. You may also have trouble remembering what some words sound like and how they look on the page. While you will want to speak to a professional about how this can be managed, many things can help with this in the meantime, such as:

  • Speaking with a professional as soon as possible who can assess your situation and help you develop learning strategies that work best for you.
  • Use a spell checker, or ask someone else to read over what you have written before submitting an assignment, sending an email, or posting on social media, so there are no embarrassing errors. This could be a friend or family member, preferably one who finds spelling easier.
  • Use a dictionary when writing anything important, such as essays or school assignments. This will help ensure that what is being said is correct and makes sense, but also allows readers who do not know about dyslexia or other related conditions, such as dysgraphia, a chance to take your work at face value.