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What if when you stored a word in your memory the letters in the word got switched around? And, every time you access it, the letters may or may not go back in there the same way. When you try to spell the word it comes out wrong. And, when it comes out wrong it may be spelled differently than...


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Accommodating for a Spelling Disability

Posted by: Livia McCoy on Feb 21, 2011 in Parent Involvement, Livia McCoy, Learning Disabilities, Kids Learning

Livia McCoy

Girl WritingWhat if when you stored a word in your memory the letters in the word got switched around? And, every time you access it, the letters may or may not go back in there the same way. When you try to spell the word it comes out wrong. And, when it comes out wrong it may be spelled differently than the last time you spelled it wrong. And every once in awhile you accidentally spell it correctly.

If this were true about you, people might say, "You spelled it correctly before. You are just being lazy." Or maybe, "That’s pretty dumb, you are not even misspelling it consistently."

This is how spelling can be for some people. It is something they cannot control no matter how hard they try. Since this is an invisible disability, some people have no empathy for it. I am writing this because it breaks my heart when these students are called "lazy and dumb," when in fact it has nothing to do with how hard they are trying. If this same child were blind or hearing impaired, everyone would be extremely willing to make accommodations for them (like modifying requirements for homework). But, because this child’s disability is hidden from view they get no accommodations.

If this describes your child, print this out and take it to your child’s teacher. Perhaps it will help them to think a little differently about your child’s written work! A reasonable modification for this child would be to allow misspelled words in their written work without penalty. If this accommodation isn’t made, the child will stick to using words they are pretty sure how to spell. They will not be using the full extent of their vocabulary. The quality of their written expression is limited by what they can spell....."I want to say ‘extraordinary’ but since I know I’ll spell that wrong, I’ll just use ‘good’. I think I know how to spell that!"

One last thought -- when a child is receiving remedial help for language disabilities, spelling is the last skill to improve. The reason for that is probably because when reading, the child is interpreting what is already spelled for them. But, when spelling they must come up with the spelling themselves.

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  1. Posted by - Erika on Jun. 24, 2014

    My 8 year old son is an excellent reader and excels in math, too. He can pass the weekly list of spelling words but when it comes to writing sentences and composing stories . . . his spelling is horrible! I cannot understand why he is unable to spell the words he reads so easily? I hate to see him struggle & his grades suffer as he progresses in school because of this difficulty! How can I best help him prepare for 3rd grade (which in our district becomes much more academic) over summer break? Any recommended books, worksheets, websites or apps?
  2. Posted by - Pearl taylor on Jan. 18, 2013

    I have found that as a teacher with several years of experience that the more we focus on children's inability to spell the worse the situation gets.I usually focus `more on the content of what the child has written.To help this situation requires differrent creative strategies like using a variety of word gameseg scrabble,,find-aword,and fun activities that will assist them in becoming more confident.The worse thing we can do is to draw attentiont to their mis-spelling which only serves to demotivate them.
  3. Posted by - Ashley on Jan. 20, 2012

    Hi Brielle,

    I am a 24 year old a college graduate and a successful young professional. When I was in elementary school I was tested for a learning disability, because like your daughter I could not and still can not retain how words are spelled. When I try to spell a word un-like most people I can not visualize how it is spelled or tell if it is spelled wrong when looking at it. This was extremely difficult before I was diagnosed, my mom would sit with me for hours going over spelling flashcards and I just could not seem to memorize them . After I was diagnosed I was exempt from taking spelling test or being marked down in other classes for spelling things incorrectly. I am so grateful that my mom knew that there was something truly not quite right, and that I just wasn't a bad speller like my teachers would suggest. I am sorry that I am not sure of the exact name of my disability but I know that is is directly correlated to the inability to visualize letters. Luckily, we live in a world where technology can make it easy to have this disability. I hope this post helps you and your daughter.
  4. avatar

    Posted by LiviaMcCoy on Feb. 24, 2011

    @Kristen I think you have some wonderful ideas to share. I disagree partly with what you said, however. Reading and spelling are not natural abilities. Reading and spelling are learned skills. Exposure to language helps us to learn to appreciate it (maybe), but it does not help us to learn to read and spell. There is much research regarding how these skills are learned. Another point is that our experience at the school where I teach (for dyslexics) shows that until students reach a certain level of competence with spelling, the spelling checker on the computer is not effective. They choose the wrong word from the list because they can't select the correct one. Or, they misspell words so badly that the computer cannot offer a substitute! With that said, I TOTALLY agree with your points 2 through 4!
  5. Posted by - Kristen Manyrivers on Feb. 24, 2011

    In 20 years of parenting and raising children I have deduced this:
    Natural spellers are born and then there are the rest of us.
    It is TRUE that spelling well can be a natural talent, but what about the rest of us?
    If your child is not dyslexic or saddled with some other LD, then these rules of thumb apply:
    1. EXPOSURE EXPOSURE EXPOSURE to beautiful language and opportunities to use it in everyday life.
    2. Don't let your child shy away from writing because of fear of mispelling. It is IMPERATIVE that you allow their creativity to flow, that writing the story and getting ideas out is more important a priority than spelling, which can be remediated *if a child is constantly interrupted or the focus is on spelling each word correctly, then the steam to communicate runs out pretty quickly.
    3. For years between 5 and 9 my daughter filled journals with stories that were largely unitelligible to anyone but her! By 15 she had determinedly learned complex grammar, punctuation and spelling the most frequently used words and LOVED to write. It is difficult to maintain that focus when your child is in public school. (We homeschooled her and gave her that creative space to develop a love of writing without criticism too young).
    If your child is in school and this is an issue, ask the teacher to work with you, and remember that you can easily take dictation form a young child when they have stories to write and teachers will often be okay with this.
    * More route memorization rounds will not be effective with most young children so ignore this "advice".
    4. I tell older students that it is their responsibility to understand their own limitations and use tools to effectively overcome them to their best ability. In this case, it would be diligent use of dictionaries, spell check, and editing programs, as well as using others to always proofread drafts before they are turned in or published.
    I hope this helps.

    Contact me at for more information.
  6. avatar

    Posted by LiviaMcCoy on Feb. 22, 2011

    You asked some fantastic questions! I believe your daughter's teacher is referring to creative, "right-brained" people. These people often have gifts in the arts or expressive writing or dance and athletics. But, they can have difficulty with things that occur in the left brain--like sequencing, spelling, reading, and certain parts of math. If your daughter's poor spelling is not causing her difficulty in school (not affecting her grades), then I think I might not worry too much about it. If it is causing her troubles, then an educational psychologist can do the testing. What they will look for is good intelligence along with skills in some area (spelling, reading, writing, math, etc.) that are not as high as her intelligence.
  7. Posted by - Brielle on Feb. 22, 2011

    I am wondering how you can tell if you child has a "spelling disability" -- my daughter is an awful speller but can do well on spelling tests... then turns around and mis-spells the word. She just can't seem to retain it. Her teacher said that highly creative people often are poor spellers... is this true? What's the correlation? How are kids tested and identified with this problem? Thanks for your help.

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