Reading and writing disabilities

Some students have difficulties in acquiring functional reading and writing skills. If they struggle despite having received proper education, this could be a sign of their reading and writing disabilities.

For most people, learning to read and write is a smooth process; however, some have difficulties in acquiring what we call functional reading and writing skills.

According to the schools’ teaching plans, the 2006 educational reform The Knowledge Promotion emphasises the importance of reading and writing skills across all subjects. The scope of functional reading and writing skills varies, depending on what is expected and demanded in different situations. Sufficient skills for reading a simple comic book are not necessarily sufficient for learning an academic text in social sciences. There are also different expectations for different grade levels in school. 

Reading and writing disabilities
It is common to discuss reading and writing disabilities when a child does not learn to read and write through learning and/or if the development goes slowly and/ or stagnates. The difficulties can appear in connection to letter-learning, by struggling to learn the letters, distinguishing them from one another, remembering letter names and sounds or forming the letters. For some, it can also be difficult to learn the alphabetic principle (to break the alphabetic code); this means- to understand that the letters represent speech sounds in spoken words and that they must be pulled together in order to read that word. All this is of great importance when it comes to learning to read and write.  

Some common signs of reading and writing disabilities

  • Struggling with reading words
  • Making frequent mistakes when reading
  • Guessing
  • Reading very slowly
  • Reading monotonically and technically
  • Continuing to read words re-appearing in the text as if one has not read the word before
  • Reading and training has little effect
  • The development goes very slowly or stagnates
  • Difficulties understanding words, sentences, content and relationships in the text.

These signs become particularly apparent in reading unfamiliar texts.

Students with reading disabilities do not achieve fluency in reading and, at the same time, change their reading method and speed according to their need. Therefore, it can become more difficult for them to understand what they are reading. Additionally, it can become difficult to gain a deeper understanding of the text, something that requires integrating ones own competency, experience and knowledge in reading. The gain from reading, the experience of reading and the joy of reading will likely be lower because, for students with reading disabilities, concentrating on the reading itself takes too much effort from them.

Some common signs of reading disabilities

  • Struggling with writing single words
  • Making many mistakes in writing (simplifying, omitting letters, shuffling letters)
  • Writing slowly
  • Writing unclear/”ugly” (often unreadable)
  • Writings briefly
  • Difficulties with starting to write
  • Not knowing what to write
  • Not being able to find words
  • Combining letters in one sentence the wrong way (incorrect syntax)
  • Difficulties in predisposing, structuring and presenting the material
  • Difficulties in writing in a way that enables the reader to understand messages and connections within the text with ease.
  • Not being able to convey thoughts through written communication.

Individual variations
Signs of difficulties can vary from person to person. The way that problems appear can also vary, depending on the individual. This stands in regard to both reading and writing. Some people can be very good at masking and compensating for their difficulties, so their shortcomings are more difficult to notice. Reading difficulties are probably the most difficult to notice. At an early stage in development, it can (for example) be students who learn text by heart. One should also be aware of the fact that some people with reading disabilities (children and adults) learn to read quite well eventually, but many report that reading for them is time-consuming and that it can challenge their comprehension. They also often struggle with persistent orthographic problems.

Early help is good help
We must react as early as possible if a student struggles with learning letters or reading and writing. If a student has other struggles (for example, behavior problems), we must avoid rationalizing difficulties with reading and writing It is important to gain answers to why students have difficulties in relation to reading and/or writing in order to help them along in their development. Early help is also important when it comes to dealing with unfortunate emotional and social situations.


Girl reading with her teacher