In Study 1, children in grades 4–9 (N = 88, 29 females and 59 males) with persisting reading and/or writing disabilities, despite considerable prior specialized instruction in and out of school, were given an evidence-based comprehensive assessment battery at the university while parents completed questionnaires regarding past and current history of language learning and other difficulties. Profiles (patterns) of normed measures for different levels of oral and written language used to categorize participants into diagnostic groups for dysgraphia (impaired subword handwriting) (n = 26), dyslexia (impaired word spelling and reading) (n = 38), or oral and written language learning disability OWL LD (impaired oral and written syntax comprehension and expression) (n = 13) or control oral and written language learners (OWLs) without specific learning disabilities (SLDs) (n = 11) were consistent with reported history. Impairments in working memory components supporting language learning were also examined. In Study 2, right handed children from Study 1 who did not wear braces (controls, n = 9, dysgraphia, n = 14; dyslexia, n = 17, OWL LD, n = 5) completed an fMRI functional connectivity brain imaging study in which they performed a word-specific spelling judgment task, which is related to both word reading and spelling, and may be impaired in dysgraphia, dyslexia, and OWL LD for different reasons. fMRI functional connectivity from 4 seed points in brain locations involved in written word processing to other brain regions also differentiated dysgraphia, dyslexia, and OWL LD; both specific regions to which connected and overall number of functional connections differed. Thus, results provide converging neurological and behavioral evidence, for dysgraphia, dyslexia, and OWL LD being different, diagnosable SLDs for persisting written language problems during middle childhood and early adolescence. Translation of the research findings into practice at policy and administrative levels and at local school levels is discussed.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Apel, K., & Apel, L. (2011). Identifying intra-individual differences in students’written language disabilities. Topics in Language Disorders, 31(1), 54–72.
Baddeley, A. (2003). Working memory: Looking back. Looking forward. Nature Reviews/Neuroscience, 4, 829–839.
Baddeley, A., Gathercole, S., & Papagno, C. (1998). The phonological loop as a language learning device. Psychological Review, 105, 158–173.
Bahr, R. H., Silliman, E. R., Berninger, V. W., & Dow, M. (2012). Linguistic pattern analysis of misspellings of typically developing writers in grades 1 to 9. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 55, 1587–1599. First published on April 3, 2012 as doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2012/10-0335)
Barnett, A., Henderson, L., Scheib, B., & Schulz, C. (2007). Detailed assessment of speed of handwriting (DASH) copy best and fast. London: Pearson.
Batshaw, M., Roizen, N., & Lotrecchiano, G. (2013). Children with disabilities (7th ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Berninger, V. (2008). Defining and differentiating dyslexia, dysgraphia, and language learning disability within a working memory model. In E. R. Silliman & M. Mody (Eds.), Language impairment and reading disability–interactions among brain, behavior, and experience (pp. 103–134). New York: Guilford Press.
Berninger, V. (2009). Highlights of programmatic, interdisciplinary research on writing. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 24, 68–79.
Berninger, V. W., & Advisory Panel. (2015). Interdisciplinary frameworks for schools: Best professional practices for serving the needs of all students. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Short Title: Interdisciplinary Frameworks for Schools. Companion Websites with Readings and Resources. All royalties go to Division 16 to support these websites and develop future editions.
Berninger, V., & Abbott, R (2013) Children with dyslexia who are and are not gifted in verbal reasoning. Gifted Child Quarterly, 57, 223–233. doi:10.1177/0016986213500342. Posted on PubMedCentral on 2013-09-22 15:41:46 for release August 30, 2014. NIHMSID #526583.
Berninger, V., & Hayes, J. R. (2012). Longitudinal case studies of twenty children on writing treks in grades 1 to 5. In M. Fayol, D. Alamargot, & Berninger, V. (Eds.). Translation of thought to written text while composing: Advancing theory, knowledge, methods, and applications (pp. 95–179). Routledge: Psychology Press/Taylor Francis Group.
Berninger, V., Nielsen, K., Abbott, R., Wijsman, E., & Raskind, W. (2008a). Writing problems in developmental dyslexia: Under-recognized and under-treated. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 1–21.
Berninger, V., & O’Malley May, M. (2011). Evidence-based diagnosis and treatment for specific learning disabilities involving impairments in written and/or oral language. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44, 167–183.
Berninger, V., Raskind, W., Richards, T., Abbott, R., & Stock, P. (2008b). A multidisciplinary approach to understanding developmental dyslexia within working memory architecture: Genotypes, phenotypes, brain, and instruction. Developmental Neuropsychology, 33, 707–744.
Berninger, V., & Richards, T. (2010). Inter-relationships among behavioral markers, genes, brain, and treatment in dyslexia and dysgraphia. Future Neurology, 5, 597–617. doi:10.2217/fnl.10.22.
Berninger, V., Winn, W., Stock, P., Abbott, R., Eschen, K., Lin, C., et al. (2008). Tier 3 specialized writing instruction for students with dyslexia. Reading and Writing. An Interdisciplinary Journal, 21, 95–129. Printed Springer On Line. May 15, 2007.
Bishop, D. V. M. (2009). Specific language impairment as a language learning disability. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 25, 163–165.
Bishop, D. V. M., & Snowling, M. J. (2004). Developmental dyslexia and specific language impairment. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 858–886.
Bowers, P., & Wolf, M. (1993). Theoretical links between naming speed, precise timing mechanisms, and orthographic skill in dyslexia. Reading and Writing An International Journal, 5, 69–85.
Cahill, L., Tiberius, C., & Herring, J. (2013). PolyOrth: Orthography, phonology, and morphology in the inheritance lexicons. Written Language and Literacy, 16, 146–185.
Caspers, S., Schleicher, A., Bacha-Trams, M., Palomero-Gallagher, N., Amunts, K., & Zilles, K. (2012, Feb 28). Organization of the human inferior parietal lobule based on receptor architectonics. Cerebral Cortex. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhs048
Catts, H. W., Adlof, S. M., Hogan, T. P., & Ellis Weismer, S. (2005). Are specific language impairment and dyslexia distinct disorders? Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 48, 1378–1396.
Catts, H. W., Bridges, M. S., Little, T. D., & Tomblin, J. B. (2008). Reading achievement growth in children with language impairments. Journal of Speech- Language and Hearing Research, 51, 1569–1579.
Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax. New York: MIT Press.
Christensen, C., & Wauchope, M. (2009). Whole school literacy: Using research to create programs that build universal high levels of literate competence. In S. Rosenfield & V. Berninger (Eds.). Implementing evidence-based interventions in school settings (pp. 501–526). New York: Oxford University Press.
Connelly, V., Dockrell, J., & Barnett, A. (2012). Children challenged by writing due to language and motor difficulties. In V. Berninger (Ed.), Past, present, and future contributions of cognitive writing research to cognitive psychology (pp. 217–245). New York: Psychology Press/Taylor Francis Group.
Crosson, B., Rao, S., Woodley, S., Rosen, A., Bobholz, J., Mayer, A., et al. (1999). Mapping of semantic, phonological, and orthographic verbal working memory in normal adults with functional magnetic resonance imaging. Neuropsychology, 13, 171–187.
Delis, D., Kaplan, E., & Kramer, J. (2001). Delis-kaplan executive function system. San Antonio: The Psychological Corporation/Pearson.
Ehri, L. (1980). The role of orthographic images in learning printed words. In J. F. Kavanaugh & R. Venezky (Eds.), Orthographic reading and dyslexia (pp. 307–332). Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.
Eickhoff, S. B., Heim, S., Zilles, K., & Amunts, K. (2006). Testing anatomically specified hypotheses in functional imaging using cytoarchitectonic maps. NeuroImage, 32(2), 570–582.
Eickhoff, S. B., Paus, T., Caspers, S., Grosbras, M. H., Evans, A., Zilles, K., & Amunts, K. (2007). Assignment of functional activations to probabilistic cytoarchitectonic areas revisited. NeuroImage, 36(3), 511–521.
Eickhoff, S., Stephan, K. E., Mohlberg, H., Grefkes, C., Fink, G. R., Amunts, K., & Zilles, K. (2005). A new SPM toolbox for combining probabilistic cytoarchitectonic maps and functional imaging data. NeuroImage, 25(4), 1325–1335.
Ellis, E. M., & Thal, D. J. (2008). Early language delay and risk for language impairment. Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 15(3), 93–100.
Foorman, B. R., Arndt, E. J., & Crawford, E. C. (2011). Important constructs in literacy learning across disciplines. Topics in Language Disorders, 31(1), 73–83.
Greenblatt, E., Mattis, S., & Trad, P. (1990). Nature and prevalence of learning disabilities in a child psychiatric population. Developmental Neuropsychology, 6, 71–83.
Katusic, S. K., Barbaresi, W. J., Colligan, R. C., Weaver, A. L., Leibson, C. L., & Jacobsen, S. J. (2005). Case definition in epidemiologic studies of AD/HD. Annals Epidemiology, 15, 430–437.
Katusic, S. K., Colligan, R. C., Barbaresi, W. J., Schaid, D. J., & Jacobsen, S. J. (2001). Incidence of reading disability in a population-based birth cohort, 1976–1982, Rochester, Minnesota. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 76, 1081–1092.
Katusic, S. K., Colligan, R. C., Weaver, A. L., & Barbaresi, W. J. (2009). The forgotten learning disability—Epidemiology of written language disorder in a population-based birth cohort (1976–1982), Rochester, Minnesota. Pediatrics, 123, 1306–1313.
Lefly, D., & Pennington, B. (1991). Spelling errors and reading fluency in dyslexics. Annals of Dyslexia, 41, 143–162.
Leonard, C., Eckert, M., Given, B., Berninger, V., & Eden, G. (2006). Individual differences in anatomy predict reading and oral language deficits. Brain, 129, 3329–3342.
Lovett, M., Barron, R., & Frijters, J. (2013). Word identification difficulties in children and adolescents with reading disabilities: Intervention research findings. In H. L. Swanson, K. Harris, & S. Graham (Eds.), Handbook of learning disabilities (2nd ed., pp. 329–359). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Lyytinen, H., Aro, M., Elklund, K., Erskine, J., Gottorm, T., Laakso, M.-L., et al. (2004). The development of children at familial risk for dyslexia: Birth to early school age. Annals of Dyslexia, 54, 184–220.
Mashburn, A. J., & Myers, S. S. (2010). Advancing research on children with speech-language impairment: An introduction to the early childhood longitudinal study—Kindergarten cohort. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 41, 61–69.
Mather, N., Hammill, D., Allen, E., & Roberts, R. (2004). Test of silent word reading fluency TOSWRF. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Mather, N., Roberts, R., Hammill, D., & Allen, E. (2008). Test of orthographic competence (TOC). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Mayer, R. E. (2011). Applying the science of learning. Boston: Pearson.
Moll, K., Kunze, S., Neuhoff, N., Bruder, J., & Schulte-Kőrne, G. (2014). Specific learning disorder: Prevalence and gender differences. PLoS ONE, 9, 1–8.
Myhill, D. (2008). Towards a linguistic model of sentence development in writing. Language and Education, 22(5), 271–288.
Nagy, W., Berninger, V., & Abbott, R. (2006). Contributions of morphology beyond phonology to literacy outcomes of upper elementary and middle school students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 134–147.
Nagy, W., Berninger, V., Abbott, R., Vaughan, K., & Vermeulen, K. (2003). Relationship of morphology and other language skills to literacy skills in at-risk second graders and at-risk fourth grade writers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 730–742.
Nelson, N. W. (2010). Language and literacy disorders: Infancy through Adolescence. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Niedo, J., Abbott, R., & Berninger, V. (2014). Predicting levels of reading and writing achievement in typically developing, English-speaking 2nd and 5th graders. Learning and Individual Differences, 32C, 54–68. Published on line April 18, 2014. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2014.03.013. NIHMS ID: NIHMS580076.
Olson, R., Forsberg, H., Wise, B., & Rack, J. (1994). Measurement of word recognition, orthographic, and phonological skills. In G. R. Lyon (Ed.), Frames of reference for the assessment of learning disabilities (pp. 243–277). Brooks: Baltimore.
Paul, R., Murray, C., Clancy, K., & Andrews, D. (1997). Reading and metaphonological outcomes in late talkers. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 40, 1037–1047.
Pearson. (2009). Wechsler individual achievement test (3rd ed.). San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.
Pennington, B. F., & Bishop, D. V. M. (2009). Relations among speech, language, and reading disorders. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 283–306.
Posner, M., & Rothbart, M. (2007). Educating the human brain. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Purcell, J., Turkeltaub, P. E., Eden, G. F., & Rapp, B. (2011). Examining the central and peripheral processes of written word production through meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 1–16.
Raskind, W., Igo, R., Chapman, N., Berninger, V., Thomson, J., Matsushita, M., et al. (2005). A genome scan in multigenerational families with dyslexia: Identification of a novel locus on chromosome 2q that contributes to phonological decoding efficiency. Molecular Psychiatry, 10(7), 699–711.
Raskind, W., Peters, B., Richards, T., Eckert, M., & Berninger, V. (2012). The genetics of reading disabilities: From phenotype to candidate genes. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 601. Published online 2013 January 7. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00601
Richards, T., Aylward, E., Raskind, W., Abbott, R., Field, K., Parsons, A., et al. (2006). Converging evidence for triple word form theory in children with dyslexia. Developmental Neuropsychology, 30, 547–589.
Richards, T., Berninger, V., & Fayol, M. (2009a). FMRI activation differences between 11- year-old good and poor spellers’ access in working memory to temporary and long-term orthographic representations. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 22, 327–353.
Richards, T., Berninger, V., Nagy, W., Parsons, A., Field, K., & Richards, A. (2005). Brain activation during language task contrasts in children with and without dyslexia: Inferring mapping processes and assessing response to spelling instruction. Educational and Child Psychology, 22(2), 62–80.
Richards, T., Berninger, V., Winn, W., Swanson, H. L., Stock, P., Liang, O., et al. (2009b). Differences in fMRI activation between children with and without spelling disability on 2-back/0-back working memory contrast. Journal of Writing Research, 1(2), 93–123. Download the pdf from the JOWR-website.
Roeske, D., Ludwig, K. U., Neuhoff, N., Becker, J., Bartling, J., Bruder, J., et al. (2011). First genome-wide association scan on neurophysiological 1729 endophenotypes points to trans-regulation effects on SLC2A3 in dyslexic children. Mol 1730 Psychiatry, 16, 97–107.
Rubenstein, K., Matsushita, M., Berninger, V., Raskind, W., & Wijsman, E. (2011). Genome scan for spelling deficits: Effects of verbal IQ on models of transmission and trait gene localization. Behavioral Genetics. An International Journal Devoted to the Inheritance of Behavior, 41, 31–42. http://www.springerlink.com/content/l3017v24656mqr32/.
Rubenstein, K., Raskind, W., Berninger, V., Matsushita, M., Wijsman, E. (2014). Genome scan for cognitive trait loci of dyslexia: Rapid naming and rapid switching of letters, numbers, and colors. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics. NIHMSID-595138.
Saddler, B., & Graham, S. (2005). The effects of peer-assisted sentence-combining instruction on the writing performance of more and less skilled young writers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97, 43–54.
Samuelsson, S., Byrne, B., Olson, R., Hulslander, J., Wadsworth, S., Corley, R., et al. (2008). Response to early literacy instruction in the United States. Australia, and Scandinavia: A Behavioral-Genetic Analysis, Learning and Individual Differences, 18, 289–295.
Scarborough, H. S. (2005). Developmental relationships between language and reading: Reconciling a beautiful hypothesis with some ugly facts. In H. W. Catts & A. G. Kamhi (Eds.), The connections between language and reading abilities (pp. 3–24). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Schneider, W., & Shiffrin, R. (1977). Controlled and automatic human information processing: Detection, search, and attention. Psychological Review, 84, 1–66.
Schulte-Korne, G., Grimm, T., Nothen, M. M., Muller-Myhsok, B., Cichon, S., Vogt, I. R., et al. (1998). Evidence for linkage of spelling disability to chromosome 15. American Journal of Human Genetics, 63, 279–282.
Scott, C. M. (2010). Assessing expository texts produced by school-age children and adolescents. In M. A. Nippold & C. M. Scott (Eds.), Expository discourse in children, adolescents, and adults (pp. 191–214). New York: Psychology Press.
Scott, C. M. (2011). Assessment of language and literacy: A process of hypothesis testing. Topics in Language Disorders, 31(1), 24–39.
Semel, E., Wiig, E. H., & Secord, W. A. (2003). Clinical evaluations of language fundamentals 4th edition: Examiner’s manual. San Antonio, TX: Harcourt Assessment Inc.
Shriffin, R., & Scheider, W. (1977). Controlled and automatic processing II: Perceptual learning, automatic attending, and a general theory. Psychological Review, 84, 70–120.
Silliman, E., & Berninger, V. (2011). Cross-disciplinary dialogue about the nature of oral and written language problems in the context of developmental, academic, and phenotypic profiles. Topics in Language Disorders, 31, 6–23. Free access at http://journals.lww.com/topicsinlanguagedisorders/Fulltext/2011/01000/Cross_Disciplinary_Dialogue_about_the_Nature_of.3.aspx.
Silliman, E. R., & Mody, M. (2008). Individual differences in oral language and reading: It’s a matter of individual differences. In M. Mody & E. R. Silliman (Eds.), Brain, behavior, and learning in language and reading disorders (pp. 349–386). New York: Guilford Press.
Silliman, E. R., & Scott, C. M. (2009). Research-based oral language intervention routes to the academic language of literacy: Finding the right road. In S. Skibbe, L. E., Grimm, K. J., Stanton-Chapman, T. L., Justice, L. M., Pence, K. L., & Bowles, R. P. (2008). Reading trajectories of children with language difficulties from preschool through fifth grade. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 39, 475–486.
St. Sauver, J. L., Katusic, S. K., Barbaresi, W. J., Colligan, R. C., & Jacobsen, S. J. (2001). Boy/girl differences in risk for reading disability: Potential clues? American Journal of Epidemiology, 154, 787–794.
Stoeckel, R. E., Colligan, R. C., Barbaresi, W. J., Weaver, A. L., Killian, J. M., & Katusic, S. K. (2013). Early speech-language impairment and risk for written language disorder: A population-based study. Journal Developmental Behavior Pediatrics, 34, 38–44.
Thal, D. J., Bates, E., Goodman, J., & Jahn-Samilo, J. (1997). Continuity of language abilities: An exploratory study of late-and early-talking toddlers. Developmental Neuropsychology, 13, 239–273.
Thal, D. J., & Katich, J. (1996). Predicaments in early identification of specific language impairment: Does the early bird catch the worm? In K. N. Cole, P. S. Dale, & D. J. Thal (Eds.), Assessment of communication and language (pp. 1–28). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
Toga, A., Thompson, P., Mori, S., Amunts, K., & Zilles, K. (2006). Towards multimodal atlases of the human brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7, 952–966.
Torgesen, J., Wagner, R., & Rashotte, C. (1999). Test of word reading efficiency. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Treiman, R., & Kessler, B. (2014). How children learn to write words. New York: Oxford University Press.
Troia, G. (Ed.). (2009). Instruction and assessment for struggling writers: Evidence-based practices. New York: Guilford.
van Viersen, S., Kroesbergen, E., Slot, E., & de Bree, E. (2014). High reading skills mask dyslexia in gifted children. Journal of Learning Disabilities. Epub ahead of print.
Vellutino, F., Scanlon, D., & Tanzman, M. (1991). Bridging the gap between cognitive and neuropsychological conceptualizations of reading disabilities. Learning and Individual Differences, 3, 181–203.
Venezky, R. (1970). The structure of English orthography. The Hague: Mouton.
Venezky, R. (1999). The American way of spelling. New York: Guilford.
Wagner, R. K., Torgesen, J. K., & Rashotte, C. A. (1999). The comprehensive test of phonological processing. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Wechsler, D. (2003). Wechsler intelligence scale for children, 4th edition (WISC-IV). San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.
Wolf, M., & Denckla, M. (2005). RAN/RAS rapid automatized naming and rapid alternating stimulus tests. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Woodcock, R., McGrew, K., & Mather, N. (2001a). Woodcock-Johnson III psychoeducational cognitive test battery. Itasca, IL: Riverside.
Woodcock, R., McGrew, K., & Mather, N. (2001b). Woodcock-Johnson III achievement battery. Itasca, IL: Riverside.
Yoshimasu, K., Barbaresi, W. J., Colligan, R., Killian, J., Voigt, R. G., Weaver, A., et al. (2011). Written-language disorder in children with and without attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in a population-based birth cohort. Pediatrics, 128(3), e605-12. Pediatrics 2010; 126, e788–e795.
Yoshimasu, K., Barbaresi, W. J., Colligan, R. C., Killian, J. M., Voigt, R. G., Weaver, A. L., et al. (2012). Gender, ADHD, and reading disability in a population-based birth cohort. Pediatrics, 126, e788–e795.
The current study, supported by grant P50HD071764 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the University of Washington Learning Disabilities Research Center, has been a team effort: The first two authors contributed equally to this study. The first author recruited the sample and supervised the assessments. The second author supervised the imaging team that collected and analyzed the fMRI functional connectivity data. The last author conducted the data analyses for Study 1 and contributed to the design of cross-center Projects 1 and 3. The co-authors acknowledge the contributions of Jasmine Niedo, Roxana DelCampo, and Whitney Griffin who administered the comprehensive assessment battery, Terry Mickail who provided data base management, the imaging team involved in the larger brain imaging project, Tom Grabowski, Katie Askren, Zoe Mestre, Kevin Yagle, and Peter Boord, and Wendy Raskind who has collaborated for two decades on identifying phenotypic markers of genetic bases of written language learning disabilities. The team also gratefully acknowledges the participating children and parents’ contributions to the study.
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
About this article
Cite this article
Berninger, V.W., Richards, T.L. & Abbott, R.D. Differential diagnosis of dysgraphia, dyslexia, and OWL LD: behavioral and neuroimaging evidence. Read Writ 28, 1119–1153 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-015-9565-0
- Oral and written language learning disability (OWL LD)
- Brain connectivity
- Word-specific spelling