Handwriting processes when spelling morphologically complex words in children with and without Developmental Language Disorder

Critten, Sarah; Connelly, Vincent; Dockrell, Julie E.; Mundy, Ian R. and O’Rourke, Lynsey (2023). Handwriting processes when spelling morphologically complex words in children with and without Developmental Language Disorder. Frontiers in Psychology, 14, article no. 1112462.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1112462


Introduction: Representations activated during handwriting production code information on morphological structure and reflect decomposition of the root and suffix. Children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) have significant difficulties in spelling morphologically complex words, but previous research has not sought evidence for a morphological decomposition effect via an examination of handwriting processes in this population.

Method: Thirty-three children aged 9–10 years with DLD, 33 children matched for chronological age (CA), and 33 younger children aged 7–8 years matched for oral language ability (LA) completed a dictated spelling task (21 words; 12 with inflectional suffixes, nine with derivational suffixes). The task was completed on paper with an inking pen linked to a graphics tablet running the handwriting software Eye and Pen. Pause analyses and letter duration analyses were conducted.

Results: The three groups showed similar handwriting processes, evidencing a morphological decomposition effect in a natural writing task. Pause durations observed at the root/suffix boundary were significantly longer than those occurring in the root. Letter durations were also significantly longer for the letter immediately prior to the boundary compared to the letter after it. Nevertheless, despite being commensurate to their LA matches for mean pause durations and letter durations, children with DLD were significantly poorer at spelling derivational morphemes. Handwriting processes did significantly predict spelling accuracy but to a much lesser extent compared to reading ability.

Discussion: It is suggested that derivational spelling difficulties in DLD may derive more from problems with underspecified orthographic representations as opposed to handwriting processing differences.

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