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The purpose of this study was to investigate the cognitive causes underlying spelling difficulties in a case of developmental surface dysgraphia, AW. Our results do not support a number of possibilities that could be the cause of AW's poor orthographic lexicon, including difficulties in phonological processing, phonological short-term memory, configurational visual memory, and lexical semantic memory. We have found instead that AW performs poorly in tasks that involve detection of the order of adjacent letters in a word or the order of adjacent units in strings of consonants or symbols. Finally, he performs poorly in tasks that involve reconstructing the order of a series of complex visual characters (Japanese and Hindi characters) especially when these are presented sequentially. We advance the hypothesis that AW's poor spelling and good reading skills stem from an underlying pattern of cognitive abilities where a very good visual configurational memory is coupled with a poor ability to encode serial order. This may have resulted in a holistic word-based reading strategy, which, together with the original problem of encoding order, may have had detrimental effects for the acquisition of spelling.