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What Is Written Expression Disorder?

If you have a child having trouble writing, it may be due to written expression disorder. This condition can make it difficult for kids to put their thoughts on paper. But don't worry; there are ways to help your child overcome this hurdle. In this post, we'll give you a rundown of what written expression disorder is and how you can help your child overcome it.

Learning disabilities in basic writing skills affect the learner's ability to write words with correct spelling, appropriate word choice and basic mechanics, such as letter formation, grammar, and punctuation.

People with learning disabilities in basic writing may not understand the relationship between letters and the sounds they represent and often cannot distinguish the correct written word from the incorrect word.

Learning disabilities in basic writing are sometimes referred to as dysgraphia. Get the facts on such disorders and how they're treated with this review of basic writing disabilities.

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If dysgraphia appears in childhood, it's usually the result of orthographic coding problems. This aspect of working memory allows you to permanently remember written words and how your hands or fingers must move to write those words.

With dysgraphia, kids or adults have a harder time planning and executing sentences, words, and even individual letters. It's not that you don't know how to read, spell, or identify letters and words. Instead, your brain has problems processing words and writing.

When dysgraphia develops in adults, the cause is usually a stroke or other brain injury. In particular, injury to the brain's left parietal lobe may lead to dysgraphia. You have a right and left parietal lobe in the upper part of your brain. Each is associated with various skills, such as reading and writing and sensory processing, including pain, heat, and cold.

Learning disabilities in writing can have many causes. They may be hereditary, caused by differences in brain development, brain injury, or stroke. They are not solely the result of problems with expressive language or receptive language, visual or hearing problems, or hand-eye coordination, but these conditions can complicate them.

Scientists aren't sure why dysgraphia happens in children. In adults, it's sometimes related to a brain injury, like a stroke. However, this learning disorder usually occurs in kids and other learning disabilities such as ADHD and dyslexia.

Frequently Asked Questions

'Dysgraphia' and 'specific learning disorder in the written expression' are terms used to describe individuals who demonstrate writing ability discordant with their cognitive level and age despite exposure to adequate instruction. Dysgraphia can present with different symptoms at different ages.

The treatment for this disorder is to spend extra time practising writing skills at home and school. Some children may find it easier to use text-to-speech tools to speak and have a computer program type their words. Others may find it easier to use a keyboard than write on paper.

The written expression refers to a highly complex, cognitive, self-directed process. Higher-order components include planning, translating (drafting), reviewing and revising.

Trouble forming letters shapes. The tight, awkward, or painful grip on a pencil. Difficulty following a line or staying within margins. The trouble with sentence structure or following grammar rules when writing, but not when speaking.

Written expression disorder is a learning disability in writing. It doesn't involve technical skills like spelling and handwriting. Difficulty in those areas is sometimes referred to as dysgraphia. Instead, people have trouble expressing their thoughts in writing.


Kids with dysgraphia have unclear, irregular, or inconsistent handwriting, often with different slants, shapes, upper- and lower-case letters, and cursive and print styles. They also tend to write or copy things slowly.

Parents or teachers may notice symptoms when the child first begins writing assignments in school. Other signs of dysgraphia to watch for include:

  • Cramped grip, which may lead to a sore hand
  • Difficulty spacing things out on paper or within margins (poor spatial planning)
  • Frequent erasing
  • Inconsistency in letter and word spacing
  • Poor spelling, including unfinished words or missing words or letters
  • Unusual wrist, body, or paper position while writing

This learning disability also makes it hard to write and think simultaneously. As a result, creative writing tasks are often especially hard.


Diagnosing dysgraphia often requires a team of experts, including a physician and a licensed psychologist or other mental health professional trained in working with people who have learning disabilities. An occupational therapist, school psychologist, or special education teacher may also help make the diagnosis.

For children, part of the diagnostic process may include an IQ test and assessing their academic work. You may also examine specific school assignments.

For adults, you may evaluate examples of written work or tests administered by a doctor. They will observe you as you write to look for fine motor skills problems. In addition, you may be asked to copy words from one source to another to help understand if there are language-processing problems.

The first step is for your child's paediatrician to rule out other diseases or conditions that could cause writing difficulties.

A licensed psychologist trained in learning disorders can diagnose dysgraphia. It could be your child's school psychologist. The specialist will give your child academic and writing tests that measure their ability to put thoughts into words and fine motor skills. For instance, they may be asked to tap their fingers or turn their wrist a certain way.

Your child also may be asked to write sentences or copy words and letters. The specialist will look at their:

  • Finished work
  • Hand and body position
  • Pencil grip
  • Posture
  • Writing process


Common characteristics of people with learning disabilities in basic writing skills include difficulty completing schoolwork, writing in everyday situations, and being at risk for school failure. In addition, they may have difficulty producing letters on paper and may not understand the relationship between letters, words, and sounds. They may also have problems in basic reading because of weaknesses in understanding letter and sound connections.

Weaknesses in fine motor skills requiring special instruction may also be present.


Evaluation of the disability can provide information to help educators develop effective specially designed instruction (SDI). Typical strategies focus on working with hands-on materials to help learners understand letterforms and their connection to sounds and words. Teachers may also work on language-based aspects of writing, recognition of letter clusters, and root words. In addition, occupational therapy can help students who have motor problems.

There's no cure for dysgraphia. Treatment varies from child to child and depends on whether they have other learning disabilities or health conditions. Medication used to treat ADHD has helped with dysgraphia in some kids who have both conditions.

What treatments are available?

Occupational therapy may help improve handwriting skills. Therapeutic activities may include:

  • holding a pencil or pen in a new way to make writing easier
  • working with modelling clay
  • tracing letters in shaving cream on a desk
  • drawing lines within mazes
  • doing connect-the-dots puzzles

Several writing programs can help children and adults form letters and sentences neatly on paper.

If other learning disabilities or health issues are present, treatment options will also need to address those conditions. You may need medications to treat ADHD, for example.


Many learning disabled students are at risk of being underestimated by other students, adults, and teachers. People with learning disabilities in basic writing skills have general learning ability or general intelligence as high as or higher than their peers. However, they have a skill deficit in this area of basic writing. These children may become frustrated because of the effort they must put forth to get their work done. Students may withdraw, avoid writing, or develop behaviour problems to elude classwork involving writing.

A student's frustrations can be magnified further if adults such as parents and teachers do not understand the source of their frustration. Therefore, adults need to recognise that a learning disability in basic writing comes with frustration to foster the child's self-esteem.


Diagnostic and writing tests can determine what specific problems affect the learner's writing skills. Then, through observations, analysing student work, and cognitive, language, and occupational assessment, educators can make recommendations to develop individualised instructional plans.

Helping Your Child Succeed

If you believe you or your child has a learning disability in basic writing, contact your school principal or counsellor for information on how to request a referral for an assessment.

For students in college and vocational programs, their school's advising office can find resources to help ensure their success. Also, college students should ask if there's a writing centre on campus that provides one-on-one instruction for students who struggle to write.

Learn more about how to advocate for your learning disability in college. It is possible to succeed in college, from writing centres to free tutoring to scholarships designed only for learning disabilities. (This is important to understand even if your child is still young and you worry about college in the future.) So don't let learning disabilities keep your child out of college!

Here are some things you can try:

  • Have your child use wide-ruled paper, graph paper, or paper with raised lines to help with letter and word alignment.
  • Try pencil grips or other writing aids for comfort.
  • Let them use a computer to type instead of write, and teach typing skills early.
  • Don't criticise sloppy work. Praise their hard work and offer positive reinforcement.
  • Acknowledge the condition and talk to your child about it.
  • Teach them ways to relieve stress before writing. For example, have them shake or rub their hands together quickly.
  • Let them squeeze a stress ball to improve hand-muscle strength and coordination.

Talk to your child's teacher about their condition and needs at school. As a result, they may qualify for special education services and an Individualised Education Program (IEP) or other special assistance (such as a 504 plan). These documents detail your child's needs and give the school ways to help them.

Some things you might ask for include:

  • Shorter writing assignments or different questions from their classmates
  • Use of a computer to type instead of write
  • Copies of the class note to limit writing work
  • Use of a voice-to-dictation machine or another electronic note taker
  • An option to record the teacher's lectures
  • Video or audio reports instead of written homework assignments
  • Oral instead of written exams

Written Expression Disorder Signs And Symptoms

The trouble with written expression is an issue with language like dyslexia is. But it doesn't necessarily impact how well people express themselves when speaking. So, for example, people with written expression disorder might tell you a great story that's well organised and detailed. But when they try to write it out, that's when they run into trouble.

When people struggle with written expression, it can appear in different ways. Here are some things you might see in their written work:

  • Words that are misused or that have the wrong meaning
  • The same words used over and over
  • Basic grammar mistakes, like missing verbs or incorrect noun-verb agreement
  • Sentences that don't make sense
  • Disorganised essays and papers
  • Written work that seems incomplete
  • Missing facts and details
  • Slow writing and typing

There are behavioural signs, too. These include:

  • Making excuses and avoiding writing assignments
  • Complaining about not being able to think of what to write or not knowing where to start
  • Sitting for a long time at a desk without writing
  • Finishing a writing task quickly without giving it much thought

Dive Deeper

  • Learn about dictation (speech-to-text) technology.
  • For families: Explore strategies to help your child with writing.
  • For teachers: Explore strategies to teach kids self-regulation in writing.

How Written Expression Disorder Is Diagnosed

The only way to know if someone has written expression issues is to complete an evaluation. Kids can get one for free at school.

Certain professionals do private evaluations, which can be very expensive. However, there are ways to get private evaluations for free or at a low cost in some cases. For example, universities with psychology programs or communication sciences and disorders often have clinics where students train.

Other Effects Of Dysgraphia

People with dysgraphia often have trouble concentrating on other things while writing. For example, taking notes during class or a meeting can be difficult because much attention is being paid to getting each word down on paper. As a result, other things that are said may be missed.

Students with dysgraphia may also be accused of being sloppy or lazy because their handwriting isn't neat. In addition, it can affect self-esteem and lead to anxiety, a lack of confidence, and negative attitudes toward school.

Who's At Increased Risk For Dysgraphia?

Researchers are still learning why some children have learning disabilities, such as dysgraphia. Learning disabilities often run in families or are related to prenatal development, such as premature birth.

Children with dysgraphia often have other learning disabilities. For example, having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may raise the risk of having dysgraphia. That's because attention is closely linked to both writing and reading abilities.

Other learning disabilities associated with dysgraphia include dyslexia (trouble reading) and oral and written language (OWL) learning disability. OWL symptoms include trouble placing words in the right order in a sentence and difficulty remembering words.

Dysgraphia Vs. Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a reading disorder, and dysgraphia is a writing disorder, but the conditions may confuse. That's because people with dyslexia may also have problems with their writing and spelling.

It's possible to have both learning disabilities, but it's important to get a proper diagnosis, so you know if one or both conditions require attention.

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Living With Dysgraphia

For some people, occupational therapy and motor skills training can help improve their writing ability. For others, it remains a lifelong challenge.

If you have a son or daughter with dysgraphia, it's important to work with your child's school and teachers on appropriate accommodations for this learning disability. Some classroom strategies that may help include:

  • a designated note-taker in the classroom
  • use of a computer for notes and other assignments
  • oral exams and assignments, instead of written ones
  • extra time on tests and assignments
  • lesson or lecture notes provided by the teacher as printouts, recordings, or in digital form
  • pencils or other writing implements with special grips to make writing easier
  • use of wide-ruled or graph paper

And if you feel that the treatment you or your children receive for dysgraphia isn't sufficient, don't give up. Instead, look for other therapists or resources in your community that may help. You may need to be an aggressive advocate for your child, but keep in mind that laws and school policies are designed to serve students with all types of learning challenges.


WED is a disorder that affects writing skills. The main symptom of the disorder is an inability to write in a way that is legible and fluid. It can make it difficult for people with WED to complete schoolwork, communicate effectively, or hold down a job. If you or someone you know struggles with writing, it's important to get help. There are treatments available that can improve writing skills and quality of life. 

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