Dysgraphia and expressive language disorder both affect language use and learning. Dysgraphia can make it hard to put thoughts in writing. Expressive language disorder can make it hard to express thoughts and ideas when speaking and writing. (You may hear it called a “language disorder” or a “communication disorder.”)
These two learning differences are easy to confuse. They share symptoms and often co-occur. In fact, expressive language disorder can lead to problems with expressive writing. This table shows the differences and similarities between them.
|Dysgraphia||Expressive language disorder|
|What is it?|
An issue that involves difficulty with the physical act of writing. Kids may find it hard to express their ideas in written form.
An issue that makes it hard to express thoughts and ideas through spoken language. Kids with this issue typically understand what they hear, but they can have trouble forming and producing a spoken response.
|Signs you may notice|
|Possible emotional and social impact|
Kids with dysgraphia may freeze up when they try to put thoughts on paper. This can cause them to be frustrated and anxious and to avoid taking risks.
They may worry about being seen as “sloppy” or not trying hard enough. This can lead to low self-esteem.
Kids with expressive language disorder might not be able to communicate what they’re thinking, or that they’re understanding what others are saying. This can cause trouble with making friends.
|What can help|
|What families can do at home|
When kids are having trouble expressing thoughts, there are steps you can take. If they're having difficulty with other aspects of writing other than just the physical act of writing, it may also be a learning difference known as written expression disorder. You can learn more about what else can cause trouble with writing and trouble with spoken language. A full evaluation can help pinpoint what’s causing challenges. And families and teachers should talk about what they’re each seeing and develop a plan together.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Kelli Johnson, MA is an educational speech-language pathologist, working with students from early childhood through 12th grade.