What is written expression disorder?

Written expression disorder is a learning disability in writing. People who have it struggle to put their ideas into writing. They also make frequent mistakes in grammar and punctuation.

Snapshot: What written expression disorder is

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 with this learning disability have trouble expressing their thoughts in writing. They might have the greatest ideas, but their writing is disorganized and full of grammar and punctuation mistakes.

Written expression disorder isn’t as well-known as dyslexia. But it may actually be more common. Experts think between 8 and 15 percent of people have it.

Kids don’t outgrow written expression disorder. It’s lifelong and caused by differences in the brain. It also often co-occurs with other learning challenges. Two of the most common are dyslexia and ADHD.

There aren’t any comprehensive commercially available teaching programs for writing difficulties. But there are strategies and techniques that can help people manage the challenges and improve their skills.

People can be evaluated for writing disabilities at any age. Kids can get an evaluation at school for free. Adults typically have them done privately. The tests are different for kids and adults.

Written expression disorder impacts learning. And it can make certain tasks at work challenging. But it’s important to know that people with learning disabilities are just as smart as other people.

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Written expression disorder signs and symptoms

Trouble with written expression is an issue with language, just as dyslexia is. But it doesn’t necessarily impact how well people express themselves when speaking. People with written expression disorder might tell you a great story that’s well organized 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 show up 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
  • Disorganized essays and papers
  • Written work that seems incomplete
  • Missing facts and details
  • Slow writing and typing

There are behavioral 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

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How written expression disorder is diagnosed

The only way to know if someone has an issue with written expression is to have a full evaluation. Kids can get one for free at school.

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

Teaching hospitals may have research projects where people can get evaluations for free. Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) has local chapters in every state. They may be able to help with finding free or low-cost options.

Evaluators use a series of tests to look at writing skills. They also test for strengths and challenges in other areas. Many people with written expression disorder also have other learning and thinking differences, like dyslexia or ADHD.

There are a few types of professionals who do evaluations. These include school psychologists, clinical psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and neuropsychologists.

Getting a diagnosis (schools call it an identification) can lead to extra help at school. Some kids may also get specialized instruction. A diagnosis can also lead to accommodations at college and at work.

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About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Gary A. Troia, PhD is an expert in phonological processing, writing instruction, and professional development in literacy.


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