A day in the life of a child with written expression disorder

ByJulie Rawe

Meet Camila, an eighth grader with written expression disorder. Her challenges with writing affect nearly every part of her day. To see how this learning difference impacts kids in and out of school, take a look at a typical day in Camila’s life.

7:35 a.m.

Camila is waiting for the bus, debating whether to skip school. Her stomach hurts. The history test is going to be so painful. So much writing. Maybe she should turn around and go home now.

Challenges related to written expression: Avoiding school, anxiety 

8:20 a.m.

Argh, Mr. Kyong and his daily warm-up exercises. Camila sees the assignment on the board: “Write a paragraph about….” She doesn’t bother to read the rest. As Mr. Kyong walks the aisles to see what everyone is writing, Camila fishes around in her backpack. When he stops by her desk, she mumbles that she can’t find a pen.

Challenges related to written expression: Avoiding tasks, making excuses

9:47 a.m.

Camila used to love math. Numbers make sense to her. But her new teacher won’t give full credit unless Camila writes a sentence explaining how she got the answer. Why is it so hard to take the thoughts she’s thinking and put them down on paper? Now she hates math too.

Challenge related to written expression: Expressing ideas in writing

10:50 a.m.

Science lab is so stressful. Today it’s Camila’s turn to be the note-taker, and her partners don’t understand why she’s only written a few words. “Camila, hurry up!” “Camila, pay attention!” She’s writing as fast as she can and fighting back tears. Nobody wants me on their team.

Challenges related to written expression: Taking notes, building self-esteem

12:10 p.m.

The dreaded history test. Camila feels a bit of relief when she sees that the first section is fill-in-the-blank and the second section is multiple choice. She studied hard and knows the material. But when she gets to the essay section, she doesn’t know what to write or where to start. By the time the bell rings, she’s only written one sentence — and it doesn’t even make sense.

Challenges related to written expression: Planning, starting tasks

3:15 p.m.

Camila’s friends are texting each other. But by the time Camila thinks of a response and types it in, the group chat has already moved on to a new topic. She erases her comment and worries people will think she’s standoffish.

Challenges related to written expression: Texting, socializing

5:39 p.m.

Camila’s English paper is due tomorrow. At home she uses the dictation feature that came with her phone, so at least she has a few sentences down. But she’s missing key details and doesn’t know where to put them in. When her little brother walks in and asks if she wants to play, she blows up at him.

Challenges related to written expression: Organizing, managing frustration

9:13 p.m.

“Camila, you aren’t done, are you?” Auntie Adriana is looking at her essay. “It’s so short. And there are so many grammar mistakes. Come on, Camila, I know you loved this book. I know you have a lot to say about it. Let’s talk it through. You talk. I’ll type.” Camila takes a deep breath. Writing is so hard for her. But at least she’s not alone. Auntie Adriana is trying to help.

Challenges related to written expression: Revising, proofreading

About written expression disorder

Written expression disorder is a common learning difference that makes writing hard. It has nothing to do with how smart someone is. It’s also not a problem with motor skills. (Trouble with handwriting is often called dysgraphia.)

Kids don’t outgrow written expression disorder, and their trouble with writing can affect how they behave in school and at home. They may act out — or even skip school — to avoid writing.

People sometimes misunderstand writing challenges, like thinking that kids just need to try harder. They’re already trying hard, though. And with the right support, they can improve their writing skills and thrive in school and in life. Learn how to help kids manage writing tasks.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Julie Rawe is the special projects editor at Understood.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Charles A. MacArthur, PhD is a professor of special education. He researches writing instruction, self-regulated strategies, and assistive technology.