Signs of written expression disorder

When kids and adults have written expression disorder, or a learning disability in writing, it’s hard for them to put their thoughts into writing. They may have great ideas that they can express verbally, but not when they write. Their writing may include many grammar mistakes or misused words.

Struggling with these important skills can make people feel like they’re not as smart as other people. But written expression disorder isn’t related to intelligence. It’s a weakness in a specific area. And it's a lifelong challenge.

Other learning differences like dyslexia and dysgraphia impact writing. But they do it in different ways.

Writing is a process that involves a group of skills. Kids start learning to write early on, and they continue to build those skills over time. So, trouble with written expression can look different at different ages.

There can also be signs that aren’t about specific skills. For example, people might avoid work that involves writing. Or say they don’t have any ideas to write about.

Learn about the signs of written expression disorder at various ages.

Grades K–2

  • Has trouble labeling pictures with a few words (K–1)

  • Often writes sentences that are hard to understand

  • Sometimes gets confused about the differences between stories, opinions, and informational writing

  • Has trouble writing one or two paragraphs about a personal experience

Grades 3–5

  • Still only writes simple sentences, instead of using a variety of sentences to express ideas clearly

  • Drafts without any planning and does little revising

  • Has trouble with organization and content for different forms of writing, like narratives and opinions

Middle school

  • Struggles to plan before writing and then use the plans

  • Focuses mostly on minor errors and corrections of wording when revising

  • Has a hard time writing more complex narratives about people’s experiences

  • Uses the same words over and over again

  • Struggles to write argumentative papers that back up claims or consider other options

High school

  • Tries to write longer, more complex sentences that end up being confusing

  • Comes up with a few ideas when asked to plan, but doesn’t make and follow an organized plan

  • Has trouble finding weaknesses in writing and revising the content and how it’s organized

  • When using sources in writing, has a hard time explaining the ideas from the sources and integrating ideas from multiple sources

  • Writes papers that are missing facts and detail


  • Makes basic grammar mistakes, like missing verbs or incorrect noun-verb agreement

  • Prefers to give spoken directions instead of written ones

  • Uses the same words over and over again

  • Misuses words or uses words with the wrong meaning

  • Writes rambling sentences and repeats ideas

Struggling with these skills can be very frustrating. But there are things that can help make writing easier. Kids and young adults may use assistive technology for writing, including graphic organizers. And adults may be able to get accommodations at work.

Parents and caregivers: Learn more about written expression disorder in children.


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