Experts actually disagree on the answer to this question. Both dysgraphia and disorder of written expression describe challenges related to writing. Many people use the terms interchangeably. But they might also use the terms to describe slightly different things.
How can you be sure what they mean? Ask the speaker to clarify. And don’t stop asking until you fully understand the explanation.
Here’s some background on the two terms and how they might be used by professionals.
Dysgraphia is generally considered the broader of the two terms. It’s sometimes used to describe a wide range of writing challenges. But dysgraphia is often used to refer to handwriting issues such as letter or word formation and other technical aspects of writing.
In contrast, many experts use the phrase “disorder of written expression” to describe students who struggle with the more conceptual aspects of writing. They may freeze up or have other difficulties that make it hard to organize their thoughts and express them effectively.
If you’re working with a psychologist or teacher who mentions one or both of these terms, be sure to ask them exactly what they mean. This will help you understand what they’re observing in your child. It can also point you to more effective ways to help your child.
For example, low-tech tools such as pencil grips and paper with raised lines may be useful to kids who struggle with handwriting. A keyboard or dictation software can also help.
For kids who have difficulty expressing their thoughts, there are simple tools such as mind maps and other kinds of graphic organizers.
But understanding your child’s issues is an important first step. So don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. If you’re not sure why someone is using the terms dysgraphia or disorder of written expression, remember that your question is one that even experts could easily debate among themselves!