What Is a “Disorder of Written Expression” and How Do I Help My Child?

written by: Eagle Hill School
Disorder of written expression, often conflated with “dysgraphia” (which we will cover later), is a phrase used to describe students who have difficulty with the conceptual aspects of writing; for example, issues that extend beyond handwriting or sentence formulation.

To elaborate, many researchers think of a disorder of written expression as a combination of poor handwriting, below-average punctuation and grammar, jumbled sentence composition, and general difficulty organizing thoughts into coherent messages when writing.

As you can see, this is a fairly broad categorization and overlaps with several other disabilities (such as dysgraphia). However, a true disorder of written expression is typically classified as one so severe that it interferes with daily life for a child.

Signs and Symptoms

The severity of these disorders can range wildly, so telltale signs are more prevalent in some children than others. However, there are some standard symptoms and signs that parents and educators can watch out for.
  • In younger children (preschool and kindergarten) a disorder of written expression may manifest itself in trouble with phonics (i.e., word recognition).
  • Other children are only identified to have a disorder a bit later on when they begin exhibiting reading troubles in higher grades—this typically becomes evident when the reading material increases in density.
  • Oftentimes persistent poor scores on reading comprehension tests or in classes where reading is paramount is another indicator that a child could have a disorder of written expression.
None of these symptoms necessarily mean that your child has this disorder, rather, they can be used to help identify whether the issue exists or not in a larger context.

What Can I Do to Help?

Like any other learning disability, a disorder of written expression is going to require help from a professional. We’ve compiled a checklist below of steps parents can take to start getting help for their child.
  • Get a Diagnosis. The first step toward determining what kind of help your child needs is determining exactly what issues plague them, and where those issues stem from. Having your child tested and screened can occur both inside an educational institution and privately. Speak to your child’s counselor about who the right people are to connect with.
  • Find the Right Help. There are several methodologies that can serve as the basis of help for your child. A few are Cooperative Integrated Reading and CompositionDyslexia Training ProgramEnhanced Proactive Reading, and the Barton Reading and Spelling System. Make sure that you work with a professional to determine what program might be right for your child.
  • Stay Sane. Keeping yourself grounded is as important as seeking out the right help for your child. If you can’t provide stability and reassurance while your child is struggling, it will only add to the problem. Consider speaking with a counselor about what parents can do to be a source of reason and comfort when their children are struggling.
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Learning Diversity is a blog hosted by Eagle Hill School where educators, students, and other members of the LD community regularly contribute posts and critical essays about learning and living in spaces that privilege the inevitability of human diversity.

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