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Disorders of Written Expression


A child might be diagnosed with a disorder of written expression when they experience substantial difficulties with spelling, grammar, or an overall ability to communicate in writing.

Why it Matters

Writing is one of the hardest skills for a child to master because it requires multiple steps and multiple skills. A child must organize his or her thoughts, keep track of what he or she wants to say, remember how to spell each word, and keep track of grammar (capitalization, commas, periods, correct verb tense, etc.). As children get older, teachers often expect more and more writing – not just for language arts and spelling, but for social studies, science, and other subjects. Children are often asked to express their thoughts and ideas in writing and answer questions that require a sentence, paragraph, or even an essay to show what they have learned. Homework and worksheets also require writing. In the more advanced grades, it is expected that children will be able to take notes. Clearly, difficulties with written expression can impact a child in all subjects in school. Socially, with the increased use of email, texting, and other social media, written expression is taking a greater role.

How is it Diagnosed

Learning disabilities are identified using either the severe discrepancy model or the response to intervention (RTI) model. Please see the related article entitled “How are learning disabilities diagnosed?” for more information (link below).

Treatment and Accommodations

Since specific areas of difficulty can vary from child to child, treatments and accommodations can vary too. For example, one way to help a child with difficulties with the organizational aspects and structure of writing is to use a graphic organizer. Additionally, some children benefit from having a scribe (someone who physically writes down the child's spoken answers), using a computer, having extra time when taking tests, or completing writing assignments in an environment where they can speak their thoughts aloud. Depending on the child's needs, a speech-language therapist, special education teacher, or regular education teacher may work with the child.

Also, it is sometimes helpful to break writing assignments down into smaller parts: Monday, the assignment is to select 3 ideas. Tuesday, order the ideas, and Wednesday, write a sentence for each idea. Thursday, put the sentences into a cohesive paragraph. Friday, check for spelling. If a child is being graded on a subject outside of spelling, it might be helpful not to take off for spelling errors. If spelling is important, consider having the student spell words from memory and then check for accuracy, or group words according to letter/sound patterns when studying.

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.