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Written Expression Disorder

What is a disorder of written expression?

Students with written expression disorder have a problem with their writing skills. Their writing skills are significantly below what is normal considering the student's age, intelligence, and education. The poor writing skills cause problems with the student's academic success or other important areas of life.

What signs are associated with a disorder of written expression?

Signs associated with a disorder of written expression include:

  • Written sentences and paragraphs that are inadequately formed
  • Excessive spelling errors
  • Excessive punctuation errors
  • Excessive grammatical errors
  • Extremely poor handwriting

Students who suffer from a disorder of written expression frequently have:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Social problems
  • Increased dropout rate at school

Disorder of written expression may also be associated with:

  • Conduct disorder
  • ADD and ADHD
  • Depression
  • Other learning disorders

Does this disorder affect both males and females?

Boys are found to have the disorder much more frequently than girls.

At what age does a disorder of written expression appear?

The disorder of written expression is usually brought to the attention of the child's parents in the fourth or fifth grade when writing skills become a very important part of the classroom experience. Because of a child's immature motor skills, the diagnosis of written expression disorder is usually not made before the child is at least eight (8) years old.

How often is the disorder of written expression seen in our society?

About five percent (5%) of students in the United States are thought to have written expression disorder.

How is written expression disorder diagnosed?

The students written work contains errors including:

  • spelling
  • grammatics
  • punctuation
  • sentence and paragraph organization

They also have very poor handwriting including:

  • letters of the alphabet that are reversed
  • letters of the alphabet that are rotated
  • letters of the alphabet that are unrecognizable
  • random mixture of cursive and printed letters

Because standardized group testing is not accurate enough to diagnose this disorder, it is very important that special psychoeducational tests be individually administered to the child to determine if a learning disorder is present. Special attention must be given to the child's ethnic and cultural background by the student's examiner.

How is a disorder of written expression treated?

Although educators attempt to intervene, there is no proven effective treatment for the disorder of written expression. Emphasis on the remedial teaching of writing and a heavy emphasis on student practice of writing may be helpful.

What happens to someone with a disorder of written expression?

With or without treatment, the disorder of written expression will gradually improve. However, even when good help is available, the student tends to have chronic problems with writing skills.

What can people do if they need help?

If you, a friend, or a family member would like more information and you have a therapist or a physician, please discuss your concerns with that person.

Developed by John L. Miller, MD
Page last modified or reviewed on January 24, 2014