My Child Has... Article

My Child Has...


Written Expression Disorder

What is written expression disorder?

Written expression disorder is a learning disorder in which a child's ability to communicate in writing is much poorer than average for his or her age, intelligence, and education. It is also called dysgraphia. This disorder is not common. It occurs about 3 times more often in boys than girls.

How does it occur?

Nobody knows what causes written expression disorder. Like other learning disorders, it occurs more in some families. It may also be tied to damage in certain parts of the brain.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms listed below must all be present for a child to be diagnosed with written expression disorder. If you child just has a hard time with spelling and poor handwriting, he or she does not have this disorder.

A child with disorder of written expression:

  • writes slowly
  • has poor handwriting
  • mixes up printing and writing, capital letters, and shapes of letters
  • makes grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes
  • leaves out words or letters in sentences and paragraphs
  • holds the pen or pencil very tight
  • has trouble putting thoughts on paper
  • talks to himself while writing

How is it diagnosed?

The symptoms of this disorder are usually noticed in first or second grade, when your child first starts writing. Your healthcare provider will ask about your child's symptoms and do a physical exam. Your child will have tests to rule out hearing and vision problems or other medical conditions.

Your child may be referred to a professional qualified to assess learning disorders. This professional will look at several types of writing your child has done. Your child will be evaluated to see if there are other problems such as ADHD or other learning disabilities. A psychiatrist may evaluate your child to see if medicine might help. The diagnosis is made based on the writing samples, test scores, information from teachers, and the information you and your child provide. The professional will then talk to you about a treatment plan.

How is it treated?

The treatment for this disorder consists of practicing writing skills and spending extra time on them at home and at school. Public schools are required to have special classes for children with learning disorders. Parents can be a part of treatment by helping their child work on these skills at home.

An important part of treatment for a child with disorder of written expression is increasing self-esteem through support and encouragement from family members, friends, and teachers. Praise your child for his or her efforts and for any gains, however small, in writing skills.

How long will the effects last?

This disorder rarely goes away on its own without treatment. Most children benefit from having a professional develop a plan for him or her.

Working on writing skills can help many children overcome this disorder. Those whose writing skills don't improve may find that their career choices as adults are limited.

What can I do to help my child?

  • Ask your child's school about testing your child for a learning disability.
  • Ask if your child can have more time for work which involves handwriting.
  • Learn as much as you can about your child's disorder, its symptoms, and ways to treat it. Most libraries and bookstores have books on learning disorders.
  • Spend time outside of school on writing exercises.
  • Find out what services are available through your school district or community to help improve writing skills.

Written by Psychiatric Professional Services, Inc.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-28
Last reviewed: 2010-12-02

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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