In today’s world, it is easy to feel inundated with often frightening information about ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia and other “learning disabilities.” One that flies under the radar is Disorder of Written Expression. Easily confused with simple and correctable weaknesses like poor penmanship, this disorder affects many students. The good news is we are have a lot of information and resources that can help us to identify the symptoms and help us to approach the disorder effectively.
What it is:
Disorder of Written Expression entails deficits in “spelling accuracy, grammar and punctuation accuracy, and clarity or organization of written expression.”*
How to identify it:
We often hear parents say that their child has trouble organizing his thoughts while writing or that he is weak in writing but strong in other academic areas. This disorder may be difficult to identify, particularly because it can occur in the absence of a reading disorder. This complicates matters because we tend to lump reading and writing problems together. However, we have often seen students, for example, who have excelled in standardized test reading scores while struggling with the essay component. It can be confusing but there are key factors to look for if you suspect that your student may fit the category of a written expression disorder:
- Writing skills, as measured by tests and assessments are substantially below those expected given the person’s chronological age, measured intelligence, and age-appropriate education.
- The disturbance significantly interferes with academic achievement or activities of daily living that require the composition of written texts.
- If a sensory deficit is present, the difficulties in writing skills are in excess of those usually associated with it.
Bear in mind that simple spelling errors, poor paragraph organization or sloppy handwriting do not necessarily indicate Disorder of Written Expression. The criteria listed above is broad and it is important not to jump to the conclusion that any student who exhibits any of the above symptoms has the disorder. Some students simply require additional coaching in basics of grammar, paragraph organization, outlining, and revising. Your teacher, counselor or tutor can help you in differentiating and recommending how to proceed.
What to do:
If you believe that your child or student fits the criteria for Disorder of Written Expression, there are steps you can take to ensure that you not only receive an accurate diagnosis, but that you also attack the problem from all possible angles:
- Find a professional: The most important starting point is to find a professional who can diagnose and either treat or refer you to someone who can treat the disorder. Testing to see if your child meets the criteria for a diagnosis should be your first step. Word of mouth from other parents or teachers may help you locate a person who can administer the testing. You can find more information regarding educational testing, the different types of tests, and what to expect from them here:
If you have received a diagnosis and are seeking an educational therapist or professional, here is a good starting point to help locate the right person:
Of course, you should also ask around to find out if others in your community can recommend a professional with whom they have experienced success.
- Let the school know: Once you have received confirmation that your child meets the criteria for Disorder of Written Expression, it is important to let the school and any standardized test maker know and to provide them with the paperwork they need in order to secure accommodations such as extended time. Contact your school’s guidance office to find out what steps you need to take to ensure your child receives the necessary assistance. You should also contact standardized test makers ASAP, as securing accommodations can take time. In fact, both the
SAT and ACT require you to fill out an application and provide documentation. They can sometimes take months to approve your application so be sure to contact your school’s guidance office immediately in order to have everything in line for when you take the test.
To find out more about receiving help for the SAT, look here:
For the ACT’s requirements on extended time, see:
- Remember that you are not alone: According to recent research, “the prevalence of a specific learning disorder across the academic domains of reading, writing, and mathematics is 5% – 15% among school-age children.”* Clearly, this is a common roadblock for students, and schools and standardized test makes offer many accommodations that can make things easier. In addition, you can seek out help within your community and online. There are numerous online support groups from which you can glean helpful information and connect with other parents and teachers:
*Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 2013.
Written by Phil Lane
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