Signs You Might Have Written Expression Disorder


Jul 1, 2022
young man trying to write outside with written expression disorder

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You sit down to complete an assignment for school. You have all the necessary material in your head and feel pretty confident in your knowledge. However, when your fingers hover over the keyboard, your perfect plan becomes a mushy mess. Ideas that seemed so simple before suddenly float into oblivion, leaving you confused and frustrated. If this feels familiar, you might have written expression disorder. 

What Is Written Expression Disorder?

Written expression disorders are relatively common, affecting 3-10% of school-aged children. Contrary to popular belief, this learning disability doesn’t affect intelligence. Those who experience a disorder of written expression might be able to make very logical and well-thought-out arguments verbally but fail to get them down. 

It affects the ability to write cohesive sentences, stories, and papers to the point where it affects school or job performance. Writing expression disorder also often co-occurs with ADHD and dyslexia, making diagnosis and accommodations more complicated.  

Are Dysgraphia and Written Expression Disorder the Same?

Though both learning disabilities affect the ability to write well, these two are quite different. Dysgraphia affects the appearance of your handwriting. Word and letter spacing are often inconsistent. Frequently, people with dysgraphia will misspell words or leave some out entirely.

While the frustration of written expression disorder can lead to some visible symptoms of dysgraphia, they aren’t the same. Rather, it creates difficulty framing thoughts and ideas into written words.  

broken pencil on notebook a symptom of written expression disorders

Common Symptoms

Written expression disorder doesn’t look exactly the same for everyone, but certain symptoms tend to show up frequently in their writing.

  1. Incomplete sentences or paragraphs
  2. Stories with missing elements — like a climax or resolution
  3. Incorrect word usage
  4. Missing verbs or nouns in sentences
  5. Paragraphs and papers that lack organization
  6. Reliance on the same words again and again
  7. Missing important details 
  8. Slow typing and writing 
  9. Struggling to the point of affecting academics and real life

How Can I Get a Diagnosis?

Diagnosing written expression disorder separate from other similar or co-occurring learning disabilities can be difficult. At this time, there’s no specific test that evaluates for it, but there are some that may be helpful in coming to a diagnosis. These options require written responses of varying lengths to assess your:

  • Sentence and paragraph structure 
  • Spelling 
  • Handwriting 
  • Typing skills
  • Spelling, mechanics, and grammar
  • Creative writing 
  • Essay writing
  • Writing fluency

Students in elementary through high school receive free testing for learning disabilities. Once you’re an adult in college or the workplace, you’ll have to opt for private testing to get a diagnosis, which can be costly. However, some universities offer free or reduced testing through their psychology department or student services. 

young man taking a test to evaluate for disorder of written expression

Overcoming Written Expression Disorder

There’s no absolute cure for written expression disorder, but you’ll find hacks along the way that can make the writing process easier for you. The easiest way to improve your writing is to give yourself plenty of time for multiple drafts. Also, if this is a very important assignment, you should plan to have a few trusted people look over your work. They’ll be more likely to notice errors with continuity and cohesion. 

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