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Disorder of Written Expression


The ability to express one's ideas in writing is considered by many to be the highest and most complex form of human communication.  To be able to write well, an individual must be able to translate his or her thoughts into carefully sequenced words and to record those words onto paper.

Broadly defined, Disorder of Written Expression is impairment in the ability to write.  Originally this term was used to describe the physical inability to put letters or words on paper.  The concept of Disorder of Written Expression is now often expanded to include any serious processing problem with writing.  Specific areas of learning disability included in Disorder of Written Expression are spelling and written expression.

One of the best indicators of Disorder of Written Expression, whether in isolation or in combination with other difficulties, is the inability of the individual to copy what he/she sees, whether it be geometric designs, letters, numbers, or words.

Causes and/or History


A Disorder of Written Expression involves neurological processing problems and is more than a lack of either motivation by the student or good instruction by the teacher or tutor. 

Writing disabilities are usually "secondary" disorders that are the results of a "primary" disability in visual processing, auditory processing, or a combination of the two.  But a writing disability could also be the result of a memory disability or a reasoning impairment, or could in fact be the only disability the individual possesses.

Scientifically speaking, Disorder of Written Expression is classified as one of three "disturbances" in writing.  The other two, recall deficits and formulative/syntactic deficits, have to do with the inability of the individual to get his/her "thoughts" on paper, to arrange his/her writings in a logical order, and/or to spell words correctly.  Recall deficits and formulative/syntactic deficits are usually secondary disabilities that occur due to a primary disability in visual processing, auditory processing, or a combination of the two. 

Disorder of Written Expression, however, is actually a disturbance of the ability to learn the appropriate motor patterns for the "act of writing."  The problem may be so severe that pencil grasp cannot be achieved or may be so mild that the individual's writing simply looks immature and awkward.  Disorder of Written Expression is a highly specific problem and may occur in the absence of any other learning disabilities.  Therefore, technically, clear-cut cases of Disorder of Written Expression are not commonly encountered.  They are more frequently found in combination with spatial organization disorders and other visual-motor disorders.  The learning disability known as Disorder of Written Expression, then, includes any disorder which restricts a student's ability to record his/her thoughts clearly in writing.

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Even a superficial description of the writing task emphasizes its complexity.  For a student to put a personal experience into written code or writing, that person must pull the event from memory storage, hold the memory in mind, and order the events of the memory in sequence and relationships.  Then the person must recall the language or words on paper.  Next the correct form of each letter must be selected as well as the proper composition of the letters and their sequence.  This process description does not include such things as punctuation, capitalization, or the many other grammatical requirements of writing.  As one can see, the integration of mind, eye, and hand is infinitely complex. 

Individuals with neurological processing problems in any area are greatly handicapped in accomplishing an acceptable written product.  Problems with any form of language, such as listening, speaking and reading, will be reflected in the written form.  Thus, Disorder of Written Expression is frequently present with other learning disabilities such as Reading Disorder.

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