Written Expression Disorder: Putting Thoughts on Paper

Health Writer

As we have discussed in previous posts, Written Expression Disorder, is common in children with ADHD. This learning disability impacts a child's ability in several different areas:   handwriting, spelling and putting thoughts down on paper. Executive functioning skills, such as planning, organization, analyzing, prioritizing and sequencing are all needed to be able to communication ideas and express thoughts on paper and many children with ADHD have deficits in executive functioning.

Writing is a process. In the pre-writing stage, students need to generate ideas, organize their thoughts as well as determine which style of writing should be used to best convey ideas, for example, a research paper would be written differently than a fictional story. Students with ADHD may find using mapping guides helpful. One such example would be drawing a wheel with spokes on the paper. The central idea is written in the middle of the wheel and supporting ideas on each of the spokes.

Organizational strategies help a student during the second phase: writing. During this stage the student will actually write down their thoughts. It may help if your child doesn't worry about spelling errors, grammar or sentence structure. Getting the thoughts in a logical order which convey their ideas is more important.

During the third stage of writing, editing and revising, the student works to correct any spelling and grammatical errors, as well as make sure the text is written in complete sentences and in a logical order. For students who are old enough to use a computer, spelling and grammar checks in word processing programs can help. As a parent, you may want to help your child with this final stage of the writing process.

Tips for Parents and Teachers

  • Help students brainstorm ideas, writing down every idea and then work to narrow down selections.
  • Have students talk out what they want to say. Many students with written expression disorder can clearly communicate orally but have a hard time writing down their ideas on paper. Having them talk our their ideas can help them organize their thoughts.
  • Have students dictate what they want to say into a tape recorder. They can then use the recording to type their writing, use speech-to-text software or have someone else transcribe the recording.
  • Use notecards, outlines, mapping and other graphic organizers. Have students write thoughts and ideas on one topic at a time. Once all the ideas have been written down, have your student break the ideas into categories (each category will be one paragraph.)
  • Have students read work aloud when revising their work. It may be easier to spot errors when hearing it spoken rather than reading it.
  • Provide extra time for writing assignments. It may be a good idea to have the first draft written well before the due date to allow the student and teacher to work on revising it together.
  • Provide two separate grades for written assignments - one for content and one for spelling/grammar.
  • Have students keep sentences simple to avoid grammatical errors. Long, complex sentences make grammar more difficult.


"Seven Facts About Learning Disabilities and Written Expression," Date Unknown, NCLD Editorial Team, National Center for Learning Disabilities

"Written Expression learning Disorder Treatment and Management," Updated 2011, Nov 21, Bettina E. Bernstein,  Medscape Reference

How to Reach and Teach Children with ADD/ADHD: Practical Techniques, Strategies and Interventions, 2005, Sandra   F. Reif, Jossey-Bass