Specific Learning Disorder in Written Expression

Under new diagnostic criteria (DSM-V), a disorder of written expression is now referred under the umbrella term of Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) with an impairment in Written Expression. Diagnosis of any SLD is followed by a description of the specific area(s) of impairment a child presents with, and is established through a clinical evaluation of the individual’s developmental, medical, educational, and family history, analysis of test measures and clinical observations. In the case of SLD in written expression, learning difficulties begin during school-age years but may not fully manifest until the demands of writing exceeds the individual’s limited capacities (e.g. timed tests, reading or writing lengthy reports under time constraints, heavy academic loads). In addition, learning difficulties cannot be better accounted for by intellectual disabilities, trouble with visual or auditory acuity, other neurological disorders, and psychosocial adversity among others. These specific learning difficulties must be evident during formal years of schooling, classified to be well below the expected age average and must significantly impede on academic achievement, occupational performance and daily living.

Writing integrates and requires a complex set of fine motor and language processing skills. The process of writing encompasses cognition, language and motor skills (Baker & Hubbard, 1995). In order to produce letters onto a piece of paper, we must be able to firstly retrieve required information from our memory and organize it accordingly. The mechanics of getting words onto paper then requires a graphomotor component, which dictates pencil grip and the precision of movements our hands need to make to produce letters. Simultaneously, we have to ensure appropriate usage of capitalization, punctuation, spelling, vocabulary, sentence structure and fluency of text written. Children with a SLD in written expression may demonstrate persistent difficulties in one or multiple aspect(s) of the writing process described. For instance, they may produce legible hand- writing or spelling but find it hard to organise and sequence their ideas. Due to the integrative nature of writing, difficulties in one component often impedes development in other areas (Bernstein, 2013).

For more information on SLD in Written Expression, such as common associated symptoms and what we can do to support children with writing difficulties, please refer to our information sheet below: