Written expression is complex.

Expressing ideas in writing is hard! conveying ideas in writing requires a strong vocabulary, grammar, and syntax skills for good mechanics, in addition to critical thinking, executive function, and social language skills to convey thoughts and ideas. For those in high school or interested in pursuing higher education, good writing skills are essential.  However, many with language-based learning disabilities,  autism, ADHD, English language learners and English dialect speakers can struggle with acquiring strong writing skills.  Vocabulary grammar, syntax, semantics, critical thinking, perspective-taking, many executive function, and social skills are needed to successfully engage in the writing process.

Identifying Problems in Written Expression is Complex

Writing requires the integration of many skills and breakdown can occur at many places from the physical act of writing to generating ideas to writing mechanics. It is important to identify the specific area of break down. Can the student write a basic sentence that describes a picture? Can they convey a personal event? Are they able to use vocabulary effectively? Do they understand social interactions? Can they convey complex ideas verbally?  Sometimes teens and adults struggle with more than just the fundamental writing mechanics.

Written expression is complex for those with ADHD and high functioning autism

For many with ADHD and high functioning autism, writing can be challenging because of issues with language use.  Sometimes superior vocabulary can mask written language deficits. The use of high-level vocabulary may mask the fact that the idea or content is not original.  Other challenges include difficulty identifying the main idea, problems determining relevant information, rigid use of vocabulary, struggles with categorization which results in problems with organization, and planning. For example, when a writer does not understand the main idea the writing will lack a theme and will primarily consist of details or maybe tangential.  For those with ADHD and high functioning autism, writing problems do not usually follow common writing error patterns and therefore identification and support require a more nuanced error based approach. 

Written expression is complex for English Language Learners and English dialect users

Common writing problems such as decreased vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, are often seen in English Language Learners or students who speak a different English dialect often seen in African American families and first-generation college students.   “She seen,” or “She had seen?”  “We be running” or “We ran” both versions of these common sentences are used in verbal language today,  but only one form is accepted in written language. Writing breakdowns can occur at many levels for a variety of reasons from challenges with code-switching from a different English dialect to difficulties caused by developmental disorders like autism or ADHD. Good writing requires that writers have the capacity to organize and plan, anticipate the reader’s level of knowledge, create content, integrate grammar, syntax, and vocabulary at a high linguistic level which is difficult for many. ELL and English dialect learners benefit from a more traditional written language approach however, a decreased ability to practice at home and in their everyday life can make progress slow.