Signs & Symptoms


Is your child having trouble writing?

Writing is a major part of literacy and academic life. Struggles with writing can be crippling in school. It may be that your child loves school in general but refuses to write. He or she may study hard, but still fail spelling tests.

You may wonder about your child’s memory because you practice and practice the spelling words, but she just can’t remember the words. Your child may cry every time a writing task is assigned for homework. It may be that your child does fine with writing fiction, but has difficulty writing a personal narrative or nonfiction to save his life.

Alternatively, your child may write well conceptually, but has poor grammar or punctuation. It may be that your child has poor handwriting, and although there may be good content there, no one can read it for lack of legibility.

Your child may want writing tasks to look perfect, changing her words until a hole is erased through the paper. Or it might be that your child produces minimal writing, turning in partially completed papers that are full of errors. He or she may refuse to edit work.

When you try to help your child with writing, she may become very resistant, saying, “It’s fine like it is! Our teacher told us we don’t have to fix it!”

What do challenges with Writing look like?

  • Hating writing?
  • Having meltdowns over writing homework?
  • Coming unglued over having to write a personal narrative?
  • Having difficulty completing writing work in class?
  • Requiring lots of help to write every sentence?
  • Feeling lost on what to write about?
  • Easily feeling frustrated; wrinkling up paper or erasing holes in it?
  • Failing spelling tests?
  • Sitting at the table for a long time but producing very little writing?
  • Getting good grades in math but falling behind in language arts?

Why is Writing happening?

Writing is the ability to formulate and organize ideas into a written product. If writing is a concern, a person may struggle to generate an idea to write about, to come up with a main point and to put the idea on paper. The clinical problem here can be what is called “symbol recognition.” People who struggle to visually see the symbols on a page have difficulties in both reading and writing. They often mistake “b” for “d” or “p” for “q.” This difficulty can be the reason a child can practice for hours the night before, and then forget all the words, failing the spelling test. Many of us have the experience of looking at a word and thinking, “I know that’s the right spelling, but it just doesn’t look right.” People with learning disabilities have this problem all the time. Other writing issues can be related to thinking of what to write about (idea generation), organizing their thoughts, and getting the thoughts down on paper. Because writing requires so many skills to work together at once, it can be hard for many students.

How can I manage Writing at home?

Writing skills are extremely important, and problems often require remediation. If your child is truly struggling to get words on the page, intervene early and often. Be patient, and don’t give up.

Reading problems: Children who struggle with the symbols needed for writing will also have trouble with reading.

In that case, intervention is needed. This help may come in the form of outside tutoring that uses a model like Lindamood-Bell or Orton-Gillingham. These multi-sensory approaches help your child learn how to see and visually represent letters and words. This help may also come from the school through special education services at school.

Handwriting problems: A child with poor handwriting may have a fine motor issue that is getting in the way of his writing. If your child is in the second grade and still struggles to form letters correctly, this is a red flag for fine motor problems.

Sometimes, a child is simply being sloppy or rushing through tasks, which is not necessarily indicative of a fine motor problem. However, if your child is working long and hard, and the work is still illegible, fine motor skills should be considered. An occupational therapist, either in the school or private setting, can help with handwriting.

If your child struggles after intensive intervention, into the third grade or above, you may consider requesting a 504 plan from your school that includes a chance to type, rather than handwrite, the written tasks in school.

Use caution with this approach, however, as it is important for your child to keep practicing writing. Regardless, writing is a part of literacy and must be coached and practiced until your child finds success with it.

Expressive language problems: If the issues are with expressive language, a speech therapist, either at school or in the community, may help your child learn how to use the correct words and logical sentences to express his or her ideas.

Narrative coherence is storytelling. Expressive language problems may go hand-in-hand with narrative coherence because children who struggle to express themselves will also not be good story-tellers.

Your kindergartner or first grader may have trouble telling good stories, but if your 8-10-year-old child is still struggling to tell a sensible story, this is a concern that should be addressed. A special education teacher may be needed to help your child with storytelling and writing. If significant issues with narrative coherence are present, especially when there are academic strengths, it may be necessary to consider a psychological evaluation.

Executive functions. Writing requires kids to be good at initiating (getting started). Your child may get stuck before he even writes the first word; he may be paralyzed by the uncertainty of how to begin.

Children with poor organizational skills and planning abilities tend to struggle with writing. Your child may not pay attention long enough to complete writing tasks. In that case, a full evaluation may be needed to determine whether a disability underlies your child’s challenges.

Talk to your school about your child’s problems in writing. Your child scoring below the 12th percentile or approximately two grade levels behind peers may qualify him for special education services.

However, writing is considered an emerging skill in younger children. If your child is in kindergarten or first grade, most schools will wait to test a child for special education. The school may prefer to try interventions and supports within the classroom first.

If your child still struggles significantly with writing into the second or third grade, even with intervention, it is time to request an evaluation at school. It is not enough to be good at other subjects; your child needs to learn to be a good writer too. As a parent, advocate to get the right help for your child.

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Writing?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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