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Ask our SEND expert: advice for reluctant writers

By Silja Turville
24 March 2021

Perhaps your child is struggling at school – and you’re tearing your hair out about how you can best support them to achieve as much as they possibly can. Or maybe they’ve already been diagnosed with a specific learning difficulty and you need help untangling a knotty issue. Talk Education’s SEND expert, Silja Turville, has all the answers and she’s here to help: email your SEND-related questions to talk@talkeducation.com and we’ll publish Silja’s response here (all questions will, of course, remain anonymous). 

As an educational consultant and neurodiversity coach focused on supporting families with children with additional needs, Silja is director of Acorn to Oak Education – and passionate about sharing her knowledge to help parents. She lives in London with her children and a very excitable Labradoodle. This week, Silja has advice for parents with a reluctant writer. 

My seven-year-old son is a very reluctant writer and will do all that is possible not to put pencil to paper. I have had concerns about his written work for several years, but I haven't acted upon them as I felt he was young and a boy and his understanding that writing was a ‘necessary evil’ would come. I have spent a considerable amount of time homeschooling him over the last year and my concerns continue – the battle with getting a written-work product out of him is really quite exhausting and very worrying.  

My son’s school has recommended that I send him for an assessment. Is this a sensible step? Do you have any recommendations for things I could do to support him at home? 


Silja: As you have been noticing specific difficulties over a period of time, it sounds like it would make sense for you to move forward to an educational-psychology assessment to understand what is happening. As a way to start the process, we would recommend writing down all the potential difficulties that you have noticed and that have been identified by the school, so you have a comprehensive list for the assessment. 

An assessment could help you with identifying the specific processing difficulty that is causing your son challenges. Difficulty with writing can be due to the thinking and processing involved – for example, with working memory – or due to literacy difficulties or even visual stress. It would also be good to understand whether there is a specific difficulty with writing or fine-motor skills. 

Difficulties with attention and concentration could be because of an issue with maintaining attention generally when the material is less interesting, although this could also be due to processing and working-memory challenges that can emerge if there is a specific difficulty with literacy. 

Sometimes learners do not meet a diagnostic threshold for a specific learning difficulty, but might still have sufficient difficulty in an area that it would be helpful to understand. With greater understanding it can then be possible to identify how best to provide support in school and at home.

Ideally, if you do go forward with an assessment, you would be able to have the educational psychologist talk with the school team or visit your son in school to see how he is doing there. Also, rather than only focusing on diagnostic assessments, which can be helpful, it would be beneficial to choose an educational psychologist who will provide details about the specific areas where there are difficulties – and identify the best strategies for your child to develop in that area, whether or not diagnostic thresholds are reached. 

In terms of reluctance to write, the typical advice would be to pick topics that are very much based upon the child’s interests. If this means writing about Minecraft or Star Wars, that is totally fine – the topic is less important than the use of language. You could also experiment with seeing if it is easier for your son to write creatively with a laptop rather than handwriting. Sometimes this can help to reduce the processing and organisation of fine-motor skills needed for writing and lower the level of challenge perceived by the child. However, an assessment would indicate how best to approach this area depending upon where the difficulty lies. 

If you get in touch with Talk Education’s SEND advisory team, we can recommend how to access combined educational-psychology and educational-provision reports that provide not only details of assessment outcomes but also personalised suggestions and recommendations for your child. In addition, we can recommend the right educational experts who would be available to liaise with your child’s school in greater depth to help them ensure that the correct provision is put in place.

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