Our 14 year old needs help communicating his thoughts and ideas


We have a 14 year old boy (9th grade) who excels at math, science, and music, but has a lot of trouble expressing his ideas and thoughts verbally and in writing.  If we ask him to explain something or describe something about his day, he gets frustrated with himself and says things like "I don't know how to explain it".  He has trouble turning his thoughts into a compelling story.  This is nothing new, as he has been this way since he was very young.  We just know that this will become a major problem for him as he starts to take classes that require him to write essays and term papers and when it comes time for him to write essays for college applications.  Can anyone recommend a way for us to help him work through this difficulty, be it a tutor, a therapist, or whatever?


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We had similar issues.  I'd recommend starting with getting a full neuropsych assessment.  If you can afford to do this privately, that is ideal, and I would recommend Dr. Liz Angoff most highly (we've been to several ed psychologists with our kids). If not, you can request this testing as part of an IEP assessment through your school district (even if you don't think or want him to qualify for an IEP, you can go through the assessment pre-IEP part, whether or not he's in public school). This neuropsych evaluation will tell you a lot about what's behind this difficulty for him, and the psychologist will make recommendations for how to work with whatever is going on. Since this process can take a while, if you want to get help in the meantime, you could also talk with an educational therapist who could do tutoring with him.  They will probably want to see a neuropsych but may be able to get started based on their own observations. I think there are several ed therapists recommended here on BPN.

The book, Childhood Speech, Language & Listening Problems by Patricia McAleer Hamaguchi would be a good reference in understanding your kid.  In particular, chapter 6 has a section called:  The “I don’t know how to explain it” child:  sequencing, referential, and divergent language problems.

My kid has been helped by getting very detailed writing instruction that is tailored to each task.  Using graphic organizers are helpful, but not enough.  Getting years of instruction based on gradual release / I do-We do- you do writing instruction has been very helpful.  Unfortunately, we had to move out of California to find schools that teach this way.  It is not the way that California teachers provide instruction.

My 7th grade boy sounds very similar. We think he has some undiagnosed learning disability/ies but in the meantime we have had him working with a writing coach, in our case Kristin Hawkinson, and it has helped as far as written expression. He still has a ways to go though! Your son is not the only boy like that.

The only way to learn to write is to write. He needs to write every day. Choose a topic. Music or science would be fine. But he could also write about the pandemic, fashion, politics, food, whatever. Maybe a blog would work. Best of all is both reading and writing. Novels are good, but there are many other choices. Have him read a chapter, summarize it. Then write down his thoughts about the story, the characters, or what he learned. One page every day. If you read the same book so that you can discuss it, even better. Don't criticize the writing. Praise every effort. Help him if he asks for help. Good luck. 

My son is also 14 now, a freshman at BHS. He had a very difficult time explaining his ideas and putting them together in order. I decided to go for an assessment which explained his difficulties, he needs special accommodations (additional time mostly) to be able to complete his assignments. One of the recommendations we got was to have him work with a writing coach. He has been working with a wonderful, very capable coach for the last 2 years. Her name is Jamie Keller M. Ed, Educational Therapist/Professional 510 524 8697 office , 510 847 2505 cell  www.LearnWithMe.com, I highly recommend her. My son has improved a lot thanks to all the work he's done with Jamie.