“Are there special writing challenges for children with ADHD?”

Writing Assignments Can Be Especially Difficult for Children Diagnosed with ADHD. Written language involves numerous cognitive processes that children with ADHD find challenging. For many children with ADHD, the writing process is seldom automatic. They often struggle to initiate written tasks because of their difficulties with executive function (neuropsychological process impacted in ADHD population) processes such as planning and defining the first step. In order to be successful in writing, a student needs to plan their thoughts in preparation for writing, a task that requires the ability to think flexibly.

Writing tasks also involves organization of one’s thoughts, spatial organization on a page, and using accurate syntax at the level of the sentence, and organizing thoughts or ideas to persuade the reader, as well as understanding and using the traditional structure of introduction, body, and conclusion in an essay. Children with ADHD are often challenged by all of the above processes.

Children with ADHD often forget to include headings or margins, and their cross-outs and erasures are not neat. They turn in papers that are not legible and must be returned, and they may forget what is required, or complete only part of the job. An important intervention to help minimize careless errors is to provide extra time for editing and rewards for doing this before handing in written work.

Children with ADHD are especially challenged in taking notes from the whiteboard while the teacher is giving directions or lecturing. Because of difficulties with divided attention, children with ADHD often have difficulty doing two things at the same time: e.g., listening and writing at the same time. Consequently, they will often fail to put down important information or assignments in their binder reminder.

In addition to the above difficulties, children with ADHD often are poor spellers. They are poor spellers because they are inattentive and don’t pay attention to detail. They are also not visually aware of patterns in words and are careless with their spelling and writing. They can have deficits in visual-sequential memory, causing difficulty recalling the letters and putting them down correctly on paper. They often have poor handwriting and are weak in mechanics and written organization (e.g., spacing on the page) and have tremendous difficulty with speed of written output. Their written work often has numerous erasures and is difficult to read.

The child without hyperactivity (ADHD-I) may be slower than the average child in doing paper-and-pencil tasks. This is supported by findings showing children with ADHD-I do worse on tests involving motor speed and eye-hand coordination. Children with ADHD, unlike children with ADHD-I, generally have trouble synchronizing motor movements with their fast-moving thoughts. They can produce interesting ideas with their thoughts, but their poor motor ability prevents them from keeping pace with their thoughts. Consequently, their writing is disorganized and does not represent their knowledge of the subject. Some children present these difficulties because of their impatience, so they need further evaluation to determine whether the problem is impatience or a visual-motor coordination problem.

They often find cursive writing so difficult that they prefer to print in class. Because they find neatness and speed difficult, they should be given the opportunity to learn proper computer keyboarding. This important skill can help compensate for their delays in speed and neatness. Learning the keyboard is especially important in upper grades. The computer or word processor can be an important tool for minimizing writing frustrations. A computer allows the child both the luxury of spell-check and a faster way to document ideas. Teachers should let children who do not have access to a computer or word processor dictate written homework to a parent rather than become overly frustrated and discouraged. One compromise is to ask the child to write one paragraph and allow the parent to write a paragraph. He can also record his answers on a tape recorder. This accommodation allows him to share his knowledge without being penalized for writing delays.

They often need additional time to complete written work. The difficulty they have with writing assignments has been well-documented, and accommodation often has to be provided in the classroom to address this concern.

Review and Tips
  • Children with ADHD often have great difficulty with written language assignments.
  • Schools are required to make accommodations for writing delays if they significantly affect a child’s academic performance.
  • Research demonstrates that writing tasks can be especially difficult. Provide additional time at home for writing tasks when your child uses paper and pencil, and help him learn keyboarding.
  • Because of difficulty with academic motivation, these children often put minimum effort or time into written assignments. Check your child’s work closely at home, and encourage him to spend a certain amount of time for review and editing of his written work. The school can support your efforts and reward him for his efforts.
  • A good note taker is assigned by the teacher to provide a copy of important written reminders for the child with ADHD. Also, the teacher can provide a copy of any lecture notes or assignments for the week. This assures that the child with ADHD is not penalized for poor note taking and inattentiveness.
  • Adolescents are more resistant to parental monitoring, so you may want to hire a tutor or have your child’s teachers reinforce self-editing of written work.