Published on ADDitudeMag.com

The Write Stuff: Helping Your ADHD/LD Child with Written Expression

Kids with attention and learning problems may overflow with creative ideas -- but struggle to get them down on paper. These tips will streamline the writing process while making it fun.

By Chris Zeigler Dendy, M.S.

ADHD Kids Struggle with Writing

Studies suggest that more than half of children with ADHD struggle with writing. Despite an overflow of creative ideas, they struggle when it comes to getting these ideas down on paper.  ADHD children have a hard time getting started, picking essay topics, locating appropriate resources, holding information in their memory,  organizing and sequencing the material, and getting it down on paper— all before they forget what they wanted to say.

Allow Enough Time

Students with ADHD, especially those with the inattentive subtype, may take longer to process information. Be sure to make sure your child has extended time to complete written assignments as an IEP or 504 accommodation.  Alternatively, ask the teacher to consider a shorter assignment.

Help Topic Selection

Children with attention or learning difficulties have a tough time narrowing down choices and making decisions. Students who get stuck trying to pick an essay topic may use up all their time and energy before they even start writing. Help your child by listening to all of his ideas and writing down three or four of his topics on cards. Next, review them and have him eliminate each topic, one by one — until only the winner is left. If he can't decide, flip a coin.

Teach Brainstorming Skills

Because children with attention or learning problems often cannot hold their ideas in mind for very long, you might serve as a “scribe” and record ALL the student's thoughts on the assigned topic. Let them brainstorm and avoid making judgments or grammatical corrections, since that would interrupt the flow of ideas. The trick is to capture all the ideas first and correct or edit them later.

Set Up a Note System

Or, alternatively, set up a note system. Ask the ADHD student to write her notes about a topic on individual sticky notes. That makes it easy to spread out and group the notes together that feature similar ideas so she'll be able to easily identify the major concepts of the subject from the groupings.

Organize Ideas Visually

To organize, and sequence those thoughts and ideas consider using a graphic organizer such as a mind map: Write the main idea in a box in the center of the page and surround it with bubbles containing subtopics and supporting ideas. This helps organize her thoughts when it’s time to write.

He Talks, You Type

If your child is struggling to start writing, sit down with him to talk about the assignment. Review his notes from the brainstorming session and ask, “How you could write the first sentence in the second paragraph?” If he doesn't have an answer, say, “Here’s an idea for the first sentence. How would you write that in your own words?” To prevent writer's block, type his thoughts as he expresses them. His skills will improve over time and require less involvement on your part.

Flesh Out the Details

During the process, ask questions and refer to her brainstorming deas to stay on topic.  Once the main part of the essay is complete, you might give one instruction at a time -- write an exciting opening sentence, for example, or describe the setting in greater detail -- and have her fill in the rest.

Go Digital

Chidren with attention and learning difficulties often write more slowly than their classmates. Encourage your child to start the writing process on a computer. This way, she'll keep her work organized and won't misplace her essay or assignment before it's finished. Also, by working on the computer, she can easily rearrange the order of sentences and paragraphs in a second draft.

Help Add Details

Your child may have a hard time writing to length and may produce essays that are too short and lacking in details. Explain how the use of adjectives and adverbs can enhance his or her composition. Show your child how to use a thesaurus, too.

Have Her Say Words as She Writes Them

Auditory feedback helps students with ADHD and learning difficulties stay focused and monitor their efforts. Children are less likely to miss errors in their work if they hear their writing spoken aloud.

Tap into Tech

Ease writing challenges by using language disability friendly software. Speech-recognition programs allow students to read aloud into a microphone and see their words appear on a computer screen. Word-prediction software helps with spelling and builds vocabulary, providing a drop-down list of words from which a student can choose.

Edit, Polish, and Revise

This is often the most difficult task for many students with learning challenges because they tend to "read" what they intended rather than what they wrote. Use one of these mnemonics to focus a child’s efforts:  

> COPS -- Capitalization, Organization, Punctuation, Spelling  
> C-SOOPS -- Capitalization, Sentence Structure, Organization, Overall format, Punctuation, Spelling  

A child should go through his assignment multiple times, focusing on one of these components at a time.

Encourage Writing at Home

Have your child write down his thoughts about outings to the movies, visits with relatives, or trips to museums in a journal. Add some fun to the activity by asking your child to e-mail you his thoughts or text-message you from his cell phone.

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