Learning Challenges

Help the Words Flow

Do your child’s great ideas get lost in his ADHD brain before they hit the page? Teach him to express himself through the written word with these simple strategies.

Organize thoughts and when writing with ADHD
Organize thoughts and when writing with ADHD

Written expression is a major problem for many students with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). One study showed that 65 percent of students with the condition have trouble writing essays or finishing written assignments. The following strategies will help your child express himself on paper or the computer.

Writing Tools for Teachers

> Keep the student moving forward. For many students with ADHD, selecting a topic is often a challenge. Many are emotionally exhausted before they begin writing the essay. To counter this, assign the same writing topic to the entire class. The assignment might be “My favorite place I’ve been.” Write on the board what each student “sees, hears, and smells” at his favorite place. This gives those with ADHD some ideas to get started.

> Expand the student’s knowledge about a subject. If a student doesn’t know a lot about an assigned essay topic, have her list the things she does know. Then work with her to create a graphic organizer to generate more information and organize her thoughts. The student can start with a two-column chart that lists “what I know” and “what I’ve learned” about the topic. Next, have the student browse through websites or talk with classmates to add more information.

[Free Resource: 18 Writing Tricks for Kids with ADHD]

> Nail down ideas. Allow the student to dictate ideas to an assigned scribe, or use speech-to-text software, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, or a tape recorder.

> Demonstrate essay writing. The teacher, with input from students, should write an essay in class on an overhead projector or a white board. The teacher asks students to supply three main ideas, and three details that support each idea. Kids with ADHD do better when they see the teacher work on a task.

> Create a poster of colorful phrases or use graphic organizers. Forbid the use of “be” words — “is,” “was,” and “were” — in the essay, so that students have to select more interesting verbs. They may find it helpful to refer to “The Royal Order of Adjectives” graphic organizer.

> Be flexible. If a student is a good artist but can’t get words down on paper, then let him draw sequential pictures telling his story. Next, ask him to either write about or tell you about each picture.

[How Parents Can Help Kids Conquer Writer’s Block]

> Use tech to get words flowing. Because kids with ADHD struggle with handwriting, allow them to use assistive technology, laptop computers, or PCs available in the school computer lab. Editing and revising sentences and paragraphs are easier on a computer.

> Organize content. Students with attention problems move from one topic to another to another within the same paragraph. One way to help is to ask them to cut the essay into parts, attaching the topic sentence for each paragraph to a separate page, and having him complete that paragraph before tackling another.

Writing Pointers for Parents

> Finalize an essay topic. If your child can’t choose an essay topic, ask questions to help him narrow his selection. “Which of these five topics are most interesting to you? Pick two.” Minimize time spent on topic selection, so your child can move on to gathering ideas and writing the essay.

> Brainstorm. Once the topic is selected, ask him for all the ideas he thinks might be related to it. Write the ideas on sticky notes, so he can cluster them together later in the paragraphs. He can cut and paste the ideas into a logical sequence on the computer.

[The “Write” Assistive Tech to Close the Learning Gap]

> Be a digital scribe. Ask your child to suggest three to five supporting details under each main idea. Type his ideas on the computer as he generates them. If he has difficulty generating facts for each idea, give him time to do an Internet search.

> Encourage him to dress up his sentences. Make a word list or word bank at home of overused, dull words (1-cent words) to be traded in for more interesting words (10-cent and 25-cent words). For instance, substitute “race” or “dash” for “run.”