Learning Challenges

Words Will Never Hurt You

Kids with ADHD hate writing. Well, at least half of them do, according to research. And is it any wonder, considering the executive functions needed to generate ideas, outline, research, and physically write? Here, ADHD education expert Chris Dendy, M.S., shares her tips for making writing less painful.

A child smiles in class as he practices ADHD writing strategies
Child smiles in striped shirt writing with pencil
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Kids with ADHD 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. Children with ADHD 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.

A boy with ADHD using writing strategies in class
Boy writing with teacher behind him
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Allow Enough Time

Students with ADHD, especially those with the inattentive subtype, may take longer to process information — and they need writing strategies that accommodate this need. 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.

Boy with ADHD frustrated with writing assignment
Boy looking frustrated with writing assignment
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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.

[Self Test: Could My Child Have a Learning Disability?]

Two children with ADHD working on writing strategies in school
Two children writing in class
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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.

A boy with ADHD practicing writing strategies at home
Boy in green shirt writing with colored pens
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Set Up a Note System

Or, alternatively, set up a note system. Ask the student with ADHD 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.

A young girl with ADHD practicing writing strategies while lying on her bed
Girl in pink shirt writing on bed
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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.

Mother and son working together on writing strategies
Mother and son using laptop and writing on paper
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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.

[Free Download: 18 Writing Tricks for Students with ADHD]

Mother and daughter with ADHD working on writing strategies together after school
Mother and daughter doing homework with orange juice
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Flesh Out the Details

During the process, ask questions and refer to her brainstorming ideas 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.

Mother and son looking up ADHD writing strategies on laptop computer
Mother and son in green clothes looking at laptop computer
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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.

Boy with ADHD looking at camera while completing writing assignment
Mother and son red sweater writing
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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.

A father working with his teen daughter, who has ADHD, on her writing assignment
Father and teen daughter working on writing assignment
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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.

Children with ADHD learning writing strategies using tablets
Kids working on tablets
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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.

Girl with ADHD practicing writing strategies in school
Girl in orange writing
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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.

A young girl with ADHD pondering what writing strategies she wants to use
A young girl with ADHD pondering what writing strategies she wants to use
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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.

[Writing Made Easy: Tech Tools to the Rescue]