- Need to know: ADHD handwriting
- How does ADHD impact writing
- ADHD handwriting tools
- Inattention when writing with ADHD
- Making writing easier for people with ADHD
ADHD and handwriting
Children with ADHD have been found to use more cognitive effort to complete school tasks, projects and assessments, as they struggle to stay focused to learn and apply that knowledge.
Academic success is something that children with ADHD have to work harder at achieving than their peers. The neurobiology of these students doesn’t always shine under the structure of our early education system, which measures speed and memory over originality and curiosity.
How does ADHD impact writing?
Studies have found that as many as 65% of students diagnosed with ADHD may also meet criteria for a co-occurring learning disability in writing.
Written expression is a complex process that relies on the use and management of many skills including fine motor skills, and executive functions, a crucial set of skills performed by the brain to help us meet our goals. Research shows 89% of children with ADHD may have deficits in at least one executive function. This may impact a child:
- How they use their working memory to effectively process and store information
- Their ability to think flexibly so that they can adapt, shift and problem solve
- How well they can regulate their emotions and control their impulses
Executive functioning is critical to a child’s ability to write narratives, speeches, essays, and more. A child with ADHD may avoid school work and assignments that have writing components because they have difficulty with:
1. Focus and organisation
One of the primary challenges children with ADHD face when writing is maintaining focus and organisation. This affects their ability to plan, structure, and execute their writing assignments effectively. Although a child with ADHD has brilliant ideas and insight, it is common for them to struggle with keeping their thoughts organised in a coherent manner.
2. Working Memory
For many kids with ADHD working memory is not as efficient as their peers. Working memory is a limited resource and when a child with ADHD has to hold multiple things in mind like forming letters, spelling words, organising thoughts, some things often fall off. In writing, this might manifest as a tendency to write without structure, flowing from one idea to the next without connecting different ideas smoothly. It can lead to unfinished sentences, disjointed paragraphs, and an overall lack of clarity in their work.
3. Time Management
Children with ADHD often struggle with time management. They may underestimate the time required to complete writing tasks, leading to last-minute rushes and incomplete assignments. This not only affects the quality of their work but also adds stress to their academic lives.
4. Inattention when writing with ADHD
A common challenge is the difficulty in revising and proofreading their work. Children with ADHD might overlook typos, grammatical errors, and inconsistencies. This can affect the overall quality of their writing.
Why it’s important
Without the right support at home and in the classroom a child might start to lose confidence in their abilities, it can affect their mental health and result in them refusing to go to school. It’s crucial for parents, teachers, and caregivers to recognise that the difficulties a child with ADHD faces are not indicative of their intelligence but rather a part of their neurodivergence.
Signs your child needs support with their writing
Not all children with ADHD struggle with writing but if you notice the following signs, then it’s probably time to formulate a plan to help your child at home and advocate for support at school.
1. Inconsistent Quality
Writing from your child varies significantly in quality. They might produce work that is exceptionally well-done on one occasion and barely legible or incoherent on another. This inconsistency can be perplexing for you and their teachers, but it is often a reflection of how interested your child is in the topic.
Does your child struggle with procrastination, waiting until the last minute to start their assignments? This can be due to their difficulties in managing time and maintaining focus.
5. Lack of Planning
In many cases, children with ADHD may have limited pre-writing preparation or fail to create outlines. This lack of planning contributes to their struggles with organising their writing.
6. Impulsivity when writing with ADHD
Impulsivity can manifest as frequent, impulsive changes in topic or style within their writing. They might abruptly shift from one idea to another without a clear transition.
ADHD handwriting tools
How to help kids with ADHD improve their handwriting
We’ve collated practical ideas on how to help your child with ADHD become a more confident writer and effective learner:
Show understanding and patience
The first step in supporting children with ADHD is to understand that their writing difficulties are not indicative of a lack of effort or ability. It’s essential for educators and parents to exhibit patience and empathy.
Create a structured environment
Providing a structured environment with clear instructions, reminders and deadlines can help your child stay on track. The most important part is getting started – writing a headline is a start, or creating the document, or even picking a topic – every small step is a step forward.
Teach time management skills
Teaching time management skills, such as using planners or calendars, can help your child better estimate the time needed for their writing tasks. Breaking down writing tasks into smaller, manageable steps can make the process less overwhelming.
Offering guidance throughout the writing process can be immensely helpful. This includes assistance with brainstorming, outlining, and editing. Having a set of general introductory and transition sentences can also aid the process of writing. A checklist with simple items like: I have written a title, I have written an introduction telling the reader what the text is about, I have included adjectives, I have summarised all my points in my conclusion, etc.
Refine writing strategies
Explicitly teach specific writing strategies on how to plan a narrative/essay/story/etc and essential elements of composing a text. Talk to your child about what tools work for them. Visual thinkers might like to use diagrams and post-it notes, children who are better at retaining information auditorily might like to make up a song, a saying or acronym to remind them of the process, or your child might like to use a combination of techniques.
Teach self-editing techniques
Teach your child self-editing techniques, like reading their work out loud, using checklists for common errors, and revising in stages. These skills require practice and guidance to become part of their writing process, and you’ll need to help by signposting. For example you can ask questions like “now that you have written your first draft, what do you think is the next step?”
Give an example of done
Show your child what done looks like because not everyone can envision a finished product. A document that is similar to what your child needs to produce is a helpful reference that they can go back to as they write their own.
Support tools to improve your writing
- Text-to-speech – Text-to-speech technology, such as Otter and Google Docs’ Voice Typing, can help your child express their ideas more fluently. This technology converts spoken words into written text, allowing them to focus on the development of thoughts without being hindered by typing difficulties or the speed of writing.
- Grammar and spell checkers – Tools like Grammarly can assist your child with proofreading and editing. These types of applications provide real-time feedback on grammar, spelling, and writing style.
- Task management apps – Apps like Trello or Asana are great tools for organising assignments and deadlines. These tools offer visual task management, making it easier to track progress.
- Graphic organisers – Visual aids like mind maps and concept maps provide a structured way for your child to organise their thoughts before they start writing. Tools like MindMeister and XMind are excellent for this purpose.
Collaborate with the teacher
Ensure you advocate for an ILP/IEP then work with the teacher on classroom supports that focus on the following:
- Building confidence when writing with ADHD – focus on the positives for your child. There is nothing more motivating than feeling that you are doing something right.
- Supporting working memory – share the tools and strategies we listed in this article, they can also be used in the classroom.
- Increasing automaticity of handwriting and spelling – this will help by releasing availability of working memory to support the other processes needed for writing.
- Reducing cognitive load – all this means is that where possible the teacher should remove unnecessary information from a page, reduce tasks to smaller components, and make steps easy to read and understand.
- Removing environmental distractions – if your child gets easily distracted by noise, consider buying noise cancelling headphones for the classroom.
- Provide feedback on the process not on the final product – because we know the product is simply a reflection of the process, and the process can always be improved.
That’s a summary of points to consider when it comes to ADHD and handwriting.
- Using Self-Regulated Strategy Development for Written Expression with Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- A rapid systematic review of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and high order writing: Current findings and implications for intervention