Helping ADHD Students With Writing

Many years ago, we attended a talk by a renowned specialist on Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder. One significant take-away from his talk was that students with AD/HD experience challenges with getting their ideas out from their brain, through their arms, and onto the paper. One of us had witnessed this in her own child. He had strong verbal skills, however his writing did not reflect this ability. When he had to do his own writing, what he wrote was very simple, not at grade level, done hastily, with barely legible handwriting. When she was his scribe and dictated to her, what he was able to impart was above grade level, and was much more reflective of his abilities.

So, the question of why some children – people – with AD/HD experience difficulties with writing is an appropriate one. The answer is that writing or written language involves the ability to organize one’s thoughts, spatial organization on a page, and the ability to use correct syntax to convey ideas to the reader. In addition, a person has to have an understanding and the ability to use the traditional structure of introduction, body, and conclusion in an essay. Children with AD/HD are often challenged by all of these tasks. In addition, students with AD/HD often have poor handwriting indicating weakness in mechanics and written organization, e.g. such as spacing on the page, as well as have difficulty with speed of written output. Their written work often has numerous erasures and is difficult to read.

The complex tasks of writing relies on executive functioning skills, which, for many people with AD/HD are weak. Often, a person with AD/HD may think faster than he/she can write. Students with executive function weaknesses have difficulty with defining the steps to take when writing. In order to be successful in writing, a student needs to plan his/her thoughts when preparing for writing, which is a task that requires the ability to think flexibly. Students with AD/HD do produce interesting ideas with their thoughts, but poor ability in one or more of the aforementioned skills prevents them from keeping pace with their thoughts. Consequently, their writing is disorganized and does not represent their knowledge of the subject.

So, what can be done? The answer to this question offers several options for facilitating the writing process. As mentioned in the introduction, using a scribe or allowing the student to dictate is one accommodation. For younger students, simple graphic organizers work well. There are a variety of graphic organizers available for free online to help with the steps and organization in writing. Another solution is using a word processor for composition. Learning to keyboard well can greatly facilitate written expression and is something we highly recommend. Inspiration, a mind-mapping, graphic organizing program is available for the PC and iPad and enables students to treat the organization of their writing as a completely separate step. Additionally, voice-activated word processing tools are available for the computer and iPad. These work well for in-class note taking for older students and adults.

Writing and written language will always be important and a requirement for success in school, and, for that matter, in many walks of life. Even math course work with the Common Core requires written expression to explain how the solution to a problem was found. Tools and accommodations to facilitate the writing process is one of the best ways to ensure academic success for students with, or without AD/HD.

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