Strategies to Improve Writing Skills in Students With ADHD

Close-Up Of Person Writing In Book

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Students with ADHD often have really wonderful, creative ideas. Getting these ideas and thoughts down on paper, however, can sometimes be quite a challenge. Many students with ADHD find that the process of writing is a struggle and an area they would prefer to avoid at all costs. These students often take longer to get started with writing assignments, have difficulty organizing their thoughts and getting them down on paper, and may struggle to maintain their focus on the task at hand.

Unfortunately, as a student moves into the high school and college years, writing assignments -- reports, essays, and discussion questions -- figure in prominently in the curriculum. But the good news is there's hope for improving your writing skills, even with ADHD.

Why ADHD Students Tend to Have Difficulty With Developing Writing Skills

The process of writing involves the integration of several skills including the ability to generate, plan and organize ideas, express one’s thoughts with words, and structure sentences and paragraphs in proper order. Writing also requires working memory.

In her book, Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD, and Executive Function Deficits, Chris Dendy, M.S., explains how working memory comes into play: “Students have to use their working memory to remember what they are writing about and decide which thought they want to express next. Simply holding that thought or a chunk of information in working memory long enough to write it down is often difficult.”

Working memory is also necessary in order to correctly apply spelling, grammar, capitalization and punctuation rules when writing. In addition, writing requires fine-motor coordination and the ability to organize print on paper. A student must also control impulsivity and a tendency to rush through his or her work and must be able to sustain attention to complete the process of written expression.

Strategies to Improve Writing Skills

  1. Use whichever form of writing comes more naturally to you – print or cursive. For many students, printing comes more easily and requires less memory than cursive writing.
  2. Use a computer for written work.
  3. Ask for accommodations such as extended time on written work.
  4. Brainstorm ideas and write them all down, then narrow selections one at a time.
  5. Talk it out. Spend some time talking out loud about what you want to write.
  6. Dictate your words into a tape recorder, then type them up or use a speech-to-text software program.
  7. Use Post-it notes to write down each of your ideas on a topic. Then organize and group ideas.
  8. Make an outline or use a graphic organizer or mind map to help structure writing projects.
  9. Write a first draft of the written assignment and then show it to the teacher before it is due so that she can make suggestions and give input before you turn in the final draft.
  10. Ask your teacher for two grades -- one grade for content and one for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  11. If you are using a computer, run spell and grammar check.
  12. Get help from your parent or friend with proofreading and reviewing your work.
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Article Sources
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  • Reif, Sandra F., How to Reach and Teach Children With ADD/ADHD: Practical Techniques, Strategies, and Interventions. Second Edition. Jossey-Bass. 2005.
  • Zeigler Dendy, Chris A., Teaching Teens With ADD, ADHD, and Executive Function Deficits: A Quick Reference Guide for Teachers and Parents. Second Edition. Woodbine House, 2011.