Writing Problems Common for Students With ADHD

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Children with ADHD are more likely to develop writing problems than children without ADHD, regardless of gender. Among both boys and girls with ADHD who also have a reading disability, however, girls have an even higher chance of developing a written language disorder, creating even more challenges for girls in the classroom.

The Process of Writing Involves Integration of Several Skills

The technique involved in expressing oneself through writing is actually a quite complex, multi-step process. It requires the integration of several skills, including planning, analyzing, and organizing thoughts; prioritizing and sequencing information; remembering and implementing correct spelling, punctuation and grammar rules; as well as fine motor coordination.

As students age and move into high school and college, the expectations around writing become even more demanding. Essays and reports that require students to communicate what they know on paper factor more prominently into the curriculum. It is no wonder that writing can create such anxiety in students with ADHD. Simply starting the process and getting ideas and thoughts out of their head in an organized manner and down on paper can feel like an uphill battle.

Many students with ADHD find that it takes them longer than their classmates to complete their work. And when they do complete their assignments, they may find that they produce less written work—shorter reports, less "discussion" on discussion questions, and fewer sentences on each test question—as compared to their peers without ADHD.

ADHD Challenges That May Lead to Writing Difficulties

Why is it so tough for students with ADHD to produce well-crafted, thoughtful, carefully edited writing? Here are nine of the top reasons:

  1. Keeping ideas in mind long enough to remember what one wants to say
  2. Maintaining focus on the "train of thought" so the flow of the writing does not veer off course
  3. Keeping in mind the big picture of what you want to communicate, while manipulating the ideas, details, and wording
  4. With the time and frustration it can take to complete work, there is often no time (or energy) remaining to check over the details, edit assignments, and make corrections.
  5. Students with ADHD generally have problems with focus and attention to details, making it likely that they will make errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation.
  6. If a child is impulsive, they may also rush through schoolwork. As a result, papers are often filled with "careless" mistakes.
  7. The whole proofreading and editing process can be quite tedious, so if a student does attempt to review work, they may easily lose interest and focus.
  8. Challenges with fine motor coordination can complicate writing ability further. Many students with ADHD labor with their fine motor coordination, resulting in slower, messier penmanship that can be very difficult to read.
  9. Simply sustaining the attention and mental energy required for writing can be a struggle for someone with ADHD.

Students with ADHD can work on strategies to improve writing skills that address common learning problems that can interfere with the expression of written language.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Yoshimasu K, Barbaresi WJ, Colligan RC, et al. Written-Language Disorder Among Children With and Without ADHD in a Population-Based Birth Cohort. Pediatrics. 2011;128(3):e605-612. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-2581

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ADHD in the Classroom: Helping Children Succeed in School. Updated September 3, 2020.

  3. Mokobane M, Pillay BJ, Meyer A. Fine motor deficits and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in primary school children. S Afr J Psychiatr. 2019;25:1232. doi:10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v25i0.1232

Additional Reading

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.