Change Writing Challenges into Writing Successes

Over the years, I have noticed that many, many ADHD kids seem to have trouble with writing. While someSad boy doing homework kids like it because it is a venue for expressing their many ideas quickly and creatively, others despise it because getting even a few words on the page is torturous. Sometimes the physical act of writing is hard and penmanship can be tough to decipher. Organizing thoughts in their heads and translating them into coherent essays requires that several key Executive Functioning skills run simultaneously like clockwork. These skills, naturally weaker in people with ADHD, synthesize writing into a linear, well-formed essay.
mother try to help her son to do difficult taskWriting can often be a source of tension in ADHD families for children who struggle with it. Just as asking neutral, probing questions about learning styles related to reading and math skills leads you to helping your child improve in those areas, discussing your child’s individual and idiosyncratic process of writing with them can reduce the mystery and frustration about it. In a calm moment, grab a pen and paper and try a conversation like this:

  1. Together, identify something that is easy or not that bad  about writing. Maybe it’s getting an idea, maybe it’s researching a topic, maybe it’s the typing. Find something and jot it down. Emphasize aloud that this is something your child or teen does well.
  2. Next, help your son or daughter make a list. This list will use a rating scale from 1 to 10: 10=THE VERY HARDEST PARTS of writing; 1=THE LEAST HARDEST PARTS of writing. Using this language is important. You have already found something (maybe a few things) that your daughter says is easy. Now you are trying to get a specific sense of what the most difficult aspects of writing are and how she thinks about them. Use the list of basic skills needed for writing (shown below) to help you. Add any of your own that you think would be important. Some ADHD kids prefer to talk out their ideas instead of writing them down; include this on your list too if it is true for your child.
  3. Brainstorm alternatives to areas that your child identifies as THE VERY HARDEST PARTS. These ideas can include getting writing support at school from teachers, going to a writing center at school, working with a friend or finding a writing tutor. They can also involve breaking writing assignments into smaller, achievable parts and making sure their teachers give them clear guidelines for writing that take into account where they need the most help.

List of basic Executive Functioning skills needed for writing:
Coming up with basic ideas (initiation)
Selecting ideas that are relevant and do-able (prioritizing)
Remembering information about the topic to focus ideas (working memory)
Making an outline or plan of your project (planning, prioritizing, organizing)
Putting together research with your own thoughts (organizing, sequencing)
Amount of time it takes to do writing (time management)
Being able to continue on the project until it is finished (goal persistence)
Father helping his daughter with her school homework
In general,  I don’t advise having you proofread or teach writing to your ADHD child or teen if there is already conflict about written work in your home. If your child is open to your assistance, then of course give it. Otherwise, let the teachers or tutors do this so you can stay with your role as supportive parent. That’s what your son or daughter really needs most to help them manage their writing frustration and build confidence. 
Good luck!