Writing Problems Common for Students With ADHD

Why is writing so tough for students with ADHD?

Chinese student working in class
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Research published in the September 2011 issue of Pediatrics finds that children with ADHD are five times more likely to have writing problems than are 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 process 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 a student ages and moves into the high school and college years, the expectations around writing become even more demanding. Essays and reports that require students to communicate what they know on paper figure more prominently into the curriculum. It is no wonder that writing can create such anxiety in students with ADHD!

Many students with ADHD find that they tend to take much longer than their classmates to complete 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.

Simply starting the process and getting ideas and thoughts out of their head in an organized manner and down on paper can feel like uphill battle.

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, he or she may also rush through school work. As a result, papers are often filled with "careless" mistakes.
  7. The whole proofreading and editing process can be quite boring, so if a student does attempt to review work, he or she may quickly 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.
  1. Simply sustaining the attention and mental energy required for writing can be a struggle for someone with ADHD.

Read Strategies To Improve Writing Skills for tips on addressing common learning problems that can interfere with the expression of written language for students with ADHD.


Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, M.S., Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD, and Executive Function Deficits: A Quick Reference Guide for Teachers and Parents. Second Edition. Woodbine House, 2011.

Kouichi Yoshimasu, M.D., William Barbaresi, M.D., Robert Colligan, Ph.D., Jill Killian, B.S., Robert Voigt, M.D. , Amy Weaver, M.S., Slavica Katusic, M.D.; Written-Language Disorder Among Children With and Without ADHD in a Population-Based Birth Cohort. Pediatrics 2011; 128:e605-e612.

Sandra F. Reif, M.A., How to Reach and Teach Children With ADD/ADHD: Practical Techniques, Strategies, and Interventions. Second Edition. Jossey-Bass . 2005.

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