ADHD and Writing Assignments

“I hate writing!”
“It takes me forever to write!”
“I never write long enough papers!”
“My papers are always too long!”

For many people with ADHD, writing is a challenge. In fact, a study of 5,718 children from birth to age 19 found that children with ADHD are at a five times greater risk of having writing problems than children children without ADHD. In this study:
  • Boys with ADHD had about a 65 % risk for having writing difficulties, compared to 16.5 % among boys without ADHD.
  • Among girls, the figures were 57 % vs. 9.6%.

Yet, writing is an essential academic and often a necessary job skill.Additionally, writing is the primary basis for judging one’s learning and abilities—whether in school, on the job, or elsewhere in the community. Perhaps more importantly, writing is one way to facilitate deeper thinking: the ability to expand thoughts beyond an initial idea, to refine ideas, and to explain complex ideas to one’s self and others.

What makes writing challenging for many individuals with ADHD? 

Although we often don’t think about it, writing is actually a quite complex process, involving – and integrating – a wide range of skills. Ponder the following very long list: many, if not all, of the following 18 separate skills required for writing are impacted by ADHD and executive functioning challenges:

  • Initiating the assignment                         
  • Retrieving information 
  • Accessing multiple pieces and types of information at one time
  • Processing information         
  • Manipulating details                          
  • Organizing thoughts in a linear fashion                                     
  • Planning                                                               
  • Prioritizing
  • Analyzing information                                                                     
  • Sequencing
  • Spelling                                                                            
  • Handwriting or typing
  • Spacing on the page, or formatting a typed paper
  • Sitting still                                                       
  • Integrating skills 
  • Attention to detail                                                                                 
  • Tolerating frustration                                  
  • Maintaining focus on the main idea and the task as a whole

This list is enough to overwhelm anyone! And individuals with ADHD oftne have to pay explicit attention to many of these skills which come more naturally to those without ADHD. It’s no wonder writing is such a challenging task!

Because of this, parents and teachers of students with ADHD and executive functioning challenges need to pay particular attention to helping with the skills needed for writing. Providing  explicit instruction, knowledgeable support and appropriate accommodations for the writing process is very important. If writing challenges are not addressed among children and teens with ADHD, they can persist long into adulthood.

Some specific approaches that can benefit students whose ADHD makes writing difficult are listed here. These approaches will be described in more detail in subsequent blog posts:

1) Assist idea generation
2) Assist to organize thoughts
3) Ease handwriting burden
4) Encourage focus
5) Teach writing formats
6) Assist to extend and enrich written work
7) Explicitly teach editing/proof-reading
8) Employ technology
9) Request/assure accommodations

photo credit: stockimages,

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