ADHD and Writing: Challenges and Strategies
Tuesday, April 17 2018 Noelle Matteson
Writing with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) poses a challenge to both children and adults living with the disorder. Many with ADHD struggle with dysgraphia, a learning disorder that makes writing difficult on several levels. Problems range from the physical act of writing to organizing essays. After discussing ADHD and creativity in my last post, I wanted to go into more depth about why writing with ADHD can be so hard and what we can do about it.
Writing with ADHD and Dysgraphia
ADHD and writing are often complicated by dysgraphia, a disorder with symptoms such as illegible writing or incomplete words. As a child, I loved to draw. However, whenever art classes graded on the ability to trace, color within the lines, or wield scissors, I fell short. Another nightmarish task required writing essays in pen—without whiteout. Though writing was one of my strong points, I found it virtually impossible to write even a paragraph in pen without making a single mistake.
Thanks to computers, good penmanship no longer has the significance it once did. This is fortunate for the many with ADHD and/or dysgraphia who have bad handwriting. They sometimes struggle with fine motor skills, spatial judgment, and the ability to recall shapes and letters of words on command.
Writing, ADHD, and Working Memory
Poor working memory also plagues many ADHDers and makes it hard to remember specific vocabulary and grammatical rules. Working memory involves storing, prioritizing, and utilizing information; so, even though I have a decent vocabulary, I often struggle to find the right word at the right time.
Problems with working memory also result in disorganized and unfocused writing, for one has to have the ability to prioritize and follow a train of thought in order to clearly communicate with a reader. People with ADHD tend to possess stronger verbal skills, but, even in discussions, we tend to ramble and go off on tangents (ADHD Challenges: Mind Going Blank?).
Having an excess of ideas also muddies the planning process. Too much structure can feel limiting and stifling, but too little structure might result in paralysis due to an infinite number of possible writing topics. I spend a lot of time determining what information needs to be left out and what points are of highest priority.
Impulsivity and boredom also hamper many an ADHDer when it comes to writing. Editing and proofreading are essential but sometimes tedious parts of the writing process. When it is finally time to edit, someone with ADHD probably wants to move on to something new. This results in poor attention to detail, which in turn results in careless mistakes and a draft that is never fully polished.
Video with ADHD Writing Strategies
Do not lose hope. People with ADHD have a lot to give when it comes to writing, and there are ways to make it easier. When I started taking my ADHD medication, I was better at organizing information and actually able to complete projects. The right medications can also reduce anxiety and make it easier to get started. In the video below, I talk about other steps you can take to make the process of writing with ADHD easier.
- HealthyPlace. Laurie Dupar. ADHD Challenges: Mind Going Blank?
- ADDitude. Chris Zeigler Dendy. How to Remove Hurdles to Writing for Students with ADHD.
- Advanced Education Services, Las Cruces (New Mexico) Public Schools. Niki Mott. Teaching Writing to Students Who Are Gifted and ADHD.
- Goins, Writer. Ryan McRae. The ADHD Guide to Building a Writing Habit.
- Verywell Mind. Keath Low. Writing Problems Common for Students With ADHD.