How Parents Can Help Their ADHD or LD Child with Writing

by Sandra Rief

This article has been adapted and excerpted from my books.  See the following for more detailed and related information/recommendations:

The ADD/ADHD Checklist, 2nd Edition (2008), How to Reach & Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, 2nd Edition (2005), How to Reach & Teach All Children Through Balanced Literacy (2007), The ADHD Book of Lists (2003).

Writing is a struggle for many kids with AD/HD and Learning Disabilities because it involves the integration of numerous skills and processes, which are often their areas of weakness. These include:  pre-planning and organization, memory, language structure and expression, spelling, attention to detail, graphomotor skills – the physical task of writing and organization of print on the page, self-monitoring, and the speed of written output. It is quite common among students with AD/HD and LD  to be able to articulate the most creative, amazing stories, but not be able to write down more than a few sentences. This is very frustrating for all – the student, parents, and teachers. The following are suggested ways to provide support and assistance to your child:

Getting them Started: Pre-Planning

  • Realize that it may take your child much longer than many other students to create written products. It is, therefore, important to try to get a ‘jump start’ on any written assignments. Ask the teacher to send home the assignment description and directions as early as possible.
  • Make a few extra copies of the assignment sheet and post in strategic locations in your home.
  • If there is any ambiguity about the assignment (it isn’t clear to you or your child what needs to be done), contact the teacher immediately. Make sure teacher expectations for the assignment are clarified.

Note: During the past decade, the trend in most school districts is that teacher assignments are designed to address the state/district content and performance standards for each grade level. Each grade has certain content and skills which must be taught, and performance criteria is given as to whether students demonstrate that skill ‘at standard’, ‘below standard’ or ‘above standard’. As a result, when giving students writing assignments, many teachers are now providing a rubric along with the assignment. A rubric is a tool for scoring/evaluating (i.e., 1-5 scale or 0-4 scale) a student’s piece of work based on different criteria that have been provided. 

Rubrics can be generic or created to address specific needs.  There are many good sources on the Internet to see what rubrics might look like (e.g.,

  • Rubrics are very useful tools not only for evaluation of the final written product, but for pre-organizing and pre-structuring how to write the paper. They are very helpful to students with AD/HD because they provide the structure and guidance needed to help them meet their grade level writing standards.
  • Sometimes open-ended writing assignments are most frustrating – trying to think of a topic of interest to write about. With these types of assignments, you can help your child by talking with him or her about experiences shared. Ask specific questions that might trigger topics of interest. (Example, “Do you remember how you felt when you dove off the high board for the first time?”). Help your child try to find a topic that he/she will be motivated to write about.
  • Graphic organizers are used by teachers at all grade levels and subject areas. They are very useful tools to help students visually organize ideas/concepts/topics. They greatly enhance comprehension of subject matter, and are very helpful in the writing process for pre-organizing thoughts prior to writing. Many teachers will automatically provide a graphic organizer for a writing assignment. If your child’s teachers don’t routinely use these tools or provide this pre-structuring assistance, there are many books that contain a variety of graphic organizers. There is also wonderful software available (e.g., Inspiration, Kidspiration) for designing graphic organizers – that is very user-friendly and motivating. An example of a commonly used graphic organizer is a ‘web’ – with a central idea or topic written in the center (usually with a box or circle around it), and lines coming out from that center (like spokes on a wheel). Each line is a subtopic related to the main/central idea. Each of those subtopics can be further broken down into more details surrounding those individual subtopics.
  • This assistance at the pre-writing stage is often the most valuable. Any opportunity to teach children to plan and organize before beginning an academic task is well worth our time and energy.

More Ways to Help Them Get Started

  • Encourage your child to verbalize what he or she wants to say first. It is often helpful to do so into an audio recorder, which can then be played back and listened to. This way, your child can organize his or her thoughts – planning what to say and determining if it makes sense before even beginning to write.
  • Use index cards for writing down ideas (i.e., topics, subtopics, details). It is easy to then spread them out, move them around, and cluster them together appropriately before writing. They can also be color-coded according to topic. For example, any words, phrases, sentences, information related to a particular topic could be written on index cards coded in the same color.
  • Let your child dictate the first couple of lines or paragraphs to you while you write them down. This often helps children who have trouble activating or getting started. Once they have this start, many times they are then able to continue independently.




Feedback and Editing Assistance

  • You wouldn’t want to interrupt your child if he or she is ‘on a roll’ in order to offer feedback. However, if what your child is writing is ‘off target’ to what the guidelines for the assignment indicate must be included, it is probably less frustrating to help redirect your child before he/she has written a lot.
  • When providing feedback to your child, be careful not to be critical or negative. State at least one positive comment about what he or she has written. Then, if your child’s written work is missing key elements you may ask for clarification. For example: “I’m not sure I understand what you mean in this sentence…You might want to add more information here so it makes sense to your reader.”
  • It is often hard to get the cooperation or motivation from your child for this kind of detail work – editing. If it becomes a huge battle to go back and do this task, put it aside and try tackling later. If it always becomes a negative experience at home, let the teacher know the problem and ask for more help at school. It would be better to limit your involvement with editing. Many times kids are much more willing to accept corrective feedback or be willing to make corrections if suggested by someone other than parents.

Ways to Help with Editing

  • Read the written work aloud with your child while pointing to each word. Doing so, your son or daughter should be able to hear if what was written was what he or she had intended to say.
  • If this is a rough draft, some misspelled words may be pointed out and corrected, but don’t worry about more than a few at a time. A rough draft is a work in progress and it’s not your responsibility to identify or correct all the ‘flaws’.
  • Do help if you notice incomplete sentences by asking questions to complete the thought (e.g., so that the sentence can be fixed to include both a subject and a predicate).
  • Encourage your child to check for capitalization and final punctuation marks.
  • It is helpful to have lists of words available to improve your child’s writing. For example, words that describe feelings (delighted, anxious), words to use instead of ‘said’(demanded, whispered, announced, hollered). Models or lists of ‘connector’ or ‘transition’ words such as: words used to compare things (i.e., in the same way, similarly, likewise) words used to contrast things (i.e., on the other hand, however, yet) words used to summarize (i.e., in conclusion, consequently).
  • If your child writes very simple, basic sentences you may ask who, what, where, when questions to elicit information and details to help them expand their thoughts and write more interesting sentences. Part of the issue may be that your child is deliberately writing less descriptive sentences to avoid having to physically write down so many words.

Helping with the Final Product

  • Parents often need to provide support and assistance to their children at the ‘final product’ stage. If you help your child type final draft copies, make it a collaborative effort to whatever extent possible. Have your son or daughter participate and type a portion – which could be a few words, sentence(s), paragraph(s), or page(s) – depending on the age of your child and his/her capabilities.
  • Assistance with projects requiring gluing, mounting, arranging spatially, etc. is often needed. Your guidance and overseeing to avoid the frustration your child will experience if his or her project doesn’t ‘look good’ is helpful. You will want to make sure your impulsive child first organizes and spatially arranges the layout prior to gluing/pasting or mounting.

©2012, Sandra Rief