Why Writing is Often a Struggle for Students with ADHD and/or Learning Disabilities

August 22, 2012


By Sandra Rief


Written language is very challenging and frustrating for many children and teens with ADHD and/or Learning Disabilities. Although they may verbally be able to share a wealth of information on a topic or articulate a creative, detailed story, students with LD and/or ADHD frequently struggle to show what they know or communicate their ideas effectively on paper.  The writing process is very complex.  It involves the integration and often simultaneous use of several skills and brain functions (e.g., organization, planning, memory, language, attention, spelling, grapho-motor, processing speed, self-monitoring and metacognition), some of which are significant areas of weakness for students with LD and/or ADHD.


Pre-planning and Organization

This requires being able to generate, plan, and organize ideas.  When given a written assignment, many students with ADHD and/or Learning Disabilities get stuck here.  They do not know what to write about, how to organize and begin, or how to narrow down and focus on a topic.


Working memory is necessary in order to juggle the many different thoughts that one might want to transcribe onto paper.  It involves:

The process of writing also requires other memory functions:


Writing requires the ability to:


People with attention difficulties are often:

Those with learning disabilities are commonly weak in spelling due to:

Grapho-Motor Skills 

Many children with ADHD and/or LD have impairments in grapho-motor skills.  This affects the physical task of writing and organization of print on the page. They often have trouble:

Revision & Editing

Students with ADHD and LD often show during the revision stage of the writing process. After the tedious task of composing an initial draft, having to revise and rewrite can be very frustrating. Proofreading and editing for students with ADHD or Learning Disabilities is often very difficult for them, and generally cannot be done without assistance (from peer, adult, and/or assistive technology). It is common to find lack of capitalization, punctuation, and complete sentences, along with numerous spelling errors in their written products.


Fluent writing requires the following self-monitoring skills:


Speed of Written Output and Production

Some students with ADHD or LD rush through writing assignments, producing illegible work with many careless errors.  Others write excruciatingly SLOW.  Although they know the answers, and can verbally express their thoughts and ideas articulately, they are unable to put more than a few words or sentences down on paper.  Needless to say, this is extremely frustrating.

This blog is adapted from my book:  Rief, S. (2008). The ADD/ADHD Checklist: A Practical Reference for Parents & Teachers, 2nd edition.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.




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