ADHD, LD & Writing: A Perfect Storm

August 26, 2011

To stimulate me out of the late summer doldrums, I looked to this news of the day feature that came across my e-mail inbox:

“Writing problems common in kids with ADHD,” said the news header. As the start of the article noted, ‘Kids with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are more likely to have writing problems such as poor spelling and grammar than their peers, suggests a new study.”    (reut.rs/oLagaR)

Very often the only treatment that I hear being suggested to address these issues is for the child to receive occupational therapy. While OT’s do very nice work with kids, writing is a complex process, with the occupational therapy  only scratching the surface, working primarily at the fine-motor level of functioning.

There is much more underlying the writing problems than fine-motor difficulty. Children with ADHD and related learning disabilities almost always have trouble with active working memory.   Often, there are related issues with usage of language.

Open-ended writing (e.g., write about your weekend), the favored approach to writing in most classrooms, places a great “load” on active working memory. Think about how much you have to hold in your mind when doing a simple writing activity such as “write about your weekend.”

The answer that I have seen work best with struggling children is to teach them in highly structured ways, one baby step mastered at a time. These approaches are very similar to the way reading is taught with the Orton-Gillingham methods work with reading and are in direct contrast to the popular approaches of open-ended writing.

 (For a good example of structured approaches to writing, see Landmark College’s writing program, From Talking to Writing: Strategies for Scaffolding Expository Expression, bit.ly/nKots7.)

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