I had a classroom devoted to severe ADHD cases for three years. This is how I thought about it and handled things for many of my kids. This is also the basics of the techniques I am using with my own daughter that is going to be evaluated shortly and has been struggling significantly with writing done in the "traditional way." Since switching to some alternative techniques (some of which are outlined here). She has also had a lot more success.
Writing requires significant multi-tasking because the brain has to consider the physical motions of the action of writing, the grammar and structure of what is being written, the phonetic and metaphoric symbolism (when used) as well as mechanics including spelling and punctuation and that is just to write a sentence! Now, write a paragraph or more and you have to think about over-all idea organization and structure, main ideas and supporting details and a variety of other more complicated writing strategies. Writing becomes a daunting task for any kid. Now add the peculiarities of the ADHD brain and you've set the poor kid up for quite an uphill climb (see here for why writing is particularly difficult when you have ADHD).
Chunk the Work - and Teach your Child how to Break it into Chunks Himself eventually
As others have suggested, it is a good idea to break the task down into doable chunks. Plan ahead and avoid procrastination at all costs. The teacher, if understanding, might be able to help him with this by making smaller "chunked" assignments for a little while with him and model for him how she does this. For example, if three days are given for a three paragraph essay, the first night might be for research and a brainstormed list of important ideas to include, the second for an outline of your child's chosen three main ideas and supporting details he would like to include and the third night for actually getting the order down and then writing the actual sentences. Each "chunk" is given its own deadline. For awhile, he might turn in the "chunks" to his teacher each day, or at least turn them in to you to check off as complete. Hopefully writing is usually turned in and the editing process is included as a second assignment and part of the learning process. If not, make sure to leave editing its own night, it is important to have time to sleep on written work and make changes after a little rest.
Turn the Writing Process Upside Down - Sort Of
This method allows his non-linear way of thinking to get his ideas down and THEN do the planning and organizing secondarily which typically just works better for ADHD kids.
- You'll still teach him to start with brainstorming.
- he'll form his sentences or the ideas he wants to include before making the outline.
- he'll rearrange his sentences so they are structured into an order that makes sense for what he is writing and create his outline.
- He'll add more supporting details if necessary.
- he'll check for flow and add transitions where needed to move the reader smoothly from one idea to the next.
- Finally he'll edit for spelling, mechanics and grammar.
Don't put it on plain old lined paper
Can your child respond to questions verbally and record them in a brainstorming session rather than having to write everything down?
By recording his ideas in an audio format, he can then push pause as much as he needs while listening and getting the ideas he wants to keep written down onto paper, or better yet, index cards.
If he can use index cards (or Powerpoint slides) After he has his index card "notes" written down he can arrange them and rearrange them to try out different outline's or organizational structures for his essay/story/whatever. His "notes" could even be sketches instead of words if he thinks more visually (as many of these kids do). Encourage him to use the cards as an animator would use a storyboard until he's got the story just right. Then, he needs to create "captions" or sentences for each idea represented on the cards, unless the cards were traditionally "written" in the first place.
If he would rather do the card thing on the computer and isn't required to do any of the work with his own handwriting, Powerpoint works well. He can make a slide for each idea, type the appropriate sentence onto a slide and then shift the slides around. OR you might use Mindmapping software if you have any of these programs available to you.
At this point, transferring what his "card essay" says onto the computer and adding transition sentences, formatting and punctuation is all that is really left. Help with checking spelling and other editing if it is needed and hopefully the whole thing keys into his thinking style a little better and seems more broken down into manageable chunks for him.
One trick for editing that really helps the editor not to skip over mistakes is to read it backwards. It slows the brain down and forces it to look more closely at each word and sentence. It is also a great idea to read the work outloud because that also slows the pace of reading down just a bit and the auditory portion of things makes the brain register more things as just sounding incorrect.
Ask his Teacher About Alternatives
If the purpose or objective of an assignment isn't about practicing writing skills, but is about showing what he knows about a subject, can he turn in an alternative project? A Museum display case about the topic? A documentary style video he creates? Do a presentation or slide show for her? Can he make a stop-action claymation film about the process he was supposed to have learned? How about writing a song that teaches about the topic (the alternative chosen would obviously play to his strengths and interests). Clearly, sometimes he needs to write, but there is A LOT of required writing in elementary school, if some of his assignments can be done by other means - the amount of writing required will be lessened - lessening your stress and his. He has got time for practicing writing skills - has he got enough time to just be a kid?
I have actually now written a six part series on my blog about ADHD Kids and the writing process. This answers sums up the highlights of that series, but if you would like even more details and suggestions, the series begins with this article about why writing is so much more difficult for the ADHD kid. The article has links to further details including technological assists that are available.
For those of you out there that may be doubting the idea that this disease actually forms a distinct difference that is testable and confirmable, here is a link to just a little info on what is known about differences in brain tissue structure and function between non ADD and ADD kids. This link takes you only a brief summary or abstract, but a lot of research has been done. One doctor I was able to speak to and receive some training under, has also found that the myelin sheath that grows in the frontal cortex actually seems to grow later in ADD/ADHD adolescents and might not become as fully formed until much later in life (if at all) in the ADHD brain. His studies were in their early stages and had not yet been published (let alone duplicated) but I thought the info might be new and helpful.