Our 10-year-old has ADD. He's on medication, which helps with focus, but isn't a cure-all, of course. I have ADD and my dad has ADD. I'm guessing his dad did too. ;)

I wasn't diagnosed until adulthood and while I was an excellent student, I despised writing assignments. I enjoyed the creative process, but struggled with the whole issue of starting, planning, organizing and following through. This lasted all the way through into college where any writing assignment would inevitably be done at 2am the morning of. I still have this problem as an adult (I write software and hate documentation...much to the chagrin of my coworkers ;)

Now I'm watching my son go through the same frustrations. He loves reading but having to write a report on the book is torture. We're working on ways to help with this. We're encouraging copious note taking, baby step writing (simple outlines, then add sentences, etc.) and leveraging the computer as much as we can (typing is easier than handwriting for him). We're also working with his teacher and looking at perhaps getting a tutor. If nothing else, just having someone there to tell him to do step 1 before step 2 can be a big help.

That said, I'd like to ask if any of you have gone through this and, if so, have you found any useful strategies to help with this.

  • Not really helping with the question but ... the thing with writing the given assignment in the last possible hour applies to many people (including myself) and doesn't specifically "require" ADD. Just wanted to point out that others are in that writing predicament too. Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 19:52
  • Sure. Good point. The solution would likely help anyone with writing challenges.
    – DA01
    Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 20:02
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    Every kid procrastinates, even those without ADD. If you were an excellent student, what was the problem?
    – tomjedrz
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 0:04
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    Every human procrastinates. ADD isn't simple procrastination, though.
    – DA01
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 1:09
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    @tomjedrz: many kids procrastinate - not every kid. Also, many ADD/ADHD kids are excellent students who do get their work done, but they have extra struggles along the way and their self-esteem can be deeply impacted by these struggles. Additionally, the extra effort in staying focused can cause a lot of strife at home over getting the homework done and robs these kids of being able to do their best, parents of sleep and everybody of some fun. Some kids are better at hiding their struggles than others while at school. Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 17:40

4 Answers 4


According to ADDitude Magazine, there are multiple things that one can do to help children with ADD write things.

In the classroom:

  • Set up a note system.
  • Start small and build skills.
  • Demonstrate essay-writing.
  • Give writing prompts.
  • Encourage colourful descriptions.
  • Explain the writing process.
  • Allow enough time.
  • Don't grade early work.
  • Don't deduct points for poor handwriting or grammar.
  • Use a graphic organizer.
  • Grade limited essay elements.

At home:

  • Exchange journals.
  • Assist with essay topic selection.
  • Brainstorm.
  • Stock up on books, movies, and games.
  • Be your child's "scribe".
  • Go digital.
  • Remind your child to proofread.

Tech solutions include:

  • Portable word processor.
  • Speech-recognition software.
  • Word-prediction software.
  • Electronic spell-checkers and dictionaries.

ADD In School.com also adds:

In assignments that require research reports and creative writing, have the student dictate the words to someone rather than writing it down. The ADD ADHD student can then copy the words using the word processor. This technique will yield greater output on tasks requiring expressive written language skills by removing the written component.

Assignments that require extensive fine motor skills are difficult.

Give seat work one sheet at a time, if possible. This will prevent your ADD ADHD student from feeling overwhelmed. This is also a helpful technique in testing him.

Finally, as an addendum for those of us who are terrible procrastinators in life: get into the habit of writing daily. Not only does it allow you the ability to reflect and analyze your own behavior in a not-talking-to-yourself in circles kind of way, but it also serves as a means to improve your writing. For better or for worse, the more you write, the better your writing. This is true for fiction, nonfiction, technical, and academic writing alike. It sucks, it's hard, but it's the single most important thing you can do to keep your writing skills up.

Speaking from my own experience, I started a blog in 2004. Since then, I've found my typing speed to be higher ('cause I often have to churn out a 2,000-word entry in less time than I'd like to be spending on it) and my quality of writing has improved significantly. Writing and keeping a regular blog has allowed me the ability to monologue -- that is, talk aloud to myself -- in a "silent" manner. Certainly, now, when I reflect back on my life, not only do I remember things from a year ago, two years ago, or even two weeks ago better, but it's also nice to sometimes go back to, oh, 2007 and relive a few months of my life. Either way, having to tell stories chronologically, in a way that makes sense, has spilled over into all of my writing.

Full disclosure: I'm not diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, and I was a serial procrastinator. I was/am also an avid reader, which helps the caliber and quality of one's writing, in my humble opinion.

  • All good ideas. The tech solutions have got me thinking now of a software product...hmm...
    – DA01
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 1:10

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.

  1. You'll still teach him to start with brainstorming.
  2. he'll form his sentences or the ideas he wants to include before making the outline.
  3. he'll rearrange his sentences so they are structured into an order that makes sense for what he is writing and create his outline.
  4. He'll add more supporting details if necessary.
  5. he'll check for flow and add transitions where needed to move the reader smoothly from one idea to the next.
  6. 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.

  • Thanks. All good suggestions. Especially the 'chunking' of tasks.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 3, 2012 at 22:44

Some techniques that have worked with our 8 year old girl, with an ADHD diagnosis, to make the writing process easier. And when the writing is easier, the effort to get her to do it is also easier.

  • Using ruled paper - it helps when she has boundaries for writing.
  • A weighted writing wrist band and a pencil holder - helps with legibility.
  • Writing in short spurts - keeps her from worrying about writing the whole report and focuses her on just the one or two sentences.
  • Letting her type it on the computer then copy it after - helps relax the thoughts about writing because she prefers the computer, and helps near point copying when she transcribes it, which can be another ADD related problem in the classroom.
  • Some form of reward system can help, too.

First, I would stop talking about ADD. It is what it is. All you do by talking about it is prime everyone for failure. I am not saying it doesn't exist, or that it isn't relevant. I am saying that nothing can be done about it, so move on.

As much as folks would like to think otherwise, and as much as some are trying to legislate otherwise, the world isn't particularly forgiving. "Sorry boss, I didn't get the presentation done because of my ADD." does not fly any more than "Sorry boss, I didn't get the presentation done because of Monday Night Football."

The first question I would ask is what has worked for you to help you manage? Work with your child to implement those things.

Having struggled with attention span and focus issues throughout my life, here are some strategies I have found helpful.

** Manage distractions. Today, that means turn off the TV, cell phone and internet. I have found the program called Freedom helpful.

** Use the clock. Focusing for 3 hours is impossible. Focusing for 20 minutes at a time is doable. Define a time frame, and when it has expired, take a short (1-2 minute) break tp reset the attention timer.

** Work on planning .. this has the effect of breaking a bit (daunting) task into small manageable tasks. Finishing a task has the effect of "resetting" the attention timer.

** Specifically, teach a writing "process" ... idea generation, outline, introduction, topic sentences for each paragraph, finish paragraphs, conclusion worked for me.

** Exercise and activity. For some reason, when I exercise regularly, I can focus better, and when I am busy, I am able to focus better during the times I have available for my tasks. Not immediately before trying to write, however! Develop an exercise routine with your son. Walk the dog after dinner, or take a run in the morning. Get him into sports.

I reiterate my first point. Stop making excuses; they don't help. You are a perfect example of why they aren't needed.

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    ADD is very different than just procrastination. Yes, it is what it is but it is something and there are things you can do about it. Hence the question. Your response, alas, is exactly how my mother handled it for me...which was sheer torture of 18 years of nagging. The medicine has helped a lot, as are the coping skills, of which you mention which are very valid coping skills. KNOWING I had ADD itself was a big help. Just being more aware of the issue has helped me in adulthood, so I can't say 'not talking about it' as being the best idea.
    – DA01
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 1:09
  • @DA01 I didn't say ignore, I said don't continually talk about, don't focus on, and don't use as an excuse. I also did not say it was going to be easy ... there is no easy. Your mom seems to have gotten it right; her ADD son was an excellent student and is now a working professional who controls his ADD rather than allowing it to control him. The likelihood of an easy, pleasant solution having excellent results seems low to me.
    – tomjedrz
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 4:53
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    Well, no, my mother denies it even being a condition. Had I had some meds as a child, things may have been a lot easier for me. My dad clearly has it and has developed some rather awkward (if not humorous and annoying) coping skills on his own...a big part of that being my mother's nagging. ;) Again, your suggested methods are certainly valid and helpful, though!
    – DA01
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 5:28
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    "nothing can be done about it. So move on?" absolutely incorrect. It is not an excuse so please don't infer it is one. These kids needs special helps and supports to get through certain skills. Their brains are actually wired differently and there are entirely different ways to help them learn certain skills and subjects. Commented Dec 3, 2012 at 22:21
  • Check out this scholarly article on connective brain functionality - onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hbm.21058/full Commented Dec 3, 2012 at 23:21

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