| by Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed., TPT Teaching and Coaching, 10/15/2021|
Research suggests 51% of students with ADHD experience overall academic challenges (edweek.org). Often, ADHDers have written expression difficulties. "Two-thirds of boys with ADHD had trouble with writing, compared to one in six boys without ADHD.
For girls, 57 percent with ADHD had a writing problem, compared to less than 10 percent without ADHD" (Reuters Health). From a scientific perspective, writing requires an extraordinary amount of mental power because of the great complexity of mental processes all needed to be at work in order to produce a well thought out writing product. Writing requires a strong working memory to constantly weave ideas together. Also, writing demands organizational structure from following the teacher's directions for the assignment to narrowing down initial ideas. Thought formulation also asks the writer to activate a vast amount of critical thinking to embed logic into each idea communicated. Students with executive function challenges lack these skills, so they need supportive tools to accomplish writing tasks. Some alternatives below may prove useful based on educational levels and learning styles as a one-sized solution is not realistic for each neurodiverse student's needs.
Writing Solutions For Middle Schoolers
An effective way to scaffold (guide with initial skills) a student's thinking is to help them sift through the best ideas and centralize them in an idea box. If you give the student a physical tool to organize their thoughts, then they can have an easier way to get ideas from brain to paper.
Writing sometimes has abstract concepts and sequences that are not obvious to students with ADHD, so using highly visual and colorful images can really help students understand the more complex sub-steps of writing that are harder to grasp.
Bite-Sized Content Delivery:
Working memory and processing time are limited for ADHD students; hence, it is crucial to slice out content in small bursts of information. It gives the student time to soak in the information better. You can also build on it as the student's understanding matures over time.
Let Them Teach It Back
I am a proponent of tailoring a language for learning concepts to maximize a student's understanding. If you let the student explain what they are learning, it cements the concepts deeper in their mental formations.
If you start the student off with a few words (e.g. It could be said that..., To further my argument...), it will give them courage to dip their toes into the water. It will also give structural boundaries to their thinking and writing so they can gauge if they are on the right track. It will give them the confidence to try.
I Do One, You Do One
Students with thinking differences generally do well when their knowledge is being reinforced in a shorter time frame. Because their working memory is limited, you don't want to let too much time pass by without checking their understanding.
Give Relatable Writing Prompts
Do give students a rush of motivation by giving them relatable writing prompts. Having a familiar topic encourages students' confidence and it takes away the fear for them to tackle a challenging endeavor.
Writing Solutions For High Schoolers
Brainstorm Through Voice Typing
Having students verbalize their ideas aloud provide a space for their cognitive ideas to take shape and form reasoning within what they are trying to write. It is a mental bridge that takes their ideas from brain to paper, especially for students with a coexisting condition like dysgraphia on top of ADHD.
Use Graphic Organizers
Most ADHDers are visual learners, so a tangible organizer is a great place for them to put their finger on their ideas and visually grasp it. The organizer also helps students visually see the connections between the learning concepts at hand. The organizer connects students to the process of materializing their ideas and the connection among those ideas.
Provide Writing Samples
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words; hence, you can show a sample product to a student to help them understand your learning objectives better. Also, students learn ample lessons by looking at their peers' work to stretch the academic imagination. Writing samples fill in the knowledge gaps that exist in the student's mind and accelerate new understanding.
Notice Their Processing Pattern And Tempo
A great way to gauge a student's learning pace is to notice their processing pattern, every student has a different learning pattern, which dominates their learning style and cognitive rhythm. Lessons should be structured according to the student's innate processing pace.
Help Them See Connections Between Ideas
Any time a student is stuck during writing it is because they are having trouble seeing the bigger picture and assimilating their ideas to the assigned topic. Use multimedia to help them see the bigger picture by zooming out.
Aid With Scaffolding Questions
Always give students scaffolding questions to help students have a thoughtful understanding of the topic that they are writing about. The questions act as a mental support pillar to help the student's thinking go from small detail to big-picture. It helps students create depth and substance in their writing.
Teach Writing Prompt Analysis
Mental organization is a hidden challenge for neurodivergent students. They know the answers, but they do not know how to distill it efficiently from mind to essay. Teaching students how to analyze the writing prompt means showing students how to make sure they are thinking about the answer in the most accurate perspective possible.
Neurodiverse students are creative and resilient, but they need a wide array of educational strategies to help ideas click in their minds. Once it does, a door opens and that's when the light switch begins to turn on. Learning is a journey. It is always.
If your child is experiencing writing challenges, book a free consult with us today to find the right solutions for your child.
Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed.
I am a licensed professional educator, executive function expert, former tenured high school teacher and college instructor with 16 years experience. I am also a student success designer. I enjoy recognizing the missing puzzle in the student's learning and personalizing that solution in a language that is unique to that student. I love the creative challenge of inventing a new language for every child.