Dysgraphia, or difficulties with handwriting, is very common in children with ADHD. Signs that this is a problem include handwriting that is messy for age, resistance to assignments and activities involving writing even though oral composition skills are intact. This article suggests strategies that can be used as classroom accommodations, for homework, or for home instruction.
Preventing a negative attitude toward handwriting
Work on fine motor skills by doing lots of activities involving coloring with crayons or chalk, cutting with scissors, molding clay with hands (instead of molds).
Avoid being overly critical and expecting too much. You may think that your child can never become good at something without you pointing out their mistakes. This is true, but it is also true that a child with ADHD is most motivated to learn when they experience success. So, be alert to improvements and the effort your child is putting in. Resolve to focus on one or two things every day and to let the rest slide so long as your child put in adequate effort.
Pencil grip and posture
Sometimes learning to form letters using a piece of broken chalk or broken crayon can help with an awkward pencil grip. Large pencils can help but older children find them babyish. Grippers are more stylish. Wide markers can also be used.
Comfortable posture for writing should not involve hunching over the paper nor writing with elbows up. Adjusting your child’s seating height will often help.
Letter formation aids
Children with ADHD often struggle with remembering how to form the letters with a pencil, even when given a lot of practice. Tracing letters is often not very helpful because the child becomes focused on tracing instead of the steps needed to form the letter. Engage a different part of the brain in learning the letters by forming them with clay, or tracing them large in the air. Tracing them in other materials (“tactile formation”) can also be helpful. Children often enjoy using shaving cream, sandpaper, or even foam letters, but an inexpensive alternative is a plate full of sand or salt.
A variation on tactile formation, which teaches children to keep letters on the lines, is the technique of using paper with raised lines.
Another aid for remembering letters is a letter strip. These are available on the internet and can be taped to the child’s desk or to the wall of their study space.
Making writing easier on the hands
Writing with pencil on paper actually requires quite a bit of motor strength and can tire small hands easily. To make it easier, consider using dry erase marker on white board or heavy plastic page protectors. Smooth white copy paper is easier than grey recycled paper. Remove the paper from the notebook so that your child is working on a hard supportive surface rather than a padded one.
Spacing and letter planning
Because of difficulties with spatial planning and sequencing, children with ADHD often demonstrate difficulties with spacing their words and letters. In mild cases, you may show your child how to put down two fingers between each word. If that does not remedy itself, you may consider teaching cursive. ABEKA is one curriculum which offers a cursive curriculum for kindergarteners (and above). It is helpful to use a kindergarten curriculum because the letters are larger. Cursive is helpful because the pencil does not leave the paper between letters.
Separating learning in other subjects from learning handwriting
This means treating handwriting as a separate subject and not using other subjects to practice handwriting. A curriculum that works well for many children with dysgraphia is Handwriting Without Tears.
There are two reasons to make handwriting a separate subject. First, you don’t want your child to fall behind in other subjects because they cannot write well. Second, you don’t want your child to resist learning other subjects because of the struggle they have with writing.
There are various ways to get around having a child write in other subjects. For math, an adult may function as a scribe for assignments not specifically geared towards learning to write down numbers. For reports for other subjects, allow the child to keyboard their response. Children are usually not ready for formal keyboarding until 8 or 9 years old, but they can hunt and peck slowly earlier on. If you are homeschooling, consider allowing an oral response to some exercises.
Get professional help
If these strategies do not help, considering consulting with a special education teacher or with an occupational therapist.
About the author: I am not trained in special education, but I have gathered these tips from various parents, teachers, and therapists along the path of teaching my own ADHD child.