Typing, Handwriting, and ADHD

I first learned to enjoy expressive and research writing while I was in graduate school.  This was also when I was introduced to computers (yes, I owned an original Macintosh back in the 1980s).  I found that not only was it easier to type on, than on typewriters, but I discovered that I could move my ideas around the screen as my concepts grew more crystalized without having to use bottles of White-out or start over on a new sheet of paper in the typewriter.  Yes, I am aware that many of you younger people have no concept of what I am referring to!

This new-found freedom took the tedium out of the writing process and allowed me to express my thoughts without worrying about spelling, grammar, logical order – or the fear of forgetting my ideas when my speed did not keep up with my inspirations.

Being able to express ourselves in written form is a gift as well as a vital means of communicating. I view it as a gift because writing can allow one to be quiet with their thoughts and then share them, store them, and revise them, or simply use them for personal clarity, growth, and history keeping.

Less emphasis on teaching penmanship and no formal typing education (specifically QWERTY – typing using all ten fingers) is a trend in many schools that I believe has had a detrimental impact on students, with regard to teaching them to express themselves fully in written form.

For children who have ADHD, and honestly, for many others (myself included), proper penmanship that is neat and fluid can be a challenge.  Possibly because many children with ADHD struggle with delays in motor coordination, affecting their fine motor skills, needed for penmanship.  Children who struggle with handwriting may be labeled messy or careless. They may struggle to express their thoughts as fully as they may desire, to the point that they reduce what they write because it’s too hard for them.

And children with ADHD may take longer to learn to type efficiently, due to the motor component as well as possible slower processing speed and weaker working memory.

Fortunately, some schools have now begun to address these concerns and have made adjustments. I want to share some tips and tools that I believe parents can use at home if their schools are not adequately addressing these issues.

Handwriting

If your child has poor handwriting or struggles to write legibly with reasonable fluency, you may want to spend a few weeks helping him develop these skills.  If you believe that the concerns are significant, you may want to explore whether your child has dysgraphia, a learning disability that results in unusual and distorted handwriting. You might also consider consulting with an occupational therapist, either in your school or privately.

Here are a few suggestions you can do independently with your child:

Typing

Fortunately, there is a wide range of programs for children (and adults) to learn typing skills.  Some are free, and some are low cost.  A few programs that parents and teachers have recommended to me include:

Short-term Supports and Accommodations

You might find that, even as you focus on building their handwriting and typing skills, there are times when it would be valuable to help them simply be able to express themselves quickly and accurately.  In school, they may qualify and benefit from such accommodations as being able to have a scribe (someone who can write down their words as they speak) or access to dictation software.  At home, you might be willing to scribe for them or show them how to use the dictation function on the computer or smartphone.  They will still need to be responsible for editing, but at least they will have most of their thoughts expressed.

It’s not always easy to have children put in time doing “extra”, “non-required” work that is not assigned by their teachers. To encourage your children to spend the time learning these valuable skills outside of school time, might take a bit of coaxing and an occasional incentive (remember – for their effort more than their accomplishment).  The payoff will be well worth the time and effort.  These are important life skills that will pay dividends for years to come!

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1 thought on “Typing, Handwriting, and ADHD”

  1. Loved this piece, as an OT working in schools with many students who have ADHD, I have discovered there is a thing called “ADHD writing”. I got so tired of teachers saying, “well they can write neat if they want to” – really that means if it is a structured writing situation where the brain and nervous system can focus only on legibility. I teach my students that there are two kinds of writing situations. First, is a structured writing situation where the focus is on legibility, neatness and readability (final drafts). The only thing your brain has to focus on is the neat production of letters. We discuss what that means – sizing, spacing and line placement. I have them notice how they feel when they do that. The second writing situation is the creative situation where the brain’s job is so much more complicated. They have to focus on the creation process, grammar, punctuation, storyline principles AND legibility factors. I take two samples, one for each situation, they notice the difference right away. Then we talk about strategies for improving and adapting for neatness. I have had some success with making everyone happier about “writing”.

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