ADHD & Handwriting Problems

Instructor: Abigail Cook
In addition to other challenges in the classroom, students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often struggle with handwriting. Let's review some strategies for helping these students with writing assignments.

Handwriting Problems in the Classroom

You have just started off the school day with your third graders, kicking off the morning with a five-minute journal prompt. You've asked your class to get out their journals and pencils, and write for five minutes on the topic 'If I could fly…' Most of your students are busy writing their creative ideas and are excited to share their thoughts. But, Charlie is off task again and struggling to write even one sentence.

You look over in Charlie's direction to see him fidgeting with his pencil and looking around the room. It's hard to tell whether he has any idea what he's supposed to be doing. If he does pick up his pencil and start writing, he moves very slowly. Each letter he writes seems to take considerable effort, and you can already anticipate incomplete sentences, illegible letters, and misspelled words.

Knowing that he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, you wonder if he's just struggling to complete his work or if handwriting is a secondary problem that should be addressed. The pained look on his face makes you realize that his issues with handwriting are becoming a serious barrier, and you need to intervene.

Effects of ADHD on Handwriting

ADHD is a common disability typically diagnosed during childhood and involves difficulties paying attention, hyperactive behavior, impulsiveness, and difficulty controlling one's actions. This disorder may be the cause of a student's inappropriate classroom behaviors, such as being off task, failing to complete assignments, or talking out. ADHD has also been linked to poor motor skills, which result in difficulties with handwriting.

Symptoms of Poor Handwriting

Not all students have perfectly neat handwriting, and many students get tired of writing after a while. So how can you know if your student with ADHD has real problems with handwriting? Let's take a look at some symptoms to watch for.

Students who struggle with handwriting exhibit these symptoms:

  • Have sloppy or messy handwriting, making it difficult to read
  • Take much longer than their peers to write even one word or sentence
  • Write much less than their peers when answering written questions, taking tests, or completing other assignments
  • Try to avoid activities that involve handwriting
  • Have poor punctuation, grammar, and spelling due to a lack of attention to detail

Once you've decided that intervention is necessary, there are several strategies and tips you might consider to help your student improve his or her handwriting skills.

Handwriting Strategies

You have found that Charlie is more successful when you use some of the following strategies and accommodations.

Lessen the Handwriting

You've decided to make some assignments a little easier by decreasing the amount of handwriting Charlie is required to do. You've found that Charlie can still be held to high expectations, mastering content and material like his typical peers, without the added burden of actually writing everything by hand.

Implement Guided Notes

While you might ask other students in your class to copy all of the notes from the board, you give Charlie a copy of the notes with some missing key words. He is required to read through the notes and fill in the missing words.

Use a Scribe

During activities where students are brainstorming or in the beginning stages of a draft, Charlie can dictate his thoughts to you while you write them for him. This allows him to focus on content and creativity, rather than putting all of his energy into forming letters.


With writing assignments, such as essays, short answer questions, and short stories, you permit Charlie to type his work rather than write it out. This eliminates the barrier of handwriting, but requires Charlie to demonstrate his understanding and mastery of the same writing skills on which you're grading his peers.

Integrate Helpful Writing Materials

You've also found that Charlie's handwriting has improved with the adjustment of his writing materials.

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