ADHD and Written Expression Disorder

Health Writer

Written expression disorder, sometimes called dysgraphia, is a learning disability that impacts how a person communicates through writing including handwriting, spelling and being able to express ideas on paper. When we think of learning disabilities, dyslexia or other reading disabilities come to mind, however, written expression disorder is thought to be just as common as other learning disabilities. It is thought that between 15 and 25 percent of children with ADHD also have some type of learning disability.

A study published in 2011 in the journal Pediatrics indicates that children with ADHD are more likely to have trouble expressing themselves in writing. Researchers looked medical and educational records of 5,718 children, with 379 children diagnosed with ADHD. They found that 64.5 percent of the boys and 57 percent of the girls had symptoms of written expression disorder. Of the children without ADHD, only 16.5 percent of the boys and 9.4 percent of the girls showed signs of written language difficulties.

Writing requires internal multi-tasking and uses many different skills:

  • Focus and concentration
  • Planning and organization
  • Analyzing, prioritizing and sequencing
  • Memory for spelling, punctuation and grammar rules as well as for remembering ideas to be conveyed in the writing
  • Fine motor coordination

Symptoms of ADHD may directly impact writing. Inattention and lack of attention to detail can cause problems in spelling and grammar. Impulsivity can cause a student to write down the first thought that pops in his head, without stopping to think through and analyze his train of thought. And students with ADHD often have a hard time with tedious and boring tasks, meaning editing and revising work may not happen at all.

Some with ADHD also struggle with fine motor coordination, making handwriting messy or illegible. With the many difficulties in school - paying attention, handing in homework, finishing assignments in the allotted time - handwriting and other writing difficulties only add to a student's feeling of not being able to keep up or of being "different" or not as good or smart as classmates.

Over the next few weeks, we will discuss the different aspects of written expression disorder and talk about ways parents and teachers can help students.

Stay tuned for additional posts on:

Expressing Thoughts on Paper


"Disorder of Written Expression," UPdated 2010, UPdated by David C. Dugdale III, M.D., David Zieve, M.D., A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia

"The Development of Writing Abilities in CHildrewn with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder," 2007, Mar/April, Dominick Auciello, Psy.D., Child Study Center, New York Univeristy

Yoshimasu, K. Pediatrics, published online Aug. 22, 2011.