Children with ADHD Are Often Poor Spellers

Health Writer

Children with ADHD may also have written expression disorder, or dysgraphia. Students with dysgraphia struggle in three main areas: handwriting, spelling and expressing thoughts on paper. In last week's post we discussed messy and illegible handwriting and how parents can help. This week we will talk about spelling. According to research completed in Israel, "Children with ADHD made significantly more spelling errors (than their non-ADHD counterparts), but showed a unique pattern introducing letter insertions, substitutions, transpositions and omissions. This error type, also known as graphemic buffer errors, can be explained by impaired attention aspects needed for motor planning." [1] In other words, spelling and writing deficits occur more because of inattention than from linguistic deficits.

But that doesn't mean your child will always be a poor speller or that spelling errors will impact grades. The following are tips for both parents and teachers to help:

  • Use creative and fun ways to practice spelling. Rather than having your child repeat the spelling over and over or write the word 20 times, have them write the words in the air as they are spelling, use paintbrushes dipped in water to write the words, use magnetic letters, have your child speak the words into a recorder or find other fun ways for your child to fully engage in learning to spell.
  • Use color to help keep your child's attention. Have your child write each letter in a word with a different color or trace silent letters or combinations that are hard to sound out with colored pencils or markers to   help him remember those parts of the word.
  • Add movement and sound to practicing spelling words. Have your child sing the spelling word or jump rope as he is reciting words.
  • Take advantage of electronic devices. Use talking dictionaries, word processing programs with spell check and word completion. Speech to text software can help your child be writing out what he says rather than having him write every word out.
  • Have your child keep a "frequently misspelled word" bank. If he finds a word that he misspells often, have him write it on a paper to give him a customized list of words to refer to when writing.
  • Use a spelling or writing buddy to help. Partners can quiz each other on spelling words or help with proofreading and editing.
  • Use everyday activities to practice spelling. When going to the store, have your child spell a few of the items on your list or when making dinner spell out what you are having for dinner.
  • Ask the teacher about oral spelling tests rather than written tests or using a combination of both.

Work together with your child's teacher to come up with strategies that you can both use. The consistency will help reinforce concepts and give both of you a better understanding of the difficulties your child is having. If your child has an IEP or Section 504, classroom accommodations for spelling can be included. Be sure to review this during any IEP or Section 504 meetings to determine what the school can do to help.


"ADHD and Dysgraphia: Underlying Mechanisms," 2007, E. Adi-Japha et al, School of education, Bar-llan University

"Teaching Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder," 2004, U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education