Executive Function and Writing Difficulties in Children With ADHD

Executive Function

Executive function difficulties and ADHD are often co-occurring. Improving skills in executive function and early ADHD diagnosis is essential for struggling children to achieve positive outcomes. One of the ways you can pinpoint who may need an assessment and additional learning support is by evaluating a child’s writing abilities.

Why Is Writing Significant?

Writing involves a complex set of skills working together simultaneously. It is a multi-step process requiring long-term goal-setting, organization, and self-regulation. These, for many children, including those with ADHD, are areas of struggle. Here are four executive function skills that can affect the writing process.

1. Activation

Activation is a general term meaning “getting started,” but many tasks fall under this category of executive function. These include estimating time, organizing materials, prioritizing, and project progression. Many children with ADHD shut down at the first stage because of the many steps involved. If a child consistently completes their writing assignment all at once, without first planning out the steps and organizing their thoughts, they are a good candidate for ADHD testing.

2. Self-control

Once the plan is in place for completing a lengthy, at-home writing assignment, the child must follow through. Whether the due dates for each part of the writing process are from the teacher or the student, the items need prioritization for timely completion. One of the reasons for the label “attention deficit” is that an individual with ADHD cannot regulate themselves enough to have sustained focus on a particular task.

3. Organizing Thoughts

All aspects of executive functioning are closely tied together. Thoughts require organization, prioritization, and comprehension of information. Before a child can write about a subject, they must research a topic or recall previous knowledge, then gather their thoughts and coherently write them out. If the writing assignment has all the necessary elements but doesn’t flow well, the child is probably struggling with skills in executive function.

4. Working Memory

Working memory is holding information in your mind long enough to use it. Children may struggle with their working memory, “freezing up” when it’s time to put thoughts down on paper, even though they are organized and know what they want to say. Many parents find their child knows what they want to say but can’t hold the information in their mind long enough to write it down. This struggle can indicate that the child could benefit from assessments of their executive function skills and ADHD.

How Can You Help?

Now that you have an understanding of how ADHD can affect children in their learning environment, you can see the importance of helping children to improve their executive function skills. When asking teachers and parents how their child is doing in school, asking specific questions about writing assignments can be eye-opening to the need for additional testing or support. Learn more about how you can help kids in school using assessment tools, such as (Conners 3) Conners, Third Edition, at WPS.