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ADHD and Handwriting

Even in this day of thumb-driven Twitter shorthand, handwriting continues to be a critical skill. Legible, coherent handwriting is a signal measure of academic success. And it still plays an important role in formal and informal communication.

Educators and other professionals working with children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have observed that many of these children have significant problems with handwriting.

A recent study coming out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documents the relevance of these observations. This research, led by Slavica Katusic of the Mayo Clinic was published in Pediatrics (September, 2011).  The study included 6,000 children: all those born in Rochester Minnesota between 1976 and 1982 and who was still living there after age 5.

Katusic and her co-workers evaluated school and medical records to see which children showed signs of ADHD, as well as how well they performed on writing, reading and general intelligence tests over their school career. A total of 379 children fit the criteria for ADHD. About 800 children scored poorly on tests of writing abilities, and most with writing problems had reading difficulties as well.

Writing problems were much more common in both boys and girls with ADHD, with close to two-thirds of boys with ADHD having problems with writing. That compared to one in six of their peers without ADHD. In girls, 57 percent with ADHD had a writing problem, compared to less than 10 percent without ADHD.

There are several reasons why children with ADHD may have problems in writing. Writing is a very complex task that involves cognitive activity and motor activity at the same time. A high level of mental coordination and sequencing is required—tasks that individuals with ADHD have difficulty with. Also, memory and planning problems may affect the writing process. The impairment in sustained attention experienced by children with ADHD causes them to loose track of what they are doing and they will tend to make careless errors and get confused about what is to come next in the phrase or sentence.

Long term observation does suggest that the writing problems do get better with increasing maturity. Individual education plans that address some of those related difficulties can help especially if they’re started early.

It is my observation that when kids with ADHD are appropriately treated with medication, improvement in handwriting can be dramatic. In fact, improvement is often noted immediately

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