top of page

ADHD and Spelling - Why can ADHD make spelling difficult?

Why do some children struggle to write neatly? What about spelling common words or writing complete sentences?

Why is Spelling more difficult with ADHD

Have you Noticed?


Many parents of children with ADHD have noticed challenges with written expression including one or more of the following. ​

  • Sloppy Handwriting

  • Misspelled Words

  • Skipping Words or Letters

  • Hard Time Memorizing Sight Words

  • Impatient Writing

  • Poor Punctuation and Capitalization

Challenges with one or more of these skills can lead to frustration, especially when completing assignments or doing homework. When concentration is already strenuous, these issues can compound on one another, making homework time even more exasperating. Understanding the fundamental cause of these deficiencies can help each child overcome their spelling and writing deficits.

Why Spelling?


Difficulties with spelling in children with ADHD is more common than you may think. According to this study published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities in 2000, "A learning disability (LD) was present in 70% of the children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)."

While there are many reasons a child can struggle with reading and writing, its not uncommon for a child with ADHD to have what is regularly referred to as "surface dyslexia." This is a specific type of dyslexia in which a person is unable to accurately "picture" letter patterns and spelling rules. Have you ever looked at a misspelled word and thought "its just doesn't look right."? This skill can be extremely difficult for students with this type of dyslexia.

For example, if I ask you to close your eyes and imagine how to spell the word "laugh" you may picture the odd combination of l-au-gh. Students with this type of dyslexia may not picture the entire sequence of letters. Instead, they would sound it out phonetically as "laf."

Consequently, some students with ADHD may struggle to spell common words such as "who, there, said". This is because they tend to sound out words rather than memorize their patterns. Multisensory instruction can help these students develop the necessary tools to help improve their spelling.

Why Handwriting?


Handwriting can also be effected by ADHD. To write neatly, students must carefully plan and organize the position of their hand, fingers, letter start point, movement, and so on. All of these considerations tax the working memory. Working memory effects the amount of information a person can think about at any given moment. Children with ADHD can sometimes have a lower working memory than other children their age. If you child has a low working memory, he or she may struggle to write clearly.

Children with poor handwriting as a result of low working memory can display some of these writing challenges:

  • Missing spaces

  • Capitalization and punctuation

  • Skipping Words or Letters

  • Uneven sizing

  • backwards or rotated letters

  • Poor letter formation

Spacing and sizing rely on planning and coordination. In order to find the correct starting point of your letter or word, you must first be able to visualize the shape of your letter, how much room you have to write that letter, and what direction your pen is moving. If you struggle to retain images of letters or hold them in your working memory, writing neatly can seem nearly impossible.

If your child struggles with handwriting because of his or her ADHD, conventional writing practice may not address all of the fundamental skills effecting their handwriting. Handwriting instruction that works to build symbol imagery and working memory while writing will likely be more effective. Speak with a specialist about your child's specific writing needs.

Articles Mentioned:

Learning Disabilities and ADHD: Overlapping Spectrum Disorders

Susan D. MayesSusan L. CalhounErrin W. Crowell

Journal of Learning Disabilities

Vol 33, Issue 5, pp. 417 - 424

First Published September 1, 2000



bottom of page