Spelling Struggles and ADHD

Many kids with ADHD struggle with spelling problems. They have difficulty learning to spell new words, may take longer to think through how to spell a word and write it down on the page, and make mistakes spelling simple words that they had previously memorized. In fact, studies have shown that kids with ADHD are even likely to make spelling mistakes when they are copy words verbatim. Unfortunately, kids with ADHD who struggle with spelling are often perceived as not caring about the quality of their work, or being too lazy to double check for errors. In reality, one of the primary executive functioning components involved in spelling – working memory – is impaired in many kids with ADHD. As a result, kids with ADHD will make more spelling mistakes than kids without ADHD even when they are trying to do their best work. In addition, having ADHD makes it harder to identify spelling mistakes during proofreading, so traditional strategies for double checking work may not be very effective.

While spelling struggles may be a lifelong challenge for many kids with ADHD, there are strategies that can help.

  1. Commit words to memory using creative strategies. Making spelling an automatic process whenever possible won’t eliminate spelling problems, but it will help cut down on errors. Basic, repetitive memorization strategies are often not very effective for kids with ADHD. Instead, try incorporating tactile activities. Allow your child to use magnetic letters to spell their words or “write” words with their fingers in a tray of sand or on a cutting board covered in baking flour. If you have more time, allow them to use clay to form letter shapes and spell out their words.
  2. Encourage your child to read. In general, the more kids read the better they will become at spelling. If your child is a reluctant reader, supplement their required reading assignments with fun reading activities. These can be things like reading comic books, having someone read aloud to them while they follow along, or visiting websites with articles on their favorite topics.
  3. Allow your child to type words instead of handwriting them. Spelling is a complex process, and some kids with ADHD have difficulty with the physical process of handwriting letters to form words. Make things easier and more efficient for your child by allowing them to type up their word lists and at least some of their assignments. Consider talking to your child’s teacher about getting an accommodation that will allow your child to turn in homework assignments that were completed on a computer.
  4. Use Text to Speech readers and spell checkers as proofreading tools. Basic proofreading is a challenge for kids with ADHD, but technology can help. Spell checkers will catch many spelling errors, and Text to Speech readers will identify even more spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Text to Speech programs will read aloud the words that your child has typed onto the page. Your child will be able to hear when a word sounds incorrect, or is used is the wrong context. There are many free Text to Speech readers, like NaturalReader, available online.

Spelling struggles can be frustrating for kids with ADHD, but with patience, practice, and a little help from technology, your child’s spelling can improve over time.

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