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ADHD and Handwriting

LD and ADD/ADHD Expert Advice from Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

Q: My six-year-old son, in first grade, has been diagnosed with ADHD and currently takes Adderall (10mg) once per day. He is doing well in school so far this year, except for his writing. Do children with ADHD generally have more trouble with fine motor skills, or could writing difficulties be linked to a learning disability? He has not been screened for any learning disabilities at this time.

Thank you for your help.

A: The reason is not entirely clear, but it's certainly interesting that many students with ADHD do in fact have problems with the fine motor coordination necessary for writing. Your son should be evaluated by an occupational therapist (OT); the specialist trained to assess this skill. Some children who have difficulty printing are encouraged to use cursive (script) writing (when they are developmentally ready), because it's easier to flow from one letter to another than to make the frequent stops and shifts in directions that are involved with printing letters.

It could be that the handwriting problem is related to a learning disability, especially if the LD affects visual perceptual-motor performance (using the eyes and hands together). Children with what's called NonVerbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD or NLD) often have problems with handwriting, along with other problems. You should ask the school psychologist or the learning disabilities specialist in your district to evaluate your son's writing (and other visual perceptual skills) with this in mind. Also, it's important to let your son know that you know it's difficult for him to write, and to pay attention to his skills and positive traits. It should go without saying that there should be no comparison of his work with the writing of other children either at home or in school.

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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.

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