More than 60% of children diagnosed with ADHD struggle with written language. Most often their writing difficulties are not due to a lack of ideas but instead to their problems in getting their ideas from their brains onto paper. This is why kids with ADHD need to learn dictation skills. Dictation and, to a lesser degree, high level typing skills can transform children with ADHD from discouraged non-writers into accomplished classroom authors.
It is not surprising that writing is such an arduous task for kids with ADHD. This can be for many reasons, including:
- Long-term problems with handwriting, either illegible or very slow handwriting, that have led to an avoidance of writing tasks
- Difficulty with working memory, so that by the time they start to put their ideas onto paper they can no longer remember them or recall the sentence that they had formulated
- Slow processing speed. Things just take them longer to do, whether it be the formulation of thoughts, the inputting of ideas, the amount of time it takes to consider a thought (the internal processing), or actually getting the thought onto paper (the output). (61% of kids with ADHD also have slow processing speed)
- Problems with task initiation, an executive-functioning skill that helps children to get started on tasks, particularly those that are not self-selected.
- Poor organization. Another executive function in which children have a jumble of thoughts and cannot order or sequence them to make a complete, meaningful sentence or paragraph.
- A loss of attention during the process of writing. While sometimes this is from an outside distraction, at other times it is seen in getting off course from the ideas children are attempting to communicate.
While most kids with ADHD appear to be skilled at talking – often talking too much – the majority demonstrate difficulty in putting their thoughts onto paper. Many kids with ADHD are also creative and have a lot of great ideas. Organizing and expressing their creativity through writing can be a disheartening experience due to the issues discussed above. As a result, many kids with ADHD try to avoid writing or to rush through it, producing brief, messy work that lacks adequate content for the assignment.
Dictation devices, and more importantly, dictation skills, can be powerful tools for helping kids with ADHD overcome their distaste for writing. Dictation can quickly take a child’s ideas and get them onto paper before the child has forgotten them and without any of the concerns of poor or slow handwriting. It can help to compensate for weak working-memory skills, as children do not need to hold the thoughts and formulated sentences in mind for more than a few seconds to get them onto paper. It can make the painstaking task of handwriting into talking, something that most kids with ADHD like to do.
Dictation is also a great tool for generating ideas and brainstorming so that getting started on task can happen almost anywhere children have access to a mobile device with a dictation app. Dictation is also great as a tool for facilitating organization. While dictation may not organize children’s writing, they will know where their documents are stored when they dictate directly into an online document (I recommend dictating into either a Dragon dictation file or Google Drive). Then they can go back to it and organize their written thoughts, maybe even engaging a parent, teacher or sibling into helping with this task.
It is important that kids with ADHD learn how to dictate in order to get the most benefit from the use of dictation to improve their writing skills. It’s not just about having access to a dictation device. As the salesman at a bike shop recently told me when I was considering the purchase of a new bicycle that would help me ride faster, “It’s the engine (meaning me) not the bike that makes the most difference.” In the case of dictation, it would be the skills of the children using dictation and not the machine that would help the most.
Our series of dictation articles can help parents and educators understand how to use dictation effectively in order to address some of the difficulties experienced by kids with ADHD and other learning and attention issues. We also strongly encourage you to sign your child and/or student up for our dictation training classes, which would start them on the way to becoming better and more willing writers.