Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders. It can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused, paying attention, and controlling behavior, and hyperactivity.
The percentage of children diagnosed with ADHD is on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7.8 percent of American children were diagnosed with it in 2003. This number had risen to 9.5 percent by 2007 and 11 percent by 2011.
The CDC puts the average age of diagnosis for ADHD at 7 years old. When it comes to children with severe ADHD, the average age of diagnosis is 5 years old. For those with mild ADHD, it’s 8 years old. That’s right about the time that parents and teachers are focusing on children’s penmanship.
There are many signs and symptoms of ADHD. Some are rather subtle, while others are quite obvious. For example, if your child has poor behavioral skills, academic difficulties, or problems with motor skills, it might be a sign of ADHD. Poor handwriting has also been linked to this condition.
Handwriting and ADHD
According to an article published in Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, many studies have linked ADHD with poor handwriting. This may reflect the fact that children with ADHD often have impaired motor skills.
“Motor skills” describe your child’s ability to perform movements with their body. Gross motor skills are large movements, such as running. Fine motor skills are small movements, such as writing. Researchers in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities report that more than half of children with ADHD have problems with gross and fine motor skills.
If your child has problems with fine motor skills, such as “jerky” movements and poor hand control, this can make it hard for them to write quickly and clearly. As a result, their teachers may label their work as sloppy or messy. Their peers may judge them too, especially during group projects that require your child to work with others. These experiences might lead to feelings of frustration and low self-esteem, which can negatively affect your child’s performance at school and in other areas. Among other issues, they may start to avoid assignments that require lots of handwriting.
If your child is experiencing a lot of trouble with handwriting, make an appointment with their doctor. It may be a sign of ADHD or another disorder. If your child has already been diagnosed with ADHD, ask their doctor about treatment and training strategies that might help them write more easily and clearly.
Diagnosis and treatment
There’s no single test available to diagnose ADHD. To check your child for ADHD, their doctor will start by conducting a complete medical examination. If your child shows signs of six or more symptoms related to inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, their doctor will likely diagnose them with ADHD. Those symptoms must be evident at home and school. They must last for six months or more.
If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, their doctor will recommend a treatment plan. It may include a combination of medications, behavioral therapy, counseling, and lifestyle changes. Some treatments may help improve their handwriting skills, as well as other symptoms of ADHD.
One study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders suggests that stimulant medication may help improve handwriting legibility and speed among children with ADHD. But the authors caution that medication alone may not be enough. Children who had poor handwriting at the beginning of the study continued to have problems at the end. In other words, their handwriting got better with medication, but there was still room for improvement.
Another study in the journal CNS & Neurological Disorders examined the effects of medication and motor skills training on children with ADHD. Children who received motor skills training alone, or in combination with medication, showed improvements in their gross and fine motor skills. In contrast, those who received medication alone showed no improvements.
Special motor skills training, with or without medication, might help your child develop better handwriting skills.
ADHD isn’t the only condition that can cause poor handwriting. If your child has poor penmanship or struggles to write, it might be a sign of another development disorder, such as:
- development coordination disorder
- written language disorder
Developmental coordination disorder
Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a condition that causes motor difficulties. If your child has this condition, they will appear uncoordinated and clumsy. They will likely have poor penmanship too. It’s possible for them to have both DCD and ADHD.
Written language disorder
Written language disorder (WLD) is another condition that can cause poor penmanship. If your child has WLD, they will be developmentally behind their peers in reading, spelling, or writing skills. But the condition won’t affect their overall intelligence.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics found a link between ADHD and WLD. The investigators also found that girls with ADHD are at higher risk of WLD and reading disabilities than boys.
Your child might also have a learning disability known as dysgraphia. This condition will affect their ability to organize letters and numbers. It will also make it difficult for them to keep words on a straight line.
Other causes of handwriting issues include:
- vision problems
- sensory processing disorders
- dyslexia, a language processing disorder
- other learning disorders
- brain injury
Your child’s doctor can help you identify the cause of their writing challenges.
Even as our reliance on technology grows, handwriting remains an important element in early education. Strong handwriting can help your child succeed in school and in life. It requires a wide range of skills, including thought organization, concentration, and motor coordination. All of these skills are affected by ADHD.
If you suspect that your child has ADHD, make an appointment with the doctor. If they struggle with handwriting, certain treatment or training strategies may help them improve their fine motor skills. Improved handwriting skills may lead to better overall school performance and higher levels of self-confidence.