Spelling Struggles and ADHD

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

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 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 words or “write” words with his or her fingers in a tray of sand or on a cutting board covered in baking flour. If you have more time, allow your child to use clay to form letter shapes and spell out words.
  1. 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 required reading assignments with fun reading activities. These can be things like reading comic books, having someone read aloud while he or she follows along, or visiting websites with articles on his or her favorite topics.
  2. 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 word lists and at least some of his or her 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Consider testing for learning problems. If your child’s spelling challenges are severe and/or are accompanied by reading delays and other writing problems, then consider requesting a learning evaluation from your child’s school, an educational therapist, or a psychologist. It’s possible that a reading or writing disorder is driving the problem, and targeted interventions can help.

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.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit www.huntingtonfranchise.com.

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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