Helping Children With AD/HD with Writing and Math

These are a few tips that parents have shared with me regarding helping older children and teens with ADD/ADHD cope with writing and math in a classroom environment or at home with homework and ends our series of posts regarding children with AD/HD . I hope you have enjoyed this series as much as I have.   Our children with AD/HD are beautiful, and will succeed in having lives that are as wonderful and gifted as they are.  These strategies are ones parents found of use as they walked this journey, and are meant to support and encourage.


Children with AD/HD may have the following challenges with writing:  organization, poor memory (ie, cannot access long term memory for correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization along with trying to remember what they are writing about and what should come next), laborious handwriting (many prefer printing as cursive requires more memory than printing), unsophisticated ideas in writing,  and written language problems such as very brief sentences for grade level.

Ways to improve this may  include:  writing one to two sentences daily, and then working on how to construct a paragraph in separate parts.  Only after these two steps can one hope to work on lengthening assignments to one brief paragraph and then trying to increase the sophistication of ideas and words used.  Polishing grammar and spelling is the very last step. You can write with your student.  Teach sequencing in writing (first, second, next, last, then, finally, before, after, etc).


Common math difficulties include weak math computation,  and the inability to have basic math facts automated which hinders quickly retrieving information so problems cannot be completed quickly.  However, students may learn math concepts as easily as other students.  Algebra is often very, very challenging for a teenager with ADD/ADHD, as well as word problems,and long division .

Ways to improve this include:  putting a sample math problem on the board and numbering the steps and leaving it up throughout the math class, providing visual cueing for common math facts, providing copies of important math facts, using graph paper for place value instruction and to keep columns aligned, developing mnemonics for long division, and using math games.


Working memory tends to be weaker and impacts speed regulation and retention of information in the classroom.

Strategies for Improving Memory – includes using mnemonics, using color to highlight facts, using a multisensory approach, using visual aids on blackboard or on wall that will remain there throughout teaching.

I would add to all of these that memory  and academic skills improve with movement.  Teaching through movement can be an important step that is often not as addressed in traditional teaching environments.

Specific to a Waldorf Environment:  Waldorf Education does so many things “right” in regards to children with these sorts of learning challenges and works to develop the whole child.  Work in the physical body and with the arts improves the academic outlook immensely!

One thing I feel that is improving in Waldorf Schools, and certainly in the homeschool environment can be followed up on when one deems it necessary,  is that need to identify challenges head-on and get help.  Many of these past posts (this is the fifth one in this series)have identified professionals who can help – from anthroposophic doctors to neuropsychologists to executive functioning coaches to  any number  of holistic supports.  But the intervention is important.  I was reading through Fenner and Rivers’ “Waldorf Education:  A Family Guide” and  there was an article in there entitled, “To Tutor or Not To Tutor:  When Your Child Needs Help” by Anne Jurika that could be very helpful reading for Waldorf families dealing with this question.  Her point on page 127: “Sometimes children have a slower pace of development and do catch up with their peers by around Third Grade.  However, much of the time, in my observation, those who experience difficulty in the First Grade are still experiencing it in the upper grades, where it has become a problem on many levels – academic, social, and emotional….While it is important not to overreact, it is important also to investigate the problem as soon as possible with the class teacher through close observation and evaluation, with advice from knowledgeable people.”

Please share with me the ideas that have helped your children directly with academic challenges.  I would love to hear what worked for your child and promoted success over the rougher spots.




6 thoughts on “Helping Children With AD/HD with Writing and Math

  1. Dear Carrie. I love what you do and I am so grateful for your work. Thank you. I have followed with particular interest this series on working with children with ADHD. I love research and I appreciate how you have incorporated that into all of these posts. I have found many of these tips, as well as the observations of behaviours of ADHD, also fit quite well with my child who does not have ADHD but is dyslexic (or, according to the Psych Ed assessment has visual and phonological processing issues and short-term memory problems). We have had a great deal of support through her Waldorf school and doing work with reflex integration and therapeutic eurythmy. As well, we have found the Davis Dyslexia method integrates very well with our Waldorf education and is geared towards children with ADHD and dyslexia. I highly recommend the books The Gift of Dyslexia by Ron Davis and Fish Don’t Climb Trees by Sue Hall. The latter particularly changed my life and how I view my daughter’s gift. And we now have numerous tools that fit within our Waldorf curriculum and help with the challenges of memory, decoding, attention, and so much more. Perhaps they would be a resource for others trying to figure out how best to work with children (and adults!) who learn differently (although the tools–such as working three dimensionally with clay and learning trigger words) can help anyone.

    Thank you for all you do!

    • Thank you, Manda!!
      I love the Davis Dyslexia method and am so glad that you mentioned it!
      Many blessings,

  2. I really want to thank you for this series. Your explanation of the issues are concise and SPOT ON!

    I was actually chastised in a Waldorf yahoo group once for not just ‘making’ my child memorize the times table with no excuses – drill and kill! It was at this time I will still discovering the learning differences in my child and was quite distraught and angered. Soon after that I printed up a large print, bi-colored (for easy eye tracking) laminated times table and handed it to my child! It may take a number of years and it may never happen that my child learns those times tables – but he will be able to move forward with math concepts and breath more easily (and perhaps enjoy math).

    My son also has severe dysgraphia so 1/2″ graph paper has been a godsend (and is available in MLB’s).

    Writing is still the biggest challenge – being able to read handwriting; his ability to do copywork (even) without missing letters, words, sentences; spelling/punctuation/sentence formulation. His ideas are great but he talks in run-on sentences so his writing is similar (we could call them elaborate compound sentences…Dickensian maybe). 🙂 I do a lot of dictation with him and then we go back and find sentences and input punctuation/capitals etc.

    While we continue to work on handwriting (he almost writes better w/cursive but is still learning it) I bought him a 1970’s electric typewriter so he can get his ideas out and then be able to read what he has written (he’s eleven). A manual typewrite was to hard for him to manage – I tried that first. The spelling is still phonetic but we can at least read what has been typed.

    Thank you again Carrie for such insight!

    • Nancy,
      Thank you so much for sharing what worked for your son. I love your descriptions of the Dickensian sentences. I think that is so spot on! And, I think accommodation is just part of the picture and part of life. They bring so many beautiful things to the table and I think have an innate ability to see a big picture, unique ways of looking at challenges and bring so much with their outlook and perseverance.
      Many blessings and I am so glad you are here.

  3. Hi Carrie, Thank you for this series of articles. My son has official diagnoses of SPD/dyslexia and dysgraphia. At his 2 year check ADHD was brought up. He started Waldorf KG but was deemed ‘too wild’ to be successful there. I am also a qualified primary school teacher here in the UK with experience of children with these ‘issues’ in the classroom and have spent a long time pondering on the concept of ADHD and education, having struggled to get my son to do any kind of sit down work in the early days.
    I am however coming to the conclusion that yes, we need to question/help the child etc but environment is a huge factor and that sometimes school itself and our philosophy of education is actually at fault. It is interesting that the diagnosis of ADHD is focused on a school environment. Is it the child or is it the environment?: This turns the diagnosis article on its head: I have also found hugely helpful Cindy Gaddis’ book The Right Side of Normal. In it she discusses two very different learning personalities – the left brain type which is supported by our typical education scope and sequence in school and the right brain type where content comes first and basic skills of reading, writing etc later, starting from about the age of 10. This is going to be a ‘difficult child’ in school. I have certainly found this to be true of my son who has finally started reading this year and is receptive to the idea of doing some formal work. In the book, Cindy also discusses widely different learning styles for these two groups when it comes to language arts and maths. I have found her observations very true and helpful.
    On the other hand, I also know I can be driven to distraction by my son’s chaotic energy at times and see that it is not serving him either. I do think diet has a major impact. We put my son on Dianne Craft’s Biology of Behaviour programme and saw results. In addition, after experiencing strange symptoms (internal tremors/twitches) myself, lab work showed I had heavy metal toxification issues. My clinical nutritionist believes this is the key factor in ADHD so we are getting my son tested as I most probably passed on my toxification in utero to him.
    So is it possible to use Waldorf with a ‘wild child?’ Well, I guess due to everything, we would be deemed more Waldorf inspired than purist. Believe me, I have often felt like giving up but each year has got better and stronger. I admit no MLB has as yet been produced (sitting down issues coupled with SPD/dyslexia issues have led to certain challenges etc). I’ve had to learn to take the slow approach because being too forceful just led to overwhelm and a breakdown in our relationship. I also believe that too much force to develop skills before a child is ready is actually contra-indicated and could mean that child never develops those skills at all. But stories have been presented at appropriate times, followed up by field trips and hands on work. Last year (Grade 3) my son learnt to knit, and this year he’s learnt to play the recorder. This years there’s also been more focused art time and lately my son has started writing, thanks to a gift of a manual typewriter. (This is fun, mummy! I have to push really hard and it makes lots of noise. Writing is fun!) We focus on the family, the home and lots of time outdoors. And my son’s incredible energy and gifts in practical skills means that at the age of 5 I was confident enough to leave him outside with a saw, an electric drill and some logs and he made himself a log cabin. He is a great fisherman and gardener and as people comment he would survive just fine in either prehistoric or post apocalyptic society.

    • Tania – yes, to everything you wrote. Beautiful. I think too, so many of these children would just do so well in many active occupations and lifestyles…and I agree, we have to be careful not to just try to fit the child into a too soon, sit Down hole but also we have to be able to live together and as the child turns into a teen and young adult, to live with others…i ponder these issues so much and appreciate your thoughts. Your son sounds delightful!

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