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Executive Functioning and Writing

Understanding how executive functioning impacts writing is important in helping you support your child with executive functioning challenges, as most kids with EF difficulties struggle with getting their thoughts down on the page.

Writing is a very complex process that involves attention, executive functioning, language skills and fine motor skills. 

Writing requires the following skills:

  • Vocabulary 
  • Receptive and expressive language skills
  • Knowledge of writing conventions (grammar, punctuation, capitalization rules)
  • Phonological morphological and orthographic knowledge
  • Spelling skills
  • Short-term memory
  • Working memory
  • Retrieval from long-term memory storage
  • Good general information about their environment and world
  • Reasoning skills
  • Sustained attention
  • Executive functioning skills
  • Idea generation
  • Organizing thoughts
  • Converting ideas to words
  • Planning and pre-writing skills
  • Visual-spatial skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • How to compose a sentence, paragraph, essay and/or paper
  • Editing and revising words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs

Through brain research, we know that when we begin to write, we require a tremendous amount of executive functioning skills to coordinate all of these processes. Kids with executive functioning struggle with task initiation and that is when we need a high level of coordinated executive functioning skills the most. 

Writing requires one to be increasingly independent in organizing their thoughts and getting them down on the page and more than that they must initiate, sustain, monitor and discipline themselves throughout the process. That lack of self-awareness, metacognitive skills and working memory all play into the difficulties that most kids with executive functioning difficulties have with written expression. 

What Behaviors do You See With a Child or Teen With Executive Functioning Related Writing Difficulties

When something is hard for a child who struggles with attention and learning, you are often going to see resistant and avoidant behaviors. Parents may misinterpret these behaviors as motivation issues but for most kids, it is a way to avoid a task that is painfully hard.

Common Behaviors of a Child With EF-Related Writing Difficulties:

  • Resistance to topic/idea generation 
  • Resistance to accepting the topic/ideas from an adult
  • Difficulty generating ideas with a clear story sequence from start to finish
  • Forgets their generated ideas quickly
  • Can’t express or articulate ideas
  • Limited words with ideas
  • Written text is overly simplistic and minimalistic in comparison to oral knowledge
  • Complains about writing in general
  • Difficulty with the physical mechanics of writing and/or complains of fatigue
  • Poor handwriting and legibility
  • Slow writer
  • Repeated misspellings
  • Incoherent thoughts expressed
  • Story hard to follow and doesn't paint a picture of what is happening
  • Difficulties with visual imagery in writing despite normal visual reasoning and visual-spatial skills
  • Reasoning or visuospatial abilities deteriorate as writing progresses
  • Limited written production despite good ideas and language representation
  • Repeated sentences and ideas with little coherence
  • Rushes through task to avoid spending too much time on it

Helping kids visualize that end result and use sensory language to help “see” what they are talking about, helps to activate those metacognitive and working memory centers that are so developmentally delayed in kids with executive functioning issues.

What Does The Research Say About Executive Functioning and Writing?

We know through research that not only is there a relationship between executive functioning and academic performance but there is a predictive relationship too. Elementary school children with good executive functioning did better academically in later school years than their peers with poor executive functioning. So, executive functioning is an important determinant of academic success as early as elementary school. 

And remember executive functions are a set of skills that need to be taught. A pill isn’t going to fix the underlying problem that kids with executive functioning dysfunction or ADHD have and they can learn to organize their thinking and behavior and strategically plan and take action that lead to a future outcome (that's a fancy way of saying get stuff done without an adult cuing them the entire way). 

Having executive functioning skills is important for children to address their writing difficulties. Having an executive functioning disorder in writing with or without ADHD or having dyslexia and executive function writing problems can be very hard on kids and really knock down their self-esteem. Getting kids with EF challenges to write without a screaming match or them hiding out in the basement can be quite a hurdle but not an impossible task. 

Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. 

Are you looking for SOLUTIONS for your child or teen struggling with executive functioning? 

Dr. Roseann and her team are all about solutions for kids with EF issues who need blossoming, so you are in the right place! 

Register for Dr, Roseann's FREE webinar, 5 Ways to Boost Your Child’s Executive Functioning and Attention at School,  where Dr. Roseann will show you how to help your child or teen be more alert, listen, develop skills to be independent and self-sufficient and improve task completion.

Need help parenting a child with executive functioning issues, there are 3 ways to work with Dr. Roseann: 

You can get her books for parents and professionals, including: It’s Gonna Be OK™: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child’s Mental Health, Teletherapy Toolkit™ and Brain Under Attack: A Resource For Parents and Caregivers of Children With PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalopathy.

Are you a professional who wants more training from Dr. Roseann? 

Purchase her book, Teletherapy Toolkit™: Therapist Handbook for Treating Children and Teens

If you are a business or organization that needs proactive guidance to support employee mental health or an organization looking for a brand representative, check out Dr. Roseann’s professional speaking page to see how we can work together. 

Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of  media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post,, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.” 

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

© Roseann-Capanna-Hodge, LLC 2021

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