Children and students with ADHD may have difficulties with reading-related challenges, but help is available.

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Many people enjoy cuddling up on the couch with a book as a way to wind down. But people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), especially children, might find reading much more frustrating than relaxing.

This is because those with ADHD tend to experience reading problems.

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts children and adults differently, but many people report reading difficulties with ADHD.

So how does ADHD affect reading comprehension? It can be challenging for many reasons, including difficulty with:

  • focusing
  • memory and retention
  • processing information
  • sitting still
  • managing time
  • managing distractions (e.g., distracting thoughts or stimuli in the environment)

“Given difficulties with sustained attention, reading can be particularly difficult as kids often report rereading passages over and over again given lack of focus and being easily distracted,” says Angelique Snyder, Psy.D., a pediatric psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.

“Their inability to focus and concentrate may make it harder for them to visually track information and retain what they just read, so both their reading speed and comprehension can suffer,” adds Dr. Judy Ho, board certified clinical neuropsychologist and a psychology professor at Pepperdine University.

A 2019 study suggests that reading disabilities and ADHD typically co-occur. Snyder notes that kids with ADHD also tend to have comorbid learning disorders, which can affect reading.

Reading difficulties can be challenging. Here’s how you can address your concerns.

For parents of children with ADHD

Snyder recommends first ruling out a reading or learning disability. She says parents can request this testing through their schools.

“If [one] is present, schools should provide additional support to kids to help with reading (e.g., small group instruction, material read aloud to them, etc.),” Snyder says.

“Make sure to communicate with teachers regularly, and ask for some additional support in the classroom from aides or the teacher to help the student engage in learning activities,” adds Ho.

Another 2019 study indicates that ADHD is associated with poor school performance, including lower grades and test scores. Early intervention and accommodations can help children perform better inside and outside of the classroom.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a list of resources that may assist children and students with ADHD in school.

If you feel your child may be experiencing reading problems, Jocelyn Patterson, MPS, a licensed medical health professional, encourages you to ask questions.

“Ask your child about their experience. It will be so much easier to find a solution if you have a clear vision of what the problem is,” she says.

She also recommends asking other parents if they’ve experienced something similar. “While asking a professional is encouraged, sometimes people who have been there can find the most creative and impactful solutions.”

A pediatrician or child psychologist may also be able to evaluate and diagnose your child with ADHD and offer further support.

For adults and students with ADHD

Therapy can also help you better learn how your brain works and offer helpful coping strategies for reading with ADHD, especially when it becomes frustrating.

“Seeking the support of a [psychologist] to evaluate specific concerns can help outline a comprehensive intervention plan and assist in seeking accommodations from high schools, universities, and placement exams boards to ensure success,” says Ho.

“For older students and adults, it’ll be important to continue to challenge yourself and build reading skills by learning and adopting strategies to help with reading speed and comprehension,” she adds.

Children, students, and adults with ADHD may improve their reading skills with the following tips.

Take breaks

Beat time management and focus challenges by taking breaks during reading sessions.

“To maximize stimulation, kids benefit from short intensive periods of instruction broken up by frequent breaks, especially ones that incorporate movement,” says Snyder.

Ho recommends using the Pomodoro Technique. Using an alarm, read for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break, then repeat. Take a longer break after four times, then re-engage with the material.

“This will help focus and concentration in short spurts, and you will be more efficient and get more accomplished,” she says.

Break up lengthy chapters or organize tasks into smaller ones, too. Ho explains that doing this can better work the information into your memory and make it easier to recall.

Consider active reading

You can practice active reading in many ways, including:

  • using pens or highlighters to annotate or track words while reading
  • reading out loud
  • writing notes in the margins or on a separate piece of paper
  • picking interesting books and content to read
  • quizzing yourself on sections before moving on (only if this task isn’t stressful)
  • drawing pictures of what you just read to better understand concepts

Reduce distractions

Because of distractibility issues with ADHD, helping children practice reading in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming is key to reducing frustration, Ho says.

Snyder recommends reading or having your kids read in a space that limits distractions. This may help them to stay focused and better absorb reading material.

Communicate about challenges

Prioritize honest and open communication about any potential reading challenges. By talking about your experiences, you can receive help and the necessary accommodations to succeed in school.

Ho recommends that parents chat with their kids about reading. “Talk to them about where they struggle and discuss remedies and ways to help them conquer the areas they have difficulty in.”

Get creative

“The symptoms related to hyperactivity can make it tough to sit still, but no one ever said that you had to read while sitting down,” Patterson says. If you can, consider walking, pacing, or standing (in a safe place) while reading instead.

A wandering mind and loss of interest in the material are more likely to occur when the content is boring, too.

“Kids with ADHD avoid tasks that require sustained mental effort, so making reading fun will provide positive experiences to combat the often negative ones they experience,” says Snyder.

Especially for younger children, Ho recommends a reward system as they work on specific reading skills and accomplish milestones.

“Trial and error can be time-consuming, but not all solutions work the same way for everyone,” Patterson adds. Get creative with different strategies until you find something that helps.

Reading can be difficult and frustrating for children with ADHD. This is due to issues of focusing, managing distractions, and processing and retaining information.

If the condition isn’t managed during childhood, reading challenges may continue into high school, college, and adulthood.

Parents can help their kids improve reading skills with open communication and the help of a pediatrician or psychologist. Students and adults may find relief in talking with a therapist and practicing reading comprehension skills.

Some strategies that may improve reading skills in children and people with ADHD include:

  • reducing distractions
  • taking breaks
  • getting creative
  • making it more fun

ADHD may pose unique challenges when reading, but relief is possible and help is available. Consider seeing a mental health professional to figure out a treatment plan that works best for you or your child and learn how to improve the overall reading experience.