Why Do Kids with ADHD Struggle with Reading?

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Many children with ADHD struggle with reading comprehension and reading fluency. Reading skills are essential for academic success, and kids who struggle to read risk falling behind in math, science, history, and writing. Reading problems in kids with ADHD can also contribute to conflicts at home as parents struggle to determine whether their child’s reluctance to read is due to poor motivation, willful defiance, or lack of ability.

What do reading problems look like in kids with ADHD?
Some of the more common reading problems in kids with ADHD are related to reading fluency, including skipping over words, sentences, and punctuation, rushing through the material, and losing track of their spot on the page.

Problems related to reading comprehension include missing details in the text, having difficulty making important connections, struggling to remember what they just read, and having a hard time identifying the main idea.

How do ADHD-related reading problems differ from learning disorders like dyslexia?
Children who have a learning disorder that affects reading, like dyslexia, have reading challenges that look a bit different from what we see in ADHD. These include difficulty identifying similarities and differences between words, struggling to sound out unfamiliar words, reading very slowly, frequently failing to recognize words that should be easy and familiar, and difficulty with spelling.

It’s possible to have both ADHD and a learning disorder that affects reading. In fact, reading disorders, like dyslexia, and ADHD co-occur frequently, with 25%-40% of children with one disorder meeting criteria for the other. Kids who have both conditions require separate interventions for ADHD and their learning disorder.

Why does ADHD often lead to reading problems?

ADHD can make it harder to learn how to read, and it can also make it harder to acquire new information through reading. Here are some of the typical ways that ADHD symptoms interfere with reading:

  • Poor focus or difficulty with sustained attention. When a child with ADHD reads, it can be hard for them to keep their thoughts focused on the words on the page. As a result, they lose their place, miss words or paragraphs, and have a harder time retaining information.
  • Difficulty sustaining mental effort. Kids with ADHD struggle to stay motivated and mentally engaged when they are reading something that isn’t interesting to them. While everyone struggles with this to a certain extent, for kids with ADHD, this difficulty is extreme. When the content isn’t interesting, they struggle to get their brains to “click into gear.” As a result, they find reading so boring and aversive that they will do just about anything to avoid it.
  • Rushing through their work. Kids who repeatedly rush through their written schoolwork are also likely to rush through their reading material. This is usually due to a combination of impulsivity and a desire to ‘escape’ a mentally boring task. When they read too quickly, they skip over words, sentences, and punctuation, miss important details, and struggle to recall what they just read.
  • Poor working memory. Working memory is a cognitive function that allows us to keep track of multiple pieces of information at one time and draw connections between details. Many kids with ADHD have working memory impairments, and these can make it more difficult for them to identify the main idea in a story or paragraph, recall the details of what they just read, and connect what they are reading now with something they’ve read in the past.

Helping kids with ADHD improve their reading skills requires a two-pronged approach that includes 1) treating the underlying ADHD symptoms, and 2) providing individualized reading instruction, like the services offered through Huntington Learning Center. In addition, it is recommended that kids with ADHD who are not meeting grade-level expectations in reading receive a learning evaluation to determine whether they also have a learning disorder.

Reading problems can have a profound negative effect on a child’s ability to succeed at school. If you are concerned about your child’s reading, don’t wait to get help. With the right support, all kids with ADHD can develop the reading skills they need to succeed.


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.