Helping Kids with ADHD become Strong Readers

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Reading skills are central to every academic subject, and kids who struggle to read are at risk for difficulty in math, science, history, and writing. Research shows that kids with ADHD are more likely to have reading challenges than kids without ADHD, possibly because of working memory and processing speed weaknesses. Reading problems may be subtle at first and involve difficulty identifying letters or sounds. Over time, problems can include slower reading speed, difficulty with decoding, poor sight word identification, and poor reading comprehension. Once a child has fallen well behind his or her peers in reading he or she is unlikely to catch up without extra support. Research shows that kids with reading difficulties do best when they receive interventions as early as possible. So, if you suspect that your child’s reading skills aren’t developing as well as they should be, talk to your child’s teacher now.

Understanding how to help a child with ADHD improve his or her reading skills can be challenging. I usually recommend starting with an academic assessment. Results from a thorough evaluation will let you and your child’s teacher know exactly which reading skills are weak, will identify whether or not your child has a specific reading disorder that needs to be addressed, and will explain how your child’s ADHD symptoms and difficulties with motivation are impacting his or her reading development. All of this information will help you and your child’s teachers identify strategies and services that are tailored to meet your child’s needs. Extra instructional support at school and through afterschool learning and tutoring programs can help your child learn basic and complex reading skills that he or she may have missed during regular classroom instruction.

Many kids with ADHD are “reluctant” to read and go out of their way to avoid of reading. When they do read they choose books that are too easy for them or are very short. Unfortunately, this reluctance limits their opportunities to practice reading and gain essential skills. As a parent, there are many things you can do to help your child get the reading practice that is needed, without engaging in stressful arguments or negotiations. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  1. Read to your child. Even kids who do not like to read enjoy having someone else read to them. Reading to your child can help improve his or her skills, especially when you have your child read along and ask your child to share his or her predictions and observations about the story.
  2. Take turns reading. If your child resists reading, offer to alternate reading aloud with him or her. For young children this might mean that they read one word or sentence and then you read the next word or sentence. For older children you can alternate paragraphs. Keep going and before you know it, you’re child will have read half of a book!
  3. Supplement with skills practice on reading apps. Studies suggest that kids with ADHD may benefit from practicing their reading skills using computer-based reading programs. Bluster is a fun vocabulary building app, Montessori Crosswords is great for learning phonics, and Mad Libs can be a fun way for kids 4th grade and up to practice vocabulary and reading comprehension.
  4. Help your child explore websites on topics that they enjoy. Exploring interesting websites can be a great way for kids to practice reading without even realizing they are building new skills! Sit with your child and ask him or her to share what he or she is learning as he or she reads. This will improve his or her comprehension, and you’ll be sure that he or she is not skipping the text and only looking at pictures.

With support and practice kids with ADHD can develop into strong readers. If you suspect that your child’s reading skills are not as strong as they should be, don’t wait. Talk to your child’s teacher right away so you can get started with a plan to get your child the help that he or she needs.



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

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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