Tips for Helping Students with ADHD Overcome Reading Challenges

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

ADHD symptoms related to attention, motivation and working memory affect all areas of academic learning, including reading. Reading skills are essential for academic success, and students who struggle to read risk falling behind in math, science, history and writing. Reading problems can also take a toll on a student’s self-confidence and frustrate parents and teachers who struggle to determine whether a student’s reluctance to read is due to poor motivation, willful defiance or a skills deficit. 

How does ADHD cause reading difficulties?  

For students with ADHD whose reading difficulties stem primarily from motivational deficits, ADHD symptoms will be most impairing when they are reading about a topic that doesn’t interest them. While most students without ADHD can ‘power through’ a less interesting reading assignment, students with ADHD will find it nearly impossible to get their brains to focus on the text. They find these reading assignments so mentally taxing and aversive that they will do just about anything to avoid completing them, including acting out and becoming disruptive in class.  

ADHD-related weaknesses in working memory and sustained attention lead to problems with reading accuracy and comprehension. These problems often present as tendency to rush through reading assignments, miss key details, and skip full sentences or paragraphs while reading. Making important connections while reading and pulling out the main idea(s) are also more difficult for students with ADHD. As a result, these students may have a harder time meeting grade-level expectations in reading comprehension and other areas of learning than students without ADHD.  

Tips for helping students with ADHD improve their reading abilities: 

  1. Provide incentives and rewards for reading. Many students with ADHD will need a motivational boost in the form of rewards and praise to stay focused and engaged while reading. The incentives and rewards don’t need to be large. In fact, sometimes a small privilege paired with genuine praise from their teacher can have a big impact. 
  2. Break larger reading assignments down into smaller chunks. Students with ADHD often struggle to complete reading assignments simply because they are overwhelmed by the length of the assignment. Breaking longer reading assignments into smaller sections will go a long way toward helping them complete the assigned task one step at a time.
  3. Offer individualized instruction to help students overcome skills deficits and build confidence in their reading abilities. Many students with ADHD who don’t meet criteria for a specific reading disorder still have reading skills weaknesses that make it harder for them to keep up with their peers. Individualized reading instruction can have a huge impact on reading skill performance and reading confidence in students with ADHD.  
  4. Minimize distractions. Have a conversation with your student about distractions in the classroom. You may be surprised to find that it’s not the obvious things that distract a student the most. Sometimes it’s the sound of a dripping faucet that makes it hard to focus, or the clutter in a desk or a cubby along the wall. Helping the student find creative ways to minimize distractions can help with boosting reading productivity. 
  5. Tap into the student’s interests. ADHD symptoms are least impairing when students are engaged in an activity that interests them. So, whenever possible, allow the student to choose reading assignments related to topics that they find interesting. This will help the students stay focused on the text for longer periods of time, make fewer errors and retain significantly more information. 

In addition to the tips above, a learning evaluation is recommended for children with ADHD who are not meeting grade-level expectations to assess whether they may also have a reading disorder. In general, with extra support and reading practice at school and at home, students with ADHD can become strong and confident readers over time.


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

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