Turning Summer Learning Loss into Summer Learning Gains for Children with ADHD

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

We’re now two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and school has largely returned to normal for most students across the country. Masks are off, class sizes are back to full capacity, and remote and hybrid instruction models have largely been left behind. But the pandemic continues to impact learning for all students, and especially for students with ADHD. During the pandemic peak when most schools relied exclusively on remote or hybrid instruction, students with ADHD were particularly vulnerable to problems with motivation and learning. As a result, they made fewer academic gains than their classmates without ADHD, with many performing well below grade level in math and reading. Since returning to in-person learning, this gap has persisted as schools have struggled to provide the personalized instruction that students with ADHD need to make up for pandemic-related learning loss.   

During the summer months, students with ADHD are vulnerable to backsliding on the academic gains they have made over the past school year. Studies conducted before the pandemic found that on average, children lose up to two months of learning in math and up to one month of learning in reading over the summer, and that these losses are even greater for children with ADHD. This summer, the learning loss experienced by students with ADHD will compound their existing pandemic-related losses and further widen their achievement gap. Parents of children with ADHD should think beyond simply avoiding the summer slide this year and instead focus on ways their child can make significant academic gains that will set them up for success in the fall.   

For most parents of children with ADHD who have struggled to help their children keep up academically throughout the school year, the idea of focusing on academics during the summer months as well can feel daunting. Fortunately, summer allows for academic opportunities that are a better match to the needs of ADHD students than what is typically provided throughout the school year. This includes opportunities for individual or small group instruction, highly motivating learning activities that are matched to the child’s interests and skill level, and routines at home that include short but consistent opportunities for reading, writing and math.  

To start your child on a path to making academic gains this summer, consider these five steps: 

  1. Enroll your child in a structured learning program that targets their greatest academic weaknesses. Look for programs that include small group or individualized instruction and can personalize the content to match your child’s needs and interests. The Huntington Learning Center model is an excellent match for the learning needs of students with ADHD and includes regular assessments to evaluate students’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as their progress throughout the program.  
  2. Create a routine that includes a minimum of 15 minutes of reading every day. If getting your child to read is a challenge, be flexible with their reading options and allow them to choose things like comic books, books that are slightly below their reading or grade level, or magazines about videogames (or another interest area). Reward charts can also be very helpful if the rewards are provided frequently and are something your child is motivated to earn. 
  3. Look for opportunities to practice math as part of your child’s everyday activities. Bring your child to the grocery store and have them add up the prices on a sheet of paper as you shop. Then celebrate if their number matches the pre-tax total at checkout. When your child is watching sports, have them keep score using scoresheets you can find online. Talk about a player’s stats with your child and learn about how these stats are calculated (there are many online resources for this as well). 
  4. Have your child write every week in a summer journal. Let them choose the topic each week but require them to write a certain amount each time. The length of their writing should be matched to their age and ability level. Simple things like providing fun pens and pencils, allowing them to draw pictures alongside their writing, and showing an interest in what they’ve written can go a long way toward motivating children to keep journaling.
  5. Enroll your child in an online course that will allow them to learn about something that interests them. Even if a course isn’t focused on math, reading, or writing specifically, it will no doubt tap into at least some of these skills while making learning fun for your child.  

It isn’t always easy to convince children with ADHD to participate in academic activities over the summer, but it is more essential than ever this year. The effort that you and your child invest in their academic growth will pay off when they start their school year off with confidence in the fall.


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.