By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Reading is a struggle for many kids with ADHD. In fact, studies show that kids with ADHD are more likely to have difficulty meeting grade-level reading expectations than kids without ADHD. In addition, reading disorders, like dyslexia, and ADHD co-occur more frequently than by chance, with 25%-40% of children with one disorder meeting criteria for the other.

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.

Fortunately, there are many effective strategies for improving reading skills in kids with ADHD. The first step is a learning evaluation, either conducted by the school or privately by a learning specialist or psychologist. This evaluation will assess a variety of reading-related skills, like fluency, phonemic awareness, sight word recognition, comprehension, and even spelling.

A report will be generated upon completion of the evaluation that outlines your child’s reading strengths and weaknesses. When a severe and specific pattern of weaknesses is identified, then a reading disorder diagnosis will be assigned. Typically, students with a reading disorder diagnosis qualify for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) at school and will receive interventions matched to their learning needs.

Often, a child with ADHD will have relatively mild weaknesses in a variety of reading-related skills and won’t meet criteria for a specific reading disorder. This doesn’t mean that their reading struggles aren’t real, or that they should just “try harder.” Instead, it means that for this child, it’s the combination of reading skill weaknesses and ADHD symptoms that is interfering with their ability to meet grade-level expectations.

In these cases, reading difficulties may be more subtle, but the child’s resistance to reading may be quite high. Even when a child with ADHD is not diagnosed with a reading disorder, the results from an academic evaluation are still very important. A thorough assessment will pinpoint exactly which reading skills are weak and will explain how a child’s ADHD symptoms and difficulties with motivation are affecting their reading development.

With this knowledge in hand, parents, teachers, and specialists can identify strategies and services that are tailored to an individual child’s learning needs. Extra support through school-based instruction and after-school learning, as well as tutoring programs (like those offered at Huntington Learning Centers), can help kids with ADHD develop the specific skills they need to succeed at reading.

For parents, there are many steps that can be taken at home to encourage kids to read and reduce reading resistance.

  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 their skills, especially when you have your child read along and ask your child to share their predictions and observations about the story.
  2. Take turns reading. If your child resists reading, offer to take turns reading aloud with them. 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.
  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 about 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 them to share what they are learning as they read. This will improve their comprehension, and you’ll be sure they are not skipping the text and only looking at pictures.

With support and practice, kids with ADHD can become strong readers. If reading is a struggle for your child, don’t wait to get them help.  Research shows that kids with reading difficulties do best when they receive interventions early. So, talk with your child’s teacher, enroll them in an after-school program, and/or schedule an academic evaluation as soon as possible.



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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