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 their peers in reading they are 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 their 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 their 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 they 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 they need, without engaging in stressful arguments or negotiations. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Read to your child. Even kids who do not like to ready enjoy having someone else read to them. Reading to your child can help improve their skills, especially when you have them read along and ask them to share their predictions and observations about the story.
- Take turns reading. If your child resists reading, offer to alternate 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. Keep going and before you know it, you’re child will have read half of a book!
- 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.
- 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 them to share what they are learning as they read. This will improve their comprehension, and you’ll be sure that they’re 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 they need.