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ADHD and Reading Comprehension

Understanding Reading Comprehension Challenges for Students With ADHD


Updated September 04, 2012

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ADHD and Reading Comprehension

Delays in reading can lead to not only gaps in learning and academic frustrations, but also feelings of inadequacy and self-consciousness for the student who struggles.

Photo © John Slater

Many children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have difficulty with reading. Sometimes these challenges are related to a co-occurring reading disability such as dyslexia. However, children with ADHD who do not have an overlapping language-based disability may still struggle with reading. Areas of reading that can be particularly frustrating for these students include comprehension and recall of the reading material.

Reading Comprehension and Recall of Information

If you find that your child with ADHD reads fluently and accurately when he (or she) reads aloud to you, yet has trouble understanding and remembering what he just read; it is likely that problems with sustained attention and working memory are getting in the way of reading skills.

Reading is such an important part school and learning in general. Every subject area requires that a student be able to comprehend reading material and retain that information. This involves not only understanding the words in a passage, but also remembering, organizing, analyzing, and constructing meaning from those words. When students have a poor grasp of what they read, every area of academic functioning for that student is impacted! Delays in this area can lead to not only gaps in learning and academic frustrations, but also feelings of inadequacy and self-consciousness for the student.

Inattention and Working Memory Deficits

Remembering and understanding what is read depends on the ability to sustain attention and effort on a reading task. Many students with ADHD have a hard time maintaining that attention and can fall behind, missing phrases in the text, skipping over words or sentences, losing track of where they are on the page, missing details and connections, especially when passages are long and complex. Boredom and fatigue can take over and attention can quickly wander elsewhere.

In addition to remaining alert and resisting distractions, reading comprehension requires a student to be able to recall what has been read in preceding sentences and paragraphs so that he or she can develop and modify an adequate working understanding of the message of each section of the text and how those components are related to one another. Processing and integrating all this information is complex. The student must be able to sort through the concepts in the text; select the most pertinent information; hold that information in mind and analyze it; retrieve, relate, and apply relevant prior knowledge quickly and effectively; draw inferences; keep track of multiple concepts at once, keep all those ideas and thoughts organized; and continuously self-monitor to make sure what they are reading is making sense -- all processes that can be difficult for a student with impaired working memory.

Read: Strategies to Improve Reading Comprehension in Students With ADHD

Related Reading:


Thomas E. Brown, Philipp C. Reichel, Donald M. Quinlan; Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine. “Extended time improves reading comprehension test scores for adolescents with ADHD” Open Journal of Psychiatry; 1, 79-87, October 2011.

Mel Levine, Educational Care: A System for Understanding and Helping Children With Learning Differences at Home and School. Educators Publishing Service, 2001.

Sydney S. Zentall, ADHD in Education: Foundations, Characteristics, Methods, and Collaboration. Person Education, Inc. 2006.

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