Children with ADHD may have reading problems because of:

  1. inattention
  2. slower information processing
  3. problems with working memory and executive function
  4. reading disability

Inattention and reading problems

Children who are inattentive in kindergarten often read poorly later on. This is true even when allowing for:

  • other behaviour problems
  • early reading skills
  • intelligence

Behaviour problems make it less likely that a child with early reading problems will improve in the first few grades. These children should be monitored so any problems can be addressed early.

ADHD and orthographic processing

Some children with ADHD have poor orthographic processing, which is the ability to code written words into short-term memory.

This means that they may have trouble with:

  • spelling
  • deciding whether words are correctly spelled, for example, blame/blaim or streat/street

Text recall and comprehension in children with ADHD

Children with ADHD may have trouble remembering and understanding what they read.

Studies have found that children with ADHD may:

  • read single words and non-words (nonsense words that are used to test a child’s ability to connect letters to sounds) more slowly
  • have trouble remembering and repeating information from stories
  • have trouble retelling stories in a well-organized way
  • have trouble identifying cause and effect in stories
  • have trouble following spoken information
  • read more slowly and less accurately

ADHD and reading disability

Between 15% and 40% of children with ADHD also have a reading disability such as dyslexia. This means that they have reading weaknesses from both ADHD and the reading disability.  Children who have both ADHD and a reading disability generally get lower grades, have weaker academic skills, and are more likely to need special education services than children with only ADHD or only a reading disability. These children may also have more social challenges than children with ADHD alone.

Helping children with ADHD and reading problems

In the classroom, the following may help children with ADHD and reading problems:

  • direct instruction on reading-related skills. Direct instruction is a type of instruction that is given individually or to a small group of children. It involves breaking down tasks into smaller steps, using diagrams, having the teacher model skills for the children, allowing independent practice, and providing frequent feedback.
  • helping the child focus on the letters and combinations of letters that represent sounds and words in written text
  • teaching strategies the child can use to become an independent reader
  • giving the child many chances to participate and be involved with lessons, such as small group learning or peer tutoring
  • frequent, clear feedback on their performance.