Three to five percent of children have ADHD, and one of those children is my son, Colin. We knew Colin was different when he was just one year old. He never walked – he ran everywhere, all the time.
It was even a challenge trying to get my ADHD child to sit down and eat.
As an executive for a book store chain, I knew the importance of reading, but reading time with Colin, who was ADHD and dyslexic, was always a struggle.
Fortunately, kids with ADHD and dyslexia can still learn to read and comprehend with the right strategies.
Through my experiences learning along with Colin, I’ve come up with a definitive guide on how to help your ADHD kid read.
Today, I’ll be sharing with you the tips I know to work, first-hand.
What is ADHD?
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a behavioral disorder most often diagnosed in children who display hyperactivity, lack of attention, and/or impulsivity, and a whole list of other behaviors.
This makes it easy to understand why ADHD kids love running or playing ball, yet struggle with tasks that require sitting down for long periods of time, like reading.
In fact, a recent study shows about half the number of children with ADHD experience problems reading—a frustrating problem for parents of ADHD kids who wish to instill effective reading skills in them.
However, children with ADHD who are taught to love reading can learn to be successful.
Colin is now in his second year at a four-year university and doing very well. Getting him to this point has taken a great deal of time, patience, hard work, and perseverance by all members of the family.
On that note, let’s jump right into it – how can you help your ADHD kid read?
How Do I Get My ADHD Kid To Read?
1) Make Reading Fun!
Connect with your ADHD child and make it fun.
I wanted my son to learn from an early age that reading is a positive experience. When he was little, I regularly sat him on my lap with a book so that we could learn the alphabet together.
Sitting in my lap actually helped him to settle down and enjoy the process.
We learned to limit the distractions from the other family members by going to a quiet space.
I realized it was helpful to teach the sound each letter makes, so I ran my index finger under the line of print as I said the words aloud.
This simple procedure helped him begin to notice words and learn their meanings.
I encouraged him to turn each page, so he knew that pages turn from right to left.
As he grew older, we continued to read together—I read a paragraph, and then he read a paragraph.
If he did not know a word, he knew he could ask me how to help him sound it out.
To further his view of reading as a rewarding activity, we allowed him to stay up 15 minutes later at night if he had a book in his lap.
Colin soon associated reading time with laughter and having fun, a sentiment that I continued to instill in him as he grew older.
2) Pursue Their Interests
Encourage ADHD kids to read about what already interests them.
Colin was athletic, so when he was little, we allowed him to choose sports books that interested him.
During football season, we read books about famous football players.
We encouraged books and comics on all kinds of topics, as long as it kept him reading.
Reading should be fun, not a chore, so it was important to us to not force our child to read about something he found boring.
3) Try audiobooks
For books your ADHD child has an interest in but finds intimidating or overwhelming, such as chapter books, consider an audiobook.
When the Harry Potter books first came out, Colin would not even open them because they were so long.
Instead, we listened to a Harry Potter book on tape, which sparked in him an interest in reading the next book.
We also helped him work his way into chapter books by choosing ones with shorter chapters.
That way, he felt a sense of accomplishment with each chapter read, and he gained confidence moving forward into longer books.
4) Let Off Steam
Recognize that many ADHD kids have lots of excess energy.
My son was a hyper kid even as a toddler – he was never able to sit still even long enough for a television show.
We noticed as he became involved in sports that there was a real difference between the days he worked out and the days he did not.
It is essential for kids with ADHD to “let off steam” and wear their bodies out so that they can be both physically and mentally prepared to read and study.
5) Remember Their Meds
Acknowledge that ADHD is a medical condition and seek appropriate medical treatment.
We were comfortable with Colin taking medicine to control his ADHD. Since he is dyslexic and school was difficult for him, we knew that he needed as much help as possible to pay attention.
When Colin sat down at home to start a project, my first question was whether he had taken his medicine; it genuinely helped him complete his homework more easily.
Once he reached high school, he learned to take responsibility and is now able to successfully study in college because he keeps his medicine as a foundation for success.
6) Mentally Prepare Them for Studies
Help your ADHD child learn how to prepare themselves mentally for reading & studying.
I never found it effective to simply tell Colin to go read for 15 minutes in his bedroom or sit down at the kitchen table and do his homework—he would get distracted within 30 seconds of sitting down.
By talking through the task at hand, whether it was a book report or an eight-page paper, I was able to help him work through all the necessary steps to complete the assignment.
By discussing it out loud first, he was better prepared mentally to tackle the project.
7) Establish a Schedule Your ADHD Child Can Count On
Because ADHD kids are so easily distracted, it is important to insist upon structure for them.
Colin is the middle of three children, all of whom had lots of different activities growing up, so organization was integral to our household’s success.
Because ADHD kids have difficulty with time management to begin with, it was equally important to organize Colin’s upcoming projects, assignments, and tasks, which we tackled on Monday nights.
Colin, even with his ADHD, was able to perform better by mentally digesting what would need to be done to be successful each week.
An additional bonus of this structure was that it taught him to be held accountable – Colin knew that if his paper were due on Thursday, we would expect to see a finished draft on Wednesday night for proofing.
This made him accountable not only to his parents and his teachers but also to himself.
8) Importance of Communication
Even if your ADHD child thinks that reading and writing are tedious or unnecessary, teach him or her the importance of communication.
Many ADHD kids grow up to be very extroverted and charismatic, and so their verbal and oral communication skills are fundamental to them as they interact with the world.
Even though Colin was not the strongest reader moving into high school, he understood the need to communicate effectively and honed his verbal communication skills by taking speech classes and giving oral reports.
He now understands that everything he learns in reading and writing, from vocabulary to sentence structure, will also play into effective and successful verbal communication skills.
9) Be Your ADHD Child’s Best Advocate
And teach them how to be their own advocate as they mature as well.
Parents of ADHD children need to be as participatory as possible in their child’s school lives.
Before Colin started kindergarten, I went to meet with the elementary school counselor.
Knowing he was both dyslexic and ADHD, I did my homework by talking to parents before speaking with the school.
Armed with a list of questions, I asked the school what they could do to help Colin be successful.
After school started, I met with his teacher to go over Colin’s strengths and weaknesses.
I formed and fostered relationships with every teacher, every year from kindergarten through his senior year of high school and told each of them about his ADHD.
As Colin matured and entered high school, I was pleased to see him become his own advocate. He is now in college, but I still talk to him often about his classes and projects.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a very dedicated village to raise a child with ADHD into an adult who loves to read.
I’m proud that Colin, even with his ADHD, has turned into a successful college student, and look forward to him having success in the field of his choice.
With this definitive guide, I hope you can help your ADHD kid too! Let me know which of these 9 tips you are trying first, and which work for you!
Kathy Doyle Thomas, executive vice president, joined Half Price Books (www.hpb.com) in July 1989. Her contact and follow information is below.
Her responsibilities include developing national marketing efforts for the wholesale and retail divisions of the company, as well as overseeing all real estate purchases, store expansion criteria and site selection. She also heads the company’s three website divisions. She is president of Half Price Books Community Services, a 501(c)(3) organization that supports various community programs.
Thomas is on the corporate advisory board of Literacy USA and serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association. She is also board member of the North Texas Clean Air Coalition and has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency on green programs. Thomas is married with three children, including a son with ADHD.
[ Updated – October 2, 2020 ]