Tips for Keeping ADHD Kids Focused on Reading Passages

  Reading can be difficult for children with ADHD. However, with help from parents and these simple tips, children can learn to make adjustments to their reading habits and overcome setbacks brought about by ADHD.

Help Your ADHD Child Stay on Task While Reading

Parenting a child or adolescent with ADHD can be a challenge on a variety of levels. However, helping your child stay focused while reading is often one of the most difficult tasks. Not only do children with ADHD find it difficult to concentrate, to stay focused, and to keep their place while reading, but they also have trouble recalling what they have read and understanding the meaning behind it.

Parents of children with ADHD can help by implementing a few strategies and techniques during reading time at home. Just remember, not all children read and comprehend alike. While certain techniques and tips may help one child with ADHD, those same tips may not work at all for another child with ADHD. Understanding how your child operates and what works best for her or him is key to accomplishing successful reading habits.

Below are several suggested guidelines and tips that can be used to help your child with ADHD develop healthy reading habits and learn to stay focused while reading.

Let the Child's Finger Be His Guide!

When reading with your child, try incorporating the idea of following the words with your finger. You can do this by teaching your child to use his index finger to follow each word that is being read or spoken. This can help reiterate what is being read and where the reader is at in the text. Encourage this habit whether the child is reading or following along as someone else reads.

These simple actions incorporate activity and movement into the task, which can help a child with ADHD stay engaged and focused. Research by John Ratey, M.D. suggests that 'physical activity increases levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the way ADHD medications do. Both chemicals play a key role in sharpening focus and increasing attention.'

Encourage Your Child to Read Out Loud

If your child has difficulty focusing or paying attention to what he is reading, try having him read out loud. Reading aloud can help the child focus on what he is saying and what he is hearing. Children with ADHD find reading comprehension especially difficult because it relies heavily on the ability to sound out and recognize words. Encourage your child to read aloud in an effort to not only help him pay attention and remain focused, but to also teach him to take his time and think about what he is reading and sound out words as he goes.

Allow for Doodling

The use of drawing or doodling letters and pictures around important sentences, thoughts, and paragraphs in a text can help a child stay focused on what is being read. As former school psychologist and mental health professional Chris Zeigler Dendy writes, 'students who can't remember more than two or three facts after reading a page need to take notes or highlight key information.' While reading, have your child mark important sentences, thoughts, or paragraphs by highlighting them or placing a sticky note on them.

When working with older children with ADHD, you could suggest that they add a symbol of some kind to aid in remembering what the particular section is about. For example, draw smiley faces by character names and houses by locations. This can provide the reader with a quick reference when trying to recall important people and places in the story.

Doodling has also been known to prevent daydreaming, or 'zoning out.' In fact, a study conducted by psychologist Jackie Andrade revealed that doodling actually helps some individuals concentrate better. In an article discussing Andrade's case study, it is noted that doodling actually 'requires very few executive resources but just enough cognitive effort to keep you from daydreaming' and to keep you focused.

Make Room for Multi-Tasking

A study involving 44 children ages 10 to 17 (most diagnosed with ADHD) revealed 'more intense physical activity is associated with better cognitive control performance.'

Multi-tasking, or doing two things at once, can be extremely effective when it comes to encouraging your child with ADHD to stay focused while reading. Purdue professor Sydney Zentall has found that implementing 'an activity that uses a sense other than that required for the primary task – listening to music while reading a social studies textbook – can enhance performance in children with ADHD.'

Studies also show that children with ADHD tend to get bored when an activity does not hold their attention or is not of interest. When this happens, the child looks for something else to do and no longer focuses on what he is currently doing. If your child finds reading to be boring, he will most likely start thinking about something that is of more interest, such as music. In this case, if you try letting your child listen to music while reading, you may be surprised to discover that multi-tasking actually helps his brain to focus even more.

Here are a few additional ways to multi-task as mentioned on

  • Chewing gum
  • Walking around
  • Holding onto or squeezing a stress ball
  • Sitting in a swivel chair or a rocking chair and moving back and forth
  • Sitting on a yoga ball or balancing ball and bouncing

It's important to note that anytime these activities become distractions or ways for a child to misbehave, then they are no longer serving their dual purpose in enabling the child to focus while reading or doing any other type of constructive activity.

Engage the Child While Reading

Children with ADHD tend to get overwhelmed with the amount of text they are asked to read. In many cases, the child simply skims through the passage in order to finish quickly. However, he may or may not remember what he read. One way to combat this is to encourage 'Active Reading,' which is another way of engaging the child while reading. Here are a few more helpful tips from mental health professional Chris Zeigler Dendy.

  • Ask Questions. Don't just ask your child to read a passage and walk away. Stick around and ask questions as he reads. This will help him pay attention to what he is reading so that he can answer the questions.
  • Search for Keywords. Your child can also stay focused on the passage by searching for keywords throughout the reading. Point out that key words are often in bold or set apart from the rest of the paragraph and text. Ask your child to find as many keywords as he can. Give him a limit of four or five and even time him to make it more of a fun and interactive game.
  • Keep reading time short. Don't forget that children with ADHD not only have a hard time focusing, but they also become bored very easily and often get distracted. Help them fight against this by keeping reading time short.
  • Encourage free time reading. Encourage your child to read on his own. Take trips to the library or bookstore and allow your child to pick out a book or two about something he's interested in. Incorporate these books into the regular reading hour to help break up the subjects and help your child stay focused.
  • Praise your child for a job well done!

Reading is a privilege and should be taught and regarded as something special. Whether your child with ADHD is just learning to read or is a seasoned reader, remember to praise him for the work he has accomplished. Let him know that you are proud of his reading and how well he is staying focused on the story and remembering important pieces of the text.