Academic reading can be a struggle for any student — but it can be especially difficult for students with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Reading requires controlled focus and prolonged attention, which most students with ADD/ADHD do not adequately regulate.
Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar: You pick up a book or an article that your teacher assigned. If you’re lucky, you get to the bottom of the page without stopping. (That itself is an accomplishment for many of us.) But wait — when you get to the bottom of the page, or even the end of the paragraph, you realize that you don’t even remember a single word. Ugh! Back to the top to read it all over again … oh wait … now you’re hungry and you need (neeeed!) to check Snapchat … so long, book.
I can only imagine how frustrating the above scenario must be for students when it happens all day long. I don’t personally have ADD/ADHD, but as a high school Special Education teacher, I see so many students suffer through their readings — or even give them up altogether — due to difficulty regulating focus and concentration.
Here are 3 reading strategies for students with ADD/ADHD
1. Listen to the audio version.
If the reading assignment is a novel, there is an audio book version out there. Find it. Rent it. Download it. (Audible is the greatest audio book app ever. Or many public libraries have free audio book download offerings.) Do what you have to do to GET THAT AUDIO BOOK.
Why? Many students with ADD/ADHD benefit tremendously from listening to words instead of reading them. It’s a brain thing. It’s a science thing. Furthermore, listening to an audio book enables a student to multitask while listening to the book, which has its advantages. As long as the “other” activity isn’t too complex (stick to walking, cleaning, drawing, etc.), this gentle multitasking provides just enough stimulus to keep the student focused.
2. Read aloud.
Reading aloud is called subvocalization. It’s an incredibly effective reading strategy for students with ADD/ADHD, as well as for any reader who is easily distracted. It’s simple too: As you read, quietly speak the words aloud to yourself under your breath. Read loudly enough to hear your own voice, but quietly enough that you won’t distract anyone around you. If you’re reading alone, feel free to belt it out — that’s cool too!
3. Go. Stop. Go.
In other words, read a little bit. Then stop and think. And then read a bit more. Then stop and think. Keep doing this until the end of the assignment.
You can read as much or as little as you want to at a time: Some students might read a full chapter before stopping, but others might only read a paragraph before they get distracted and have to stop. No big deal.
The key is to recognize the moment that you start to zone out. Don’t read one more word beyond this point. Next, take a minute to think about what you just read. If you can, write down one summary sentence in the margins. Or if you can’t remember what you read, then you went too far and will likely have to go back and re-read. That’s okay too. If that happens, just learn from it and read shorter bits at a time.
ADD/ADHD and hyperfocus
As I mentioned already, ADD/ADHD is characterized by poor regulation of focus and concentration. And again, this typically means that students will have difficulty paying attention to a single task for an extended period of time. However — and this is a big HOWEVER! — this lack of regulation of focus can also cause hyperfocus. Hyperfocus is when someone focuses deeply and excessively on a single activity for a long period of time, often neglecting all other tasks and happenings in their environment. For some students, hyperfocusing can be a good thing (I won’t put down this book until I’ve read every page!), but for other students, hyperfocus can be just as detrimental as not focusing.
Hopefully these 3 simple reading strategies for students with ADD/ADHD help you if you’re struggling with regulating your attention. If they work — awesome! If you have your own strategies — please share them below! Also — I have about 10 more reading strategies that can help you ADD and ADHD-ers get through academic reading … so let me know if you want more.