Learning Challenges

“R” Is For Reading and Remembering

Poor working memory is a big part of the ADHD struggle, making reading a tough task for many students. Learn how active reading in the classroom and taking breaks can help your child better comprehend the words on his page.

Close up of word "learning" highlighted in dictionary belonging to ADHD person
Close up of word "learning" highlighted in dictionary belonging to ADHD person

Students with attention deficit (ADHD) commonly complain to their parents, “I’ve read the whole page, but I don’t remember a thing. I’ve got to start all over again.” Difficulty remembering what is read is often caused by executive function deficits — the inability to hold key information in working memory.

That’s why many parents of children with ADHD assign their child no more than one or two tasks at a time. In the classroom, students who can’t remember more than two or three facts after reading a page need to take notes or highlight key information.

The following strategies will provide reading help for ADHD students and allow your child comprehend more of what is on the page.

Solutions: in the Classroom

Use pre-reading strategies. The following three tips will focus the student on the topic and increase the likelihood of his remembering the information by connecting it to past experiences.

  1. Relate the new topic — global warming, say — to past knowledge, such as recent schoolwork or world events.
  2. Ask questions about the topic: “What would you do if our weather was hotter and our local lake dried up?”
  3. Ask the student to divide a piece of paper in half, creating a chart. On one side of the chart, have him write “What do I know?” and on the other side, “What did I learn?” Before the student starts reading, ask him to write down everything he knows about global warming. Complete the other half with facts he learned from the assigned reading.

[Free Download: Overcoming Common Learning Challenges]

Teach book structure. Identify components of the material to be read and their relevance: the introductory paragraph, the chapter summary, bold print, headings. Stating the obvious —”The bold words are very important. These are the ones I want you to remember”— is helpful to students with ADHD.

Encourage active reading. When students with ADHD are overwhelmed by lengthy reading assignments, they tend to skim the text — and can’t remember what they’ve read. Activities that engage the child — looking for key words in the pages, answering questions as he reads the material by filling in blanks on a worksheet or highlighting key points — help him remember the important information.

Allow subvocalizing. Students who learn best by hearing information may benefit from reading aloud softly to themselves. Have these students sit away from the group to avoid disturbing their classmates.

Use a bookmark. Sliding it down the page, one line at a time, while reading helps some students stay focused on the text. For faster and smoother reading, veteran educator and consultant Linda Tilton suggests placing the bookmark above the line of print, not below it.

[Parents Share: How We Build Reading Skills at Home]

Solutions: at Home

Have your child jot down key ideas on sticky notes and place them in the book margins. If your child is struggling to identify key ideas, read a paragraph together, then work with him to find main points in it. Practice with him until he can do it on his own.

Highlight key information. Although highlighting is a great idea, many schools don’t allow students to write in textbooks. If so, purchase a second copy of the textbook, so your son can highlight key information as needed. Another option is photocopying pages from the book for him to mark up.

Divide reading assignments. Break up required reading into three or four segments, separating them with a paper clip. Encourage your child to “read to the clip.” This makes an abstract assignment —”read 20 pages”— seem manageable. She can see how much further she has to go instead of wanting to flip to the end of the chapter.

Read for fun. Help your child find books on topics of interest to him, and discuss the material he’s read with him. Set aside time for him to read to you.

Take a break. Children can’t learn when they’re frustrated or angry. Stop the reading session if tension builds between you and your child.

[How to Raise a Reader]