Learning Challenges

Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic Help for Scattered Students

Unsteady attention and focus can make learning the three Rs difficult for kids with ADHD. These 12+ creative tricks can help distracted students gain key language and math skills.

A child burdened with too much homework, struggling with the three R's.
Child upset with homework

Children with ADHD are not smarter or slower than their classmates. They just think differently. And sometimes they need custom-tailored learning tricks to translate their unique understanding of school material into good grades in core grade-school subjects like “the three Rs” — reading, writing, and math.

Your child’s teacher may not have the time, patience or expertise to offer each child with ADHD the specific tips and strategies she needs to learn these subjects. That’s where you come in. You can help your child use creative reading, writing, and math learning tricks in ways that work best for her. Give the following teacher-tested ticks a try, and watch her gain school success at every age.


Follow with a finger. Encourage your child to read with a “guide finger” — his index finger that underlines words as he reads them. This can be a helpful reading strategy if he regularly loses his place, skips lines, and omits or repeats words.

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Stick ’em up. Have your child mark important passages with sticky notes, so she can find them later. Use a symbol for each topic, for example, a smiley face for information about a character, a house for setting, a star for important ideas, etc.

Pace read-alouds. Suggest that your child take a short breath at each comma and a regular breath at the end of each sentence. This will improve his reading pace-and comprehension.

Find the five W’s. Focus on who, what, when, where, why, and how when reading. Help your child track them with a chart.

See it. Help your child visualize a story by seeing it as a movie in her mind. As she reads, the movie should change. This will help her remember characters, facts, and concepts.


Chart it. Have your child verbalize what he plans to write, then make a flow chart or mind map of it. Suggest that he write the main topic in a circle in the center of a piece of paper, then write subtopics in other circles and connect them to the main circle with spokes. This will enable him to articulate ideas and link them appropriately, regardless of the order in which he thinks of them.

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Use a story organizer. Organizers work for both reading and writing. Your child should make a list on a piece of paper that includes the following: characters, setting (time and place), the problem, the goal, the action, and the solution. Ask him to then fill in the details under each heading to organize his thoughts.

Draw it. Use diagrams or drawings to plot and tell a story.


Play math games. Here’s an example, for practicing multiplying 9s: Lay your hands flat on the table, palms down, and label each finger 1 to 10, from left to right. For 5 x 9, curl your number 5 finger down. The numbers before this break will be tens, those after will be the ones. With four fingers on the left side of the break and five on the right, you have 45. 5 x 9 = 45.

Be manipulative. Use blocks, tiles, even playing cards, to work out computations physically.

Draw a picture. For example, if the problem is to divide 48 cookies among 12 students, draw a plate for each student and divide the cookies among the plates. Seeing the problem visually helps kids who struggle to learn math in traditional ways.

See the sign. Have your child highlight the operational sign (+, -, x, ÷) for each problem before working the calculations. This will help your child remember the type of computation the student should be doing.

[9 + 9 = 18 Tips to Sharpen Your Child’s Math Skills]