Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a biological, social, and educational condition that impacts up to 10% of population. Symptoms include difficulties managing focus, impeding impulsivity, and managing boredom. Some people are also restless or overactive. About 2/3 of people with ADHD have some type of learning disability, through reading, math, writing, or language. About 1/3 of people with ADHD have difficulties with reading or learning through reading.
Reading comprehension can be especially difficult for people with ADHD, even if their other reading skills are well developed. Oftentimes people report they will need to read and re-read information, and fail to remember what they read. Many people with ADHD also report that it takes them a long time to complete reading assignments. They may over-focus on details, miss details, or not pick out the main ideas in the things that they read.
Some students with ADHD report that they don’t have as much difficulty reading books that are of interest to them. However, some students with ADHD report reading comprehension concerns with almost all literature. Some people prefer shorter passages, such as newspaper articles or graphic novels, finding fewer difficulties with these types of written information.
Research by Dr. Thomas Brown (Open Journal of Psychiatry, October, 2011) found that many students with ADHD struggle with executive functioning as it relates to working memory (the ability to remember information short-term) and processing speed. The results of his work supported that a modest extension of time can help individuals with ADHD achieve reading comprehension abilities more consistent with their actual verbal and intellectual abilities. This accommodation can help these students to compensate for the chronic problems with working memory and processing speed that burden many people with ADHD.
What this means for you:
- This research is important as it helps parents and mental health professionals advocate for students within the school setting. Research has consistently found that extended time helps the reading comprehension and academic performance for students with ADHD.
- Conversely, timed tests are likely to penalize students with ADHD. They do NOT allow students to demonstrate their knowledge, as ADHD students struggle with executive with the executive functioning tasks of working memory and processing speed.
- If you are a person with ADHD, give yourself time to read. Read in chunks. Take breaks. Try to plan ahead and think about what you are trying to learn. Don’t try to rush – you will likely end up frustrated, or forgetting what you read. Be patient with yourself.
- Remember: Difficulties with processing speed are NOT reflective of intelligence. They reflect attention concerns.
With patience and commitment, advocacy and self-knowledge become easier. Over time, schools and workplaces have become more supportive and accepting of different learning styles and the biological factors involved. If needed, however, please feel free to talk to your mental health professional about your symptoms. They are there to help.