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A child with ADHD struggles with keeping their working memory active while learning. Many kids with ADHD are late readers due to this problem. My own son's diagnosis of ADHD when he was 5 years old told me he would need my undivided guidance and support to learn how to read. I did a ton of research, and took classes, to learn how to help him process and integrate the phonics rules at home.
Most children are reading on their own by the time they are 7 years old. But a child with ADHD is still struggling to remember many of the phonics rules at that age. This delay in learning to leads to the inability to extract meaning from written sources. These 9 steps and techniques will give you the necessary practice and support to teach your child with ADHD, dyslexia, or other learning disabilities, how to read.
I should not have been shocked when my oldest son's 1st grade teacher told me he was not reading in the classic sense of the word. He had memorized the words of all his favorite books! She knew this because she tore out a few pages. He kept right on reading as if they were still there.
Now that he's grown I laugh at how much my oldest son has to read for his chosen career. How did we get from the couch to the workplace? Here are the 13 Keys I followed to Teaching a Child with ADHD How to Read.
(Table of Contents)
- 1. Read to, and with, them often.
- 2. Look at the pictures first.
- 3. Ask questions as you read.
- 4. Take notes while reading.
- 5. Play vocabulary games.
- 6. Explain all figures of speech.
- 7. Use books on topics they enjoy.
- 8. Test to find their strengths and weaknesses.
- 9. Give your child more time to learn.
1. Read to, and with, them often.
How often? At least 15 minutes a day, if not more. The more, the better. Even if your child can read on his own, there is value in reading aloud to him. Your child can comprehend more if he uses his finger to follow the words as you read the book out loud. Begin with short passages then extend the time if your child maintains focus.
The next time you read the book take turns reading a page to each other. When he stumbles on a word don't correct him right away. Rather, ask him to sound the read the word again. If he still gets it wrong ask him to sound each letter out. Without saying he was wrong you are alerting him that he did not get it right without correcting him. That will only serve to embarrass and frustrate him.
Do not say the word for him. You can sound out the word for him, though. Make sure to sound each phonetic part of the word. This teaches him how to do it for himself and how to pay attention to each word part. Later on, your homework will be to find ways to incorporate that word in other lessons.
HINT: Write the word on Post-Its and hide them around the house. If he finds it, and can say the word correctly when he brings it to you give him a small treat! One peanut M&M‘s or a Hershey's kiss are great for this.
Once he is doing this on his own without prompting from you be certain to compliment his hard work!
Reading to your child can sometimes be time consuming.
Read-along books that have the text and CD are a great way to pair reading and listening. A child’s listening skills are usually stronger than his reading skills. This method uses both visual and auditory learning skills. Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, have many children's read-along books with a CD or cassette tape of the story.
The bonus is this is something they show independence in by doing on their own.
2. Look at the pictures first.
Show how books are organized before reading the text. The first thing to do when reading together is teach your child how to preview a book before reading. If it's a story book look at the title and the cover illustration. What hints does that give him about the story inside?
Flip through the book and look at the illustrations. Who might the main character be? Where does it take place?
Consider this exercise a warm up for his brain to begin learning. Allow him to guess and don't correct any wrong answers. He is telling you what he sees.
When he's done tell him, “I like what you see. Let's see if those clues the illustrator gave us in these pictures helped us understand the story as we read it.”
See what happened there? You introduced the word “illustrator” and gave context to what it means. Be on the lookout for ways to incorporate new ideas to your child this way.
If it's a textbook teach your child to read the headings and introductory sentences first. Then read the text under illustrations, any bold or italicized words, and if any, the questions at the end. These all give “hooks” to hang the knowledge on as he reads.
3. Ask questions as you read.
As you read be sure to ask pertinent questions before flipping the page. These help kids put all the pieces together when reading. You also learn how much she remembers about the characters and storyline.
Before reading a book like “The Three Little Kittens” I would ask what does he know about kittens and cats. What happened that time he lost his mittens. What does he know about rhyming words.
Questions like these are warming up your child's brain that it's time to learn something new.
These help kids put all the pieces together when reading. The five W questions are: Who, What, Where, When, and How.
- Who is this story about?
- What happened first? What happened next?
- Where is the story taking place?
- When is this taking place? (ex. summer or winter, when he was going to the dentist, etc.)
- How do you think this story will end?
Writing these W words on a bookmark can help you and your child remember to ask them as you read.
These questions teach your child story organization skills. They also help to look forward to the rest of the plot.
Again, it is not your job to tell her if she's right or wrong. She is telling you what her brain has managed to remember and what she is comprehending. Use her answers as a gauge to how closely she is paying attention.
4. Take notes while reading.
It’s never too early to teach them how to take notes, either with pictures or words. Visual aids are very helpful to a child with ADHD. They act like a stair rail down a steep slope. Use of these methods to aid in memory and comprehension, or allow your child to create his own!
(Because you know chances are he will anyway, ask me how I know.)
Help him create a chart with boxes for the story’s setting, characters’ names, and major themes and events.
If a book belongs to your child, permit her to mark relevant details with a pencil or highlighter. either buy a second copy or photocopy the text. Teach active reading strategies like underlining key ideas. Write the definition for unknown words in the margins. Draw stars over the main character. Write the answer to the 5W's on the page.
As they get older try making a mind map of the information. It's a diagram that uses key words, colors, and symbols to represent ideas and information. There are many online apps to use but simple circles with connecting lines also work well.
Keep a notepad or index cards nearby to jot down important information as you read. Later on the cards become terrific tools when studying for a review or test.
I used them for our version of Trivial Pursuit.
Along with the index cards be sure to have on sticky notes, pencils of all kinds, and highlighters. These come in so many colors and prices. Keep them handy in a basket by your favorite reading chair.
Go over the rules often that the pencils and highlighters are ONLY for books you own. If you don't own the book then make a photocopy and print that for your child to mark on.
Helping the child create a picture of the reading material aids in comprehension. After a few days go back to the picture and ask the child to retell the story only using this visual picture. This tests his comprehension skills and helps to keep what he learned in his working memory.
5. Play vocabulary games.
Make building vocabulary a fun activity. It may be easy to read books you know your child already enjoys and easy for him to read on his own. But I encourage you to also gather books on topics he enjoys but are also are a grade level or two above him.
As a parent you want to enrich his knowledge and that will stretch him a bit. The added bonus is you can teach him new vocabulary words that someone much older would know. That will give him some bragging rights about his education. Anything you can do to uplift his spirits is a good thing.
Another bonus is that as his vocabulary grows so will his comprehension. The better his comprehension the less likely he will be to not want to read.
Before offering the upper grade level book read it beforehand. Find any words your child might not know yet. Discuss those as you do your pre-reading. Throughout the week find ways to incorporate those new words into his world.
Play word games to increase his vocabulary. Each week focus on a specific letter or word sound. For instance, find 10 things in your house that contain the “b” sound. For instance, you can pick up his cereal bowl and say, “This is a b-b-b-bowl. What else starts with the “b” sound?”
6. Explain all figures of speech.
A child with ADHD usually struggles with figures of speech. They can be VERY literal. While other people were laughing at Sheldon Cooper's not quite understanding sarcasm I just bit my lip. My kid was just like him! It's either on or off, black or white, yes or no. There is no in between.
It's easier to discuss these as you find them in your reading session. You might assume in your pre-reading that some phrases won't be understood by your child. He might surprise you and know what a simile or metaphor means because he's seen on a cartoon or in a movie.
Just be aware that a phrase like, “stubborn as a mule” or “quick as a fox” might lead your child into a discussion of farm animals. That's not because he likes Old McDonald and his farm. It's because he has NO idea what those phrases mean.
Look for implied meanings as well. If a book says that this will be the second time the character wins the science fair ask what that means. Guide him to understanding it IMPLIES he won before. Ask how does knowing that change the story?
7. Use books on topics they enjoy.
Educators call this “background knowledge”. It's what information is given as part of the current lesson. Prior knowledge is what a child knew before the lesson started.
Children with ADHD do a better job at reading and recalling what they read if it's a topic they enjoy. A perfect example is when I tried so very hard to teach my son about historical events. He just was not having it! He thought it boring and tedious.
The best thing my specialist taught me was that I had to create hooks in Logan's brain to hang new information on. These hooks would be things he had learned before.
Then we went to the Wright Pat Air Force Museum homeschool event. We saw fighter jets and got to look inside one. There was a movie on the huge screen about fighter jets.
Guess what happened?
The ONLY way he would gladly learn about history from then on was if it involved the military in some way. So, instead of learning about Armistice Day we studied the De Havilland DH-4 airplane. To this day he can still spout off data about fighter jets and their place in history to best any university professor, or Air Force instructor.
And that's what I used for his Language Arts book, and his Geography, and his Math supplement as well as his History.
Any book will do. AS LONG AS IT INTERESTS YOUR CHILD.
“Fifty touching and memorable dog stories from the veterinarian and master storyteller of Yorkshire… an extra special treat!” ―Kirkus Reviews
Combines humor with understanding to reflect the difficulties and joys of raising a child with ADHD and celebrates what it means to be considered ‘different'.
Yeah, I did put that in all caps. Because it's that important. It’s easier to understand subject matter that you know something about. That makes learning to read enjoyable.
Anything enjoyable your child will want to do more of.
If he loves dogs let him read dog owner's manuals, and James Herriot stories, and whatever else the children's librarian can help you find about dogs.
8. Test to find their strengths and weaknesses.
I had read the books and articles, done the classes, and still needed an expert. After almost a year of one-on-one daily lessons one, or both of us, would end up in tears. The very best thing I did for my son was to hire a reading specialist.
Find an expert near you using Tutors.com.
She took all that information and synthesized it to exactly fit to my son's specific needs.
She was also a retired homeschool mom! That meant she understood the uniqueness of that educational experience. I found her through my local network of homeschool moms. If you don't have one, it's very easy to google “reading specialist near me” to find one.
Ask what their stand is on homeschool education first before hiring them. If they don't give you a satisfactory answer then do not hire them. There is no point in hiring someone to work for you if they don't accept your life choices.
A reading specialist will help you understand your child's weaknesses and strengths. An excellent reading specialist will give you homework to try at home with your child. It doesn't do one bit of good if everything is kept at their office! SmartSpeechTherapy.com has a great article on what to ask a reading specialist before you hire them.
In addition, hire a teen to read to your child once or twice a week. They have to stay where you see them at all times. My son would do more work his reading tutor in two hours then I could get him to do in two weeks. Because, ya know, I'm just his mom.
What if you can't find or afford a specialist?
One of my son's tutors had me buy the book “Words Their Way”. In it, there's a test for readers to see where their strengths and weaknesses are. You can rent it for about $17 (at the time of writing this). But it was such a huge breakthrough in teaching children to read I wouldn't doubt your public library has a copy, or two.
You can google Here's a free copy of the reading test for children in Kindergarten through Third Grade. Here is how you give the test. It is VERY important that you have your child face away from you as you ask the questions. They will be looking for clues from you which answer is right, or not. That just throws the whole thing off.
Using SpellingCity.com also encourages playing to learn vocabulary!
9. Give your child more time to learn.
Most children are reading on their own by third grade, or 7 years old. A child with ADHD may take much longer to learn.
We know that the biggest learning hurdle a child with ADHD has is deficits in working memory. Children with ADHD struggle to form appropriate connections between related ideas. When they do find the central idea that's due to it being the most interconnected idea in the text.
A child's ADHD requires them to devote more cognitive resources to paying attention and staying on task. This leaves them with few cognitive resources for higher level comprehension.
A lesson session for a child should equal his age in minutes, times 3. Again, this is something else my reading specialist taught me.
If your child is 5 years old then only try a reading session for 5 minutes. Take a snack break, play a word game, or color a page for 5 minutes. Then go back to reading for another 5 minutes.
And that is the end of the reading session!
Because at that point your child has sat and paid attention to you for 15 minutes.
FIFTEEN. WHOLE. MINUTES. An absolute eternity for him.
Do not push your luck and try for more. He may do it but if he doesn't have a meltdown within the hour, usually over something silly and completely abnormal for him, I will be amazed.
But, you know, your mileage may vary, too! Try my method, though, give it a whirl, kick the tires. Let me know how it goes.
By the way, this goes for his Math lessons, too. Well, all of the subjects really.
Oh! And KEEP IT QUIET WHILE HE'S LEARNING! No vacuuming, or walking around the room. No playing with the dog or cleaning the kitchen.
I used to sit and knit while the boys did their lessons. I became very good at playing FreeCell on my smartphone. Just remember that every little bump or squeek will automatically turn your child's attention away from what he had been focusing on, whether he wants to or not.
He's built that way, remember?
There is no scientific evidence that says a child must learn to read by a certain age. And there have been many, many studies. A researcher in Finland found that most kids had equal reading skills by the age of 11.
If it helps any, I didn't learn to read on my own until I was 9-1/2.
I hold that a child who is read to, and lives with books he has easy access to, will become an adult who reads.
Where is my son now that he's graduated from Masek Homeschool Academy? (Don't laugh at our name, unique names weren't a thing back then!) He is department manager for a major department store chain. He has 6 employees that report to him last time I checked.
Yeah, the kid who hated to read, could not keep focus for anything, drew all over my walls, and only had two speeds (on or off), has a real job in the real world paying his own bills, and living in his own apartment.
There is hope! You can do this, too.