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ADHD and Reading or How to Make It Easy: Tips, Tricks, and Explanations

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
January 12, 2024

Not to be very meta, but today’s read will be about…reading.

Reading is a skill that requires focus, concentration, and the ability to sit still…something that ADHDers actually might have trouble with, as it turns out.

But, unfortunately, we’re not in the stone age where you can get on without reading. The mammoth population is unfortunately quite scarce nowadays.

So, this means that we’ll actually have to learn how to read…the ADHD way
Strap in and stick around, as today we will be learning all about:

  • Why do ADHDers have issues with reading?
  • What are the effects and consequences of this issue?
  • How can we make sure that reading is not a chore?
  • And why is it important to cultivate a love for reading?

Aight, you ready? Let’s dig in! 

[ADHD and Reading Connection] Understanding ADHD and Reading Connection

The first thing to understand is that ADHD is not like dyslexia because you don’t understand the meaning of the words. Instead, it’s rather about struggling to focus on the process itself or a specific kind of feeling where you feel like you’ve read 3 pages but didn’t remember anything from them. 

Now, why does that happen? 

Once again, the mantra is thus: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, not a behavioral one. It means that the brains of ADHDers are wired in ways that make reading more of a challenge to them than to others.

How exactly? Well, let’s take a look! 👀

Reading with ADHD

Focus and Attention

Inability to focus and inattention remain the core ADHD symptoms, and reading comprehension doesn’t elude their presence. The connection here is straightforward: an ADHDer keeps getting distracted, their mind wanders elsewhere, they can’t keep focused because the book is boring, they keep skipping words, etc.  

All these roads eventually lead to Rome  inability to comprehend what you’ve just read. 

Working Memory

We only know what we can remember. So, memory isn’t only about recalling what happened an hour or a day ago, but like a second ago. Thus, if memory function is a bit borked, reading comprehension will suffer as a consequence. Per John Science, there is evidence to suggest that ADHD is associated with working memory deficits,1 making it difficult for you to remember what you just read. 

Processing Speed

Term processing speed can be a bit wide-encompassing, but let’s just say it’s about the speed at which you process information. So, it means when you read about a complex topic, it can take you a bit longer to connect the dots and understand the topic2, which means you might have to re-read it over and over a few times until you get it. 

Common ADHD Reading Challenges

Ok, now that we understand what exactly causes ADHDers troubles with reading, let’s take a more in-depth look at how these difficulties manifest into specific challenges. 

Distractibility

External and internal distractions easily disrupt reading. A noise, a movement, or even a stray thought can distract attention from the text. Even if you somehow force yourself into sticking with the book instead of being carried away by your newfound point of interest, your mind will no longer focus on the task at hand.

The other thing is always more interesting, isn’t it? 🙄

Retention Issues

Remembering what's been read is often a struggle. Key details may be forgotten, or the overall message of the text may become blurred. It feels like you’ve read a book, but it also feels like you didn’t, you know?

When discussing a book with a friend, they mention a specific part, and you’re just drawing blanks like: “Wait…THAT happened?” 

Inconsistent Reading Pace

Reading may be fast but with poor comprehension or slow and labored, trying to grasp every detail. Both extremes hinder effective reading. The deep irony of this duality is that you’d think that, at least, with the second option, you’d remember more, right? 

No 😀

Implications of Reading Challenges

I hope you’re watching your sodium because I will rub some salt in your wound. You may have already figured these problems aren’t just thought experiments from a vacuum. ADHD reading challenges clearly and directly impact aspects of your life

So let’s look at the specifics 🤓

Academic Performance

School is all about reading. Every class has a gosh darn book you must read and maybe even make notes and remember stuff. So, if you have issues with what amounts to basically THE task, then your grades will wave bye-bye 👋

Everyday Tasks

Reading isn't just for school or pleasure. It's in everyday tasks, too - instructions, emails, and news articles. Imagine yourself trying to proofread an email or an important report before submitting it at work. But because your brain is goofy 🤪you miss most blatant spelling and grammar mistakes, making you look unprofessional. 

Self-Confidence

Repeated difficulties with reading can impact self-esteem. The feeling of "I just can't read well" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, further hindering improvement.

[ADHD Reading Contexts] ADHD and Different Reading Contexts

We have established how ADHD impacts our reading abilities, so it’s time to move on to the solutions, right? Well, yes. But also, no. 😅

Before we move on to the solutions to the issue, let’s spend a moment discussing reading contexts. Or, in other words: “Why are you reading in the first place?”

Because reading for pleasure and reading for learning have different purposes and motivations. These, in turn, can alter the specific challenges we may encounter.

Reading for Academic Purposes

Academic reading presents specific challenges for individuals with ADHD.

  • Complex Material: Textbooks and academic papers often contain dense and complex information. For someone with ADHD, breaking down and comprehending this complexity can be a significant hurdle.
  • Extended Focus: It also requires prolonged periods of focus, a demanding task for an ADHD mind. Even if focus is maintained, it has to be done through conscious effort, leading to fatigue, frustration, and incomplete understanding of the material.
  • Pressure of Performance: The need to retain and use this information for exams or assignments adds pressure, making the reading process even more challenging.

Reading for Pleasure

Now, reading for pleasure should pose a different scenario, right? We love this, so it should be like a second nature. 

Eeeh 😔 Not really.

  • Starting and Finishing Books: Initiating the reading process and seeing a book through to the end can be tough. The novelty of a new book may wear off quickly, leading to a pile of unfinished reads.
  • Choosing Appropriate Book: So you have like 5 books you’d like to read. Obviously, you will pick one and then go through them in order. WRONG. Meet ADHD paralysis, as you spend more time debating which book to read instead of doing actual reading. 
  • Enjoyment Factor: The pleasure of reading can be diminished by the struggles with focus and comprehension, turning a leisure activity into a source of stress.

Everyday Reading Tasks in Professional and Personal Life

Don’t forget that reading isn’t just books! Everything we have to do - from chores to work tasks - involves processing textual information in one way or another. 

And, you’ve guessed it, ADHDers’ issues with reading will pop up here as well. 

Work-Related Reading

Emails, reports, and professional literature require attention and understanding. ADHD can make processing this information slower and more laborious. You may also find yourself often asking for clarifications and explanations on the tasks, both of which can slow the work down and make the process frustrating to everyone. 

Navigating Daily Life

Instructions, news articles, and even social media involve reading. Challenges in these areas can lead to misunderstandings or a sense of being overwhelmed by information.

[ADHD Reading Tips] Practical Tips for Reading with ADHD

Books, DMs, task descriptions, news, literally everything. Yeah, reading is everywhere, and we cannot escape it.

So, if we are kinda bad at it, let’s figure out how NOT to be. 

How to Focus on Reading With ADHD

And first, let’s focus on the larger picture: the reading environment. As with everything related to ADHD, creating the correct circumstances and environment can prevent overstimulation and allow us to focus on the task at hand. 

  • Minimize Distractions: Choose a quiet, clutter-free space for reading. Reducing external distractions can help maintain focus on the text.
  • Comfortable Setting: Ensure the reading area is comfortable. Adequate lighting, a comfortable chair, and a pleasant atmosphere can make a significant difference. If you’re prone to grabbing a drink or a snack while reading, put it in your reading nook. Just make sure nothing is stopping you from the act of reading! (Just don’t spill coffee on your book, please…)

Techniques to Improve Focus and Comprehension

Moving beyond the environment, let’s also consider techniques we can utilize to make our reading more 

  • Take notes: Writing down key points can aid in retention and understanding. It's a way of actively engaging with the text.
  • Reading Aloud: Can it look and feel silly? Sure! Does it matter if it brings results? Of course not! You don’t have to read out loud all the time, mind. Just maybe when you notice your focus faltering. 
  • Active Reading Strategies: Asking questions, summarizing passages, and predicting upcoming content are some of the better ways of staying engaged and focused on the reading material.
  • Set Manageable Goals: Setting too ambitious goals means just setting yourself up for failure. Don’t plan to read ALL THE BOOK in one sitting. A few chapters or even just a few pages is a more achievable goal. And, who knows, maybe you’ll feel encouraged to reach it and will read more just like that! 
  • Scheduled Breaks: Take regular, short breaks to prevent fatigue. A brief walk or a few minutes of relaxation can help recharge focus.

The Power of TECHNOLOGY: ADHD Reading Tools

Ok, this one will be a separate section to let you know I mean biz. There are plenty of ways to use the power of SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY to make your reading experience more palatable.

Noise generators

To start off, let’s talk about noise generators. Evidence suggests that listening to static noise can help us focus better. The gist of it is that it provides your brain with something to focus on instead of just wandering around in your own thoughts. And since your intrusive thoughts are “blocked,” you actually get to focus on the task at hand. You can download one noise-generating app here

ADHD Planner

How do ADHD planners help? Well, it depends if the planner is actually aimed toward ADHDers in this particular scenario.

For instance, let’s take our own planner - Numo.so - as an example. We understand that being ADHD is all about craving instant gratification and quick dopamines. So, we give you points and rewards for completing tasks! 

Make each chapter a subtask, and watch as your brain rewires itself to associate each completed chapter with shiny, dangly points! 

Bionic Reading

This  isomething  really cool.  Bionic  reading  highlights  certain  parts  othwords  tmake  thoverall  text  much  easier  tprocess.  Soyocageyourself  onothese  apps  anjust  chuck  your  text  into  ianmarvel  ahoeasier  ibecomes  tread.

The only downside is that, well, you can’t really do that with paperbacks. 

[ADHD Reading Approach] Creating a Personalized Reading Approach

Personalization is crucial in developing effective reading methods for ADHD.

Begin by identifying specific reading challenges. Is it maintaining focus, comprehension, or retaining information? Understanding these aspects helps in choosing the right strategies.

Experiment with Different Techniques: Try various approaches, such as reading aloud, summarizing after each section, or using graphic organizers. It’s about finding what works best for individual needs.

Importance of Recognizing Personal Learning Styles

Each person with ADHD has unique learning preferences that can impact their reading approach. Some may find visual aids like diagrams helpful, while others might benefit from auditory methods like listening to audiobooks or reading aloud.

Utilize personal strengths in the reading process. For example, if someone is good at storytelling, they might frame what they read in a story format to comprehend better and remember it.

Building Reading Skills Gradually

Enhancing reading skills is a gradual process, especially with ADHD.

Start with short reading sessions and gradually increase the duration as concentration improves. Recognize and celebrate progress, no matter how small. Completing a short article or a chapter is a step forward.

Regular reading helps in building and maintaining the skills and strategies developed. Consistency is more important than the quantity of reading.

Adapting Strategies Over Time

As situations and preferences change, so too should reading strategies. Be open to modifying strategies as needed. What works at one time may not be as effective later.

Keep up-to-date with new research and strategies for ADHD and reading. There’s always something new to learn that can help improve reading skills. Speaking of which 👀Our Numo app always has a cool guide or a few about all things ADHD. Just if you haven’t been convinced and wowed by our planner yet!

[ADHD and Love for Reading] Encouraging a Love for Reading

Yes, I know that I’ve said that reading can be a challenge, even if we’re talking about books that you enjoy. 

But nonetheless, there’s no escaping the fact that ADHDers are a lot better at focusing on things that we sincerely enjoy

So, if we want to get better at reading…well, we just have to make reading into something we love! 

The key to developing a love for reading starts with selecting the right material. Choose books and articles that align with your personal interests. Reading becomes more enjoyable when the content resonates with the reader.

Experiment with different genres and formats. Comics, graphic novels, and audiobooks might offer alternative and engaging ways to enjoy stories and information. Once you find your groove in any of those, you can then try experimenting by gradually moving into and exploring other genres. 

Most important, though? Reading should not feel like a task. Removing the pressure of speed and comprehension can make the experience more relaxed and enjoyable.

Success Stories and Role Models

Hearing about others who have overcome similar challenges can be inspiring. And there are a few ways to go about it. On the one hand, you can source inspiration from celebrities and such. You’d be impressed at how many famous people with ADHD there are!

But you can also opt for a more intimate approach: fellow ADHDers you can talk and interact with! 👀

By the way…did I mention our app, Numo? I think I did twice, but 3 is a better number.

Ahem…so the main point of Numo is actually our communities - squads, and tribes, we call them. These are the places where you can ask fellow ADHDers about anything, anything in the world. 

So if you feel like your reading isn’t just up to snuff, don’t falter! Just ask for encouragement and support and watch the downpour of fellow ADHD enjoyers sharing their own experiences with reading comprehension. 

Knowing that you aren’t suffering alone can be one of the best ways to foster inspiration and resilience.

[Conclusion] Conclusion

Isn’t it ironic that I’ve written such a large article on the topic of “Gee isn’t reading hard?” 😅

Sorry about that! But if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Thank you. 

The most important message I wanted to relay with this article is that there isn’t a right way to read. It’s true that the school system might set certain rigid rules for the process, but we don’t have to abide by them.

Read aloud, use bionic reading, and highlight parts you must remember - the world is your oyster! And if you struggle with figuring out what works for you, then I’m certain that one of the fellow Numo’ers will help you!

And there’s only one way to find out 👀Hope to see you there! 

Sources

1 Journal of Neuropsychology. Working memory and short-term memory deficits in ADHD: A bifactor modeling approach
2 Child Neuropsychology. Which Components of Processing Speed are Affected in ADHD Subtypes?
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