How to Read, Retain, and Focus When You Have ADHD

reading book at home
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If you're an adult with ADHD, you've probably struggled with remembering what you've read. Reading tasks may feel like they take forever, especially if you are finding that you have to read and re-read (and re-read again) in order to process the information accurately.

Does that mean you're doomed to fail in school or have difficulties in the workplace? Probably not. From learning how to focus when you're reading to how to remember and retain what you've read, there are several tried-and-true strategies to help overcome reading problems. These may benefit people without ADHD, too.

Reading Issues for Adults With ADHD

Why is it so tough for people with ADHD to remember what they've read? While research on reading issues for adults with ADHD is limited, there are several issues that could be at play.

It is not unusual to become derailed by internal thoughts or external distractions, particularly when reading something uninteresting or downright boring. You may frequently find that you are losing your place or skipping words in longer passages because you are visually distracted by all the words on the page.

You may have trouble identifying and remembering the main points of what you've just read. You may simply zone out and become sleepy while reading.

How to Remember What You Read

To help yourself to stay focused and attentive so that you can remember what you've read, try one or more of these strategies. Experiment to see what helps you.

  1. Read aloud instead of silently. This may take longer, but it will help you to focus on each word.
  2. Walk or pace around while you read. This strategy may help you avoid zoning out or focusing on internal distractions instead of the words on the page.
  3. Take brief breaks for movement.
  4. Use audiobooks or have someone read to you. This approach is especially helpful for people who learn through listening or who are easily overwhelmed when faced with a page full of text.
  5. Opt for a hard copy. Researchers have discovered that comprehension is better when reading a physical book versus an e-book.
  6. Talk about what you have just read. Discuss it with a friend, or just talk aloud to yourself.
  7. Use highlighter pens to underscore main points. Not only will this keep you focused, but it will also help you to recall the main points.
  8. Take notes while reading, then go back and summarize the main points.
  9. Use a bookmark or ruler to slide down the page as you read each line, so you don't lose your place.
  10. Divide the material into smaller, more manageable chunks. Then take a break and reward yourself after each section.
  11. Adapt your environment. Figure out what works best for you: a quiet reading area or one with some background noise.
  12. Eliminate distractions. Is your phone on silent? Is the door closed? Are you hungry? Are you too cold or too hot? Think about and eliminate any distractions that might interfere with your reading.
  13. Read at the right time. If you're feeling tired or fatigued, for example, it will be that much harder to focus and absorb what you read.
  14. Keep a pad of paper nearby. If you get distracted by internal thoughts, jot down the thought in order to remember it and get back to it at a later time. Once you have jotted the thought down, set it aside for later.
  15. Make the content personal. Think about how it relates to your own likes and dislikes and personal experiences.
  16. Read it twice. Reading something a second time will not only allow you to better understand what you've read but also help you to pick up any information you missed the first time around.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s a good technique for teaching a child with ADHD how to read?

In addition to treating ADHD, which has been found to help reading skills, strategies may include reading together, minimizing outside distractions, giving children books about topics they enjoy, and teaching techniques like underlining and highlighting.

How can I read a book faster if I have ADHD?

The speed at which you read a book can differ for many reasons, including how interested you are in the book that you're reading. Strategies like using a bookmark or ruler to keep your place can help you focus on each line of text and get through the book with less distraction.

How is reading different for adults with ADHD than from children with ADHD?

Reading is a struggle for adults and children with ADHD alike. Many children with ADHD have difficulty with reading comprehension, while both adults and kids with ADHD tend to lose interest, miss details and connections, lose track of where they are on the page, and become easily distracted.

Having a co-occurring reading disability such as dyslexia, which can make it difficult to learn to read, spell, decode, and recognize words, is also common for both adults and children with ADHD.

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6 Sources
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