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

reading book at home
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ADHD is a form of neurodivergence that can sometimes make reading more difficult. For both children and adults with ADHD, staying focused while reading can be difficult. It can also be challenging to comprehend and retain the information that was 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) to process the information accurately.

Problems with reading can be frustrating and may lead people to worry that they will fail in school or struggle in the workplace. Fortunately, there are many tried-and-true strategies to help overcome reading problems.

This article discusses strategies to help children and adults with ADHD focus while reading and to better remember what they have read, These may benefit people without ADHD, too.

Reading Issues in Children With ADHD

ADHD can contribute to reading comprehension issues in children with ADHD. Since reading plays such a pivotal role in a child's life, particularly at school, these issues can also impact a child's grades and self-esteem.

Characteristics of ADHD that can contribute to reading issues include:

  • Inattention: Kids who have difficulty focusing often struggle to sustain attention while reading. They might get distracted, skip text, miss important details, and struggle to stay on task. Such challenges may be more pronounced when kids are bored or tired.
  • Issues with working memory: ADHD can lead to differences in executive function, which involves cognitive skills needed to manage different behaviors. This includes working memory, which is a temporary storage that holds information people need when engaging in a task such as reading. To comprehend and mentally manipulate information a child has read, they need to be able to store, retrieve and apply the information they have read.
  • Hyperactivity and impulsivity: Kids with ADHD may also struggle to sit still for long periods of time. They may fidget and seem to be constantly in motion, which can make it harder to focus on what they are reading.


Differences in how children with ADHD process information, learn, and engage with the world can lead to problems with reading. This can include characteristics such as inattention, differences in working memory, and difficulty sitting still while reading.

Strategies That Improve Reading Comprehension

Treatment approaches that focus on helping kids manage their ADHD traits has been found to help reading skills. Traditional treatments typically rely on stimulant or non-stimulant medications. Other strategies that can help improve reading skills include:

  • Reading together
  • Minimizing outside distractions
  • Giving children books about topics they enjoy
  • Teaching techniques like underlining and highlighting
  • Asking questions while reading
  • Taking notes

There is no one size fits all approach. Experimenting with different strategies and being supportive can help you child figure out what reading strategies work best for them.

Reading Issues for Adults With ADHD

Adults with ADHD also face some of the same issues with reading. While research on reading issues for adults with ADHD is limited, several issues 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.

  • Read aloud instead of silently. This may take longer, but it will help you to focus on each word.
  • 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.
  • Take brief breaks for movement.
  • Use audiobooks or have someone read to you. This approach is especially helpful for people who learn through listening or are easily overwhelmed when faced with a page full of text.
  • Opt for a hard copy. Researchers have discovered that comprehension is better when reading a physical book versus an e-book.
  • Talk about what you have just read. Discuss it with a friend, or just talk aloud to yourself.
  • 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.
  • Take notes while reading, then go back and summarize the main points.
  • Use a bookmark or ruler to slide down the page as you read each line, so you don't lose your place.
  • Divide the material into smaller, more manageable chunks. Then take a break and reward yourself after each section.
  • Adapt your environment. Figure out what works best for you: a quiet reading area or one with some background noise.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Make the content personal. Think about how it relates to your own likes and dislikes and personal experiences.
  • 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.


Tactics such as reading aloud, minimizing distractions, taking notes, and highlighting key information can be helpful. Experiment with different strategies to figure out what works best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • 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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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.