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3 Tips for Reading With ADHD

Have you ever read through several pages of something without having the actual meaning of the words sink in? Or suddenly realized that you’ve been reading the same paragraph over and over for five minutes?

If you have ADHD, there’s a good chance these are regular occurrences for you. Problems sustaining attention can play all sorts of tricks on you when you sit down and try to read.

ReadingReading difficulties in ADHD are like many other kinds of difficulties the disorder can cause: they often come down to not being able to put what you know how to do into action rather than simply not knowing how to do something. Just because you’re theoretically capable of reading doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to sit down and focus on actually reading something from start to finish.

This side of ADHD can be frustrating when you have to do reading for work or school. In college, I remember being constantly frustrated by my tendency to read through things on autopilot without really processing what I was reading.

However, there are some strategies that can help when you have to read something but your brain just doesn’t want to cooperate. Three of them are:

  • Skim first: Read the beginning and the end to get an overview of what the whole document is about, then skim the middle looking for important points. If there are sections, read the beginning and the ends of the sections. Instead of forcing yourself to go from start to finish sentence by sentence, read in a global, structural way first to get the big picture. Then when you go back and read sentence-to-sentence, you’ll simply be filling in details — and even if you zone out for parts, you’ll still have the gist.
  • Take notes: You might think of taking notes as something you do for when you want to review what you’ve read later, but it can also be a way of making the reading process more hands-on and engaging. Forcing yourself to take notes prolifically will stop you from coasting through multiple pages without even realizing that you’re not paying attention anymore. It makes you process what you’re reading more thoroughly, which will help keep you from switching into autopilot.
  • Do a “background activity”: Part of the reason reading doesn’t always bring out the best in people with ADHD is that it can be exactly the kind of activity the ADHD brain has trouble with: one that’s understimulating and passive. This is especially likely to be true of reading for work or school. So your brain gets bored, checks out, and goes off on its own, looking for something more interesting to do. One way to counter this is by doing a more stimulating activity in the background while you read. Listening to music and chewing gum are two of my favorites. The idea is that by giving your brain a reward you can keep it happier and hopefully more cooperative.

It’s worth noting that for some people with ADHD, reading difficulties are about more than just ADHD. A lot of people with ADHD also have dyslexia, so that’s something to keep in mind.

But if your reading difficulties are mostly about not being able to focus on what you’re reading, try giving some of these strategies a shot. No coping strategy is going to give you perfect concentration, but you might find that these help you understand and retain more of what you read.

And if you have any reading tips of your own, please share in the comments!

Image: Flickr/Sebastian Wiertz

3 Tips for Reading With ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). 3 Tips for Reading With ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Oct 2016
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