Reading Comprehension and Retention Tips for ADHD

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: August 24, 2023
A lush forest growing from an open book

Table of Contents

    Have you ever found yourself reading the same paragraph over and over, unable to grasp its meaning, even though you're trying your best to concentrate? If you or someone you know has ADHD, this scenario might feel painfully familiar, and you're far from alone in this struggle.

    What is Reading Comprehension?

    Reading comprehension is the ability to understand, interpret, and analyze written information. It's more than merely recognizing words on a page; it's about grasping ideas, making connections, and applying what you've read to different contexts. This skill is crucial in everyday life and learning, enabling us to follow instructions, engage in meaningful conversations, and think critically.

    Your brain then decides whether to retain the information that you just understood from what you were reading.

    ADHD Challenges with Reading Speed, Comprehension and Retention

    But ADHD can throw a wrench in your ability to read with sufficient comprehension retention. Those with ADHD often have working memories with reduced capacity. This can not only hurt your reading comprehension and the amount of information you retain, but also your reading speed, as you may have to re-read large portions of the text to assist with connecting the ideas, or because you missed parts of the text altogether due to distraction.

    Symptoms like distractibility and impulsivity that are often associated with ADHD can also create significant obstacles in reading. Distractibility may lead to losing one's place in the text or missing key details. Impulsivity might cause a rush through reading, such as skipping words or sentences unintentionally, leading to misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

    When you have ADHD, reading doesn't have to be a relentless battle. With the right strategies, it's possible to turn a frustrating reading process into a rewarding journey of learning and discovery. Let's delve into some of the most effective non-medication tips for enhancing reading comprehension and retention for those with ADHD.

    Techniques for Improving Reading Comprehension

    Remember what we talked about in a previous post, how ADHD can be simplified as a disruption between knowledge and action? This disruption makes it hard to do what we know we need to do in order to read well: stay focused, calm, and engaged for long periods of time. As a result, while you may not be able to rely on your brain by itself to connect knowledge with action, you can change your environment to clarify the link between knowledge and action for your brain.

    So your general approach should be to do whatever you can to make both what you read about and your reading experience more concrete, physical, and immediate to your senses. Doing so helps your brain take focused action on the task at hand.

    Here are some specific techniques to achieve just that for reading and improve reading speed, comprehension, and even retention:

    • Create a distraction-free environment: Think of your reading space as a sanctuary. This is where the magic of stories comes alive or where you dance with complex theories and ideas. Create a spot free from the buzz of daily life, where the only sound you might hear is the flipping of pages or the hum of your imagination. Here, you can engage with the abstract knowledge you’re reading and turn them into images and stories that feel more real to you.
    • Time box: Imagine breaking down a marathon into pleasant morning jogs. That's what time-boxing does to reading. Techniques like the Pomodoro Technique turn the task of reading into smaller, more digestible segments. Timers also add a sense of urgency and motivation by making the passage of time more visual and “real” to your brain. Set a timer for 25 minutes of reading followed by a 5-minute break, and repeat.
    • Use a pacer: Using a pacer while you read, like a finger or the tip of a pen, can guide your eyes forward consistently. This helps make sure you don't skip words due to distraction or impatience, which is a common symptom of ADHD. A pacer also makes reading a more visual and even tactile experience, which can improve focus.
    • Summarize Jot down summaries after reading sections, which forces you to recall and digest what you read, making it more concrete and memorable.
    • Question the text: Just as a curious child explores the world with questions, teach yourself to question the text. What did the author mean? How does it relate to you? This is another approach that makes the abstract information in text feel more tangible, which results in better comprehension and retention.
    • Use reading technology: In a world where technology is our faithful companion, why not use it to make reading easier? Tools like digital highlighters and text-to-speech technology can make your reading experience more multi-sensory and thus engaging, improving reading comprehension and speed. Others can can be distracted by too much going on, which results in worse focus. So, experiment with different kinds of technology to find what works best for you. Discover more about these handy tech reading tools in this article about the best tools and apps for reading with ADHD.

    Empowering Your Reading Journey: Take the Next Step

    Remember, dear reader, that every step forward, no matter how small, is progress. Reading well, especially with ADHD, might feel like an uphill battle at times, but with practice, patience, and the right strategies, it can turn into an enlightening and rewarding experience.

    Your voice matters, and we'd love to hear from you! Have you tried any of these strategies? What works for you? What challenges are you facing? Share your experiences, ask questions, or offer tips in the comments below. Together, we create a vibrant community of learners and readers supporting one another.

    < Back to Ultimate Guide to Reading with ADHD

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