Attention Deficit Disorder Interferes with Reading Progress

The Problem Looks Like…

A reader with Attention Deficit is not learning to read adequately.

How to…

Help learners with Attention Deficit become accomplished readers.

It’s Related to…

Oral language, close attention to print, comprehension, focus and writing combine to create obstacles for learners with Attention Deficit.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention 6.3 million school age children have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).


Learning Disabilities % of children with ADHD who have comorbid condition

Oral language disorders 8% -30%

Reading disorder 15%-40%

Mathematics disorder 10%-25%

Written language expression unclear (clinical study suggests about 65%)

Developmental coordination disorder 40% to 60%

Jensen, Hinshaw et al. 2001; Carroll, Maughan et al. 2005; Reich, Neuman et al. 2005; Kessler, Adler et al. 2006

Although this information is old, it clearly indicates the issue at hand.

People with Attention Deficit work harder to learn.

Oral Language

The above chart shows that 8%-30% of people with Attention Deficit have oral language disorders. Oral language is one essential source of information for reading.  Delayed language by itself can cause delayed reading development. Combined with Attention Deficit, it will nearly guarantee reading delays. People with Attention Deficit and language disorders must compensate by over-relying on visual phonics information and comprehension. However, both of these are also negatively impacted by Attention Deficit.

Visual Attention

Using visual phonics information is difficult for people with Attention Deficit because it requires close attention to formation and sequence of letters within words. Lack of focus associated with Attention Deficit interferes with looking and noticing small bits of visual information.  In addition, 40%-60% of people with Attention Deficit have developmental coordination disorders that could negatively influence smooth eye movements while processing print.


The cueing system of meaning or comprehension is least effected by Attention Deficit. However, because the other two systems are affected, reading is broken and not fluent. Lack of fluency interferes with good comprehension. The learner may have adequate basic understanding but comprehension is confused because of errors created by poor language processing and lack of attention to print.


Another effect of some forms of Attention Deficit is difficulty sitting still and focusing for sufficient periods. Nevertheless, it is not impossible. Even severely affected learners can sit still for short periods. People with certain forms of Attention Deficit will manage to sit for a few minutes, then legs start wiggling or swinging. Their backs arch, twisting in the seat, swaying, and standing, unaware of their movement. Movement causes difficulty with keeping place in lines of text, noticing changes in one or two letters, a prefix, suffix or punctuation mark.

In Writing

It is also interesting to note that 65% of learners with Attention Deficit have written language delays. Writing is a powerful way to learn to read. Writing helps the learner understand phonics patterns and language structure. When written language is difficult, reading progress will also sometimes suffer.

How to Help

It is no wonder 15%-40% of people with Attention Deficit have a reading disorder. Attention Deficit and associated disorders affect every cueing system available to a learner.

Oral and written language processing deficits, and coordination disorders, require long-term interventions by qualified specialists. However, there are some ways to address the issue of focus while reading.

  • Prior to reading, remind the reader with Attention Deficit to focus on sitting.

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  • Explain how movement interferes with accurate reading. In Turn the Page…It’s Fun!: A Concepts of Print Story by Connie Dickison the following words remind readers to be still. “Hold it this way. Don’t let it sway. You can’t see the words when you move.”

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  • Create a goal to sit still as long as possible.

  • A gentle hand upon a leg, arm or back will often be sufficient reminder. Sometimes, a gentle hand is required many times during the completion of an entire story.

  • Other times, a quick 5-second stand and stretch is enough to bring focus. Some days will be difficult. You can try later or the next day.

  • Expect success and understand that readers with Attention Deficit have multiple learning difficulties.

  • It is not easy or quick, but progress occurs with practice and patience.

Now That’s Better…

 A reader with attention deficit understands the need for sustained focus and has developed some stratrgies to maintain focus. Extra attention is given to looking closely at letters, words and punctuation. Discussion about the story is frequent before, during and after reading. Everyone understands that practice and patience is required for the extra effort and time needed to read.