Why Your ADHDer Hates Reading (and How to Get Them Motivated)

I absolutely despised reading until I was diagnosed with ADHD and started taking medication in my late 20's. As a child, my hatred of books was partly a desire to be different from my bookworm sister (my parents had to beg her to stop reading and go play outside), and partly a matter what my brain preferred. Believe it or not, even after I got my Master’s degree at age 24, the total number of books I had read cover-to-cover from middle school up was less than 10! I got my information from videos, pictures, short internet articles, scanning paragraphs and picking out the terms printed in bold, writing notes from lectures, and from hands-on-experience.

My experience with reading was always “It’s boring!”. But now as an adult, I can be a little more articulate about what was happening. I would read a sentence, then get distracted by a word that would catch my eye on the bottom of the page or on the next page over. Once that happened, it was a struggle to get back to my spot. It seemed like I couldn’t read fast enough and I didn’t have the patience. I would also get very overwhelmed by books that I perceived to be too long. Why sit down and read hundreds of words when I could look at a diagram and figure it out in less time? Why read the whole novel if I could just skim it for the answers to my homework?

Not all kids with ADHD hate reading. In fact, I work with some children who tend to hyper focus on reading the latest Goosebumps or Harry Potter book. However, it seems that those who don’t enjoy reading REALLY don’t enjoy it and mentally file it under "ADHD un-friendly tasks"- right along with sitting still in church and cleaning one's room. I can relate to these clients and I feel for their parents who try so desperately and creatively to motivate their children to read.

Here are my suggestions for dealing with your book-hating kids:

1. First, have them evaluated for learning disabilities. There are neurologically based issues with information processing (besides ADHD) that can cause reading to be difficult for some kids. Be sure to rule out that learning disabilities aren’t contributing to the problem.

2. Keep it short and let them read ANYTHING. The goal here is to build positive experiences.

Anyone would hate reading and give up pretty quickly if they had to start off with War and Peace. It’s okay to let your child read magazines, articles online, directions to make crafts, cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, whatever!

3. Pick your battles. Some kids will refuse to read if they figure out that the refusal will get them power, attention, and bargaining rights. Plus, nothing makes kids tune out like when they perceive we are trying to teach them something. They want to get it on their own! Think of ways you can trick them into thinking it is their idea.

4. Monitor medication and look for signs of the medicated “sweet spot”. Often times, there will be a certain time of day when the “stars align”- that is, when your child’s medication has kicked in, they aren’t too tired, they aren’t hungry, they aren’t cranky, and they will be able to focus on reading. Seize that moment with gentle suggestion and also by having interesting reading materials available!

5. Limit distractions. There will always be distractions, especially for kids with ADHD. Try and maintain a quiet and calm reading space. If your child does better with music or background noise, try using music without words. For me, it has been a great help to use an electronic reader (i.e., Kindle) because I can change the text size. With larger text size, I find that I don't get as distracted or overwhelmed by seeing a whole page of text and I'm less likely to become impatient and skip ahead.

6. Let them wreck the book if they need to. I know some folks treat books like precious museum objects, taking care not to fold the pages, break the spine, or spill anything on it. I don’t suggest complete disregard for one’s possessions, but it may help your child read if you allow them to underline, use sticky-notes, write reminders, or even draw in margins. Plus, anything that helps them “own” or personalize a book or feel more attached to it can help.

7. Make it special. A couple of the books I remember “getting into” came from special moments that seemed to be out of the ordinary for me. For example, my dad coming to the school book fair and buying “Possum Come a Knockin”. I also had books where the main character had my name, which was pretty neat! Again, the challenge here is to make it special without adding pressure or getting into a power-battle. Also, be careful of going out of your way to make reading a special event if you will just end up feeling resentful if your child doesn't take the bait!

Hope these ideas will inspire you to get creative with your approach to getting your child to read. Happy "back-to-school"! It's the most wonderful time of the year!

What have you tried to help motivate your child with ADHD to read?

Best wishes,


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