Every parent hopes reading will happen with no more difficulty than the “average” student, but the reality is that there really is no such thing as “average.” Every child is unique, with their own gifts and difficulties. We decided to investigate possible reading difficulties for students who have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We asked Serrina Smith, a certified Special Education teacher at Springboard International Bilingual School, a few questions to help us navigate the issue.
1. What are some difficulties in reading that ADD or ADHD could potentially cause?
Students with ADHD may struggle with inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Students who have ADHD may be easily distracted, have difficulty sitting in place, and maintaining focus for the duration of a task. These struggles can then contribute to reading difficulties, such as reading comprehension.
In order to effectively read, a student must be able to grasp a level of understanding from the text, retain, and recall that information. While reading, students with ADHD may miss phrases in the text, skip words, forget where they are in the passage, and find they are unable to recall details. When students aren’t able to focus throughout reading, they encounter difficulties in their ability to organize, analyze, and construct meaning.
2. Are these obvious to spot or are students able to cover or hide these difficulties?
It all depends on the individual student. Fidgeting and the inability to attend to the text being read due to hyperactivity is obvious. However, other students may appear to be on task and focused, but are unable to answer comprehension or sequencing questions. Some students are able to read out loud fluently, but struggle to make connections to the text and retain information. These deficits are discovered during Q and A, character webs, and other formative assessments.
3. Are these difficulties always a sign that ADD and ADHD might be a cause?
These difficulties are not necessarily a sign that ADHD is the cause. If a student’s English level is below the level of the text she is reading, she may not be able to gain understanding due to her lack of vocabulary. A student who is fidgeting may have not had enough opportunities to release some of his energy that day and appear to be hyperactive.
Students who are inattentive may not be engaged in the text because they are uninterested in the material and feel bored. Or, changes at home, such as a divorce or a death may be on the forefront of their minds and the text they are reading is then put on the backburner.
As an educator or parent it is vital to look at the overall performance and behaviors a student displays in multiple settings over a period of time before assuming that ADHD is the cause.
4. How can parents and teachers make accommodations in reading to help their ADD or ADHD child overcome these hurdles?
First, engage! Students need a blend of conceptual, procedural,
kinesthetic, and social elements. Your student may be a visual, tactile, or an auditory learner. Most students need a combination of the three learning styles in order to absorb information. Group work, interactive activities, and demonstrations can be used in addition to direct instruction. The skill of reading can be daunting and it is important to try to make it intriguing so students will enjoy it. Acting out a story, creating plot twists, reading out loud with emphasized inflections, using props, playing comprehension games, and making predictions are fun ways to get students engaged.
Teachers can change the classroom layout to limit the amount of distractions, promoting an environment more conducive for that student. Seating a student away from doors and windows, utilizing fidget seats or other alternative seating, alternating seated activities to incorporate physical movement, and helping to organize and structure larger tasks into smaller steps can be beneficial.
Patience, consistency, and collaboration are all absolutely necessary. Students with ADHD are struggling to sit well, focus, and control their impulses. They want to do their best and have their teachers and parents proud of them. Teachers and parents need to openly communicate the difficulties and successes they are seeing with one another to make goals and track progress. The strategies will need to change as the student changes. Providing positive feedback for small successes and behaviors can boost confidence and be a motivator for the child.
Originally from the US, Serrina Smith has spent the last two years teaching in Beijing. It was her experience as program specialist for children with developmental disabilities that sparked her interest to go back to school to pursue teaching. Smith believes that each child is unique, with different interests and skills; therefore she takes a holistic approach to teaching, with focus on the development of the child.
If Smith weren’t in the classroom she would be jet-setting. She has a strong curiosity for learning about new cultures and travels any chance she gets.
Photo courtesy of SIBS
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