ADHD: Current Research and Teaching Strategies for Reading and Writing

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) presents challenges that affect everyday life and learning for students as well as their teachers and parents. Much has been written and researched when it comes to the disorder, with some conclusions resulting in great debate and controversy. As research and practice continue to mine the depths of understanding ADHD, certain findings have commonly emerged:

        • An estimated 3.5 percent of the student population (or 1.46 to 2.46 million children) in the United States have ADHD.
        • There are three main symptoms related to ADHD: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
        • Boys are more often diagnosed with ADHD than girls, with rates of four to nine times more for boys than girls.
        • Symptoms of the disorder may change as the child develops, but research indicates that the disorder persists into adulthood at some level for a significant number of people.
        • There are many types of ADHD, and treatment and intervention strategies can vary among types.
        • –From the

ADHD Series

        • published by NASET (National Association of Special Education Teachers)

Recent research points to other findings. A comparative study of brain imaging conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that certain regions of the brain in children with ADHD may develop slower than those regions in their non-ADHD counterparts. This study implies that ADHD, at least for some children, may be due to a delay in brain development, which may change over time.

Stephen Hinshaw, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, has been following a study group of non-ADHD and ADHD girls. This ten-year longitudinal study is the first of its kind. (Most of the research on ADHD has been focused on boys.)

Hinshaw’s study showed that the girls with ADHD reported more problems with anxiety, depression, and eating disorders in their adolescent years than did the girls without ADHD. Other studies have shown that ADHD in girls is commonly diagnosed at a later age than in boys, often due to the fact that girls are more likely to show symptoms of inattentiveness rather than the more overt symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity seen in boys. As a consequence, these girls are often left unnoticed and undiagnosed until further problems emerge.

As the scientific research continues, teachers face, on a daily basis, the need to help students with ADHD succeed in their classrooms. According to NASET:

Research in the field of ADHD suggests that teachers who are successful in educating children with ADHD use a three-pronged strategy. They begin by identifying the unique needs of the child. For example, the teacher determines how, when, and why the child is inattentive, impulsive, and hyperactive. The teacher then selects different educational practices associated with academic instruction, behavioral interventions, and classroom accommodations that are appropriate to meet that child’s needs. Finally, the teacher combines these practices into an individualized educational program (IEP) or other individualized plan and integrates this program with educational activities provided to other children in the class (Introduction, ADHD Series).


Experts on ADHD offer a number of suggestions to help children with reading and writing. Roland Rotz and Sarah Wright suggest finding ways to provide students with secondary “fidget” activities, ones that don’t distract students from the task at hand but actually help them focus on a task. For example, allowing students to listen to music while reading a textbook, having students listen to a recorded version of a book while reading the text, or giving students an extra piece of paper to doodle on while working on a writing assignment.

Other strategies that build focus and comprehension, like reading aloud, previewing materials, asking questions, identifying the main ideas, word games and other components of successful reading programs, are helpful at an early age. In his article, ADHD at School: 10 + Tips to Improve Reading Skills, neuropsychologist Matthew Cruger writes:

Children with ADHD often have difficulty with reading comprehension because it depends on their ability to quickly sound out and recognize words- something that’s hard for students with attention deficit disorder or learning disabilities like dyslexia.

Even if ADHD students master the mechanics of reading, many have trouble understanding the text, making connections within the story, and relating what they’re reading to what they already know. Fortunately, reading comprehension skills and strategies can be taught. Children who learn multiple reading strategies, and are guided in their use, eventually choose some to use on their own.


Here are some resources that may be helpful in supporting students with ADHD:

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears Resources
Stories for Students

This series of electronic books allows students to both read and listen to stories, a feature especially useful for helping children with ADHD track and focus on text closely. The audio portion also helps students sound out words. These electronic books can be used as companions to illustrated versions of the stories, which are printed as individual books.

Determining Importance
This Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears article provides a number of templates to help students distinguish the most important ideas when reading text. There are templates for identifying the essential points of text while reading or after reading. For example, students make lists to separate what things in a given text are interesting versus important. In another template, students highlight text, marking whether it is something to stop and pay attention to as a key idea, to slow down for ideas that might be important, or to note as additional information that isn’t essential.

ADHD Resources

National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET)
NASET offers a list of resources dealing with ADHD. While some materials are limited to members, there are some general materials that provide support for teachers in understanding ADHD and meeting student needs. A separate series of articles on ADHD is available to members.

NPR Interview: Diagnosis Can Miss ADHD Symptoms in Girls
This “Talk of the Nation” interview focuses on Stephen Hinshaw’s longitudinal study of girls with ADHD into adolescence. As a part of the interview, listeners call in to share their stories, providing a sobering picture of stigma, neglect and misunderstanding when it comes to treating girls – and women – with this disorder.

ADDitude Magazine and Online Community
As both a magazine and online community, this resource provides a host of information about ADHD. Membership to the online community is free while the magazine has a subscription fee.

Fidget to Focus: Outwit Your Boredom: Sensory Strategies for Living with ADD
This book by Roland Rotz and Sarah Wright looks at what neuroscience can tell us about ADD and ways to enhance focus and attention through fidgeting or “simultaneous sensory-motor stimulation.” Rotz and Wright provide strategies and suggestions that can be helpful in classrooms and other learning situations.

This article was written by Robert Payo. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright December 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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