Learning and thinking differences that cause trouble with reading

At a glance

  • A number of learning and thinking differences can make reading hard.

  • They can cause trouble with different types of reading skills.

  • Different challenges require different strategies to help kids get better at reading.

Kids can have trouble with reading for lots of reasons. Not all kids develop skills on the same timeline. So in some cases, it’s a matter of catching up — especially for kids who are young for their grade.

Reading difficulties can also be caused by differences in how the brain develops and functions. These learning and thinking differences don’t go away. But with the right support, kids can make big strides in reading.

How dyslexia can affect reading

What it is: Dyslexia is a common learning difference that makes reading difficult. It can also cause trouble with other skills, like spelling, writing, and math.

The reading connection: Kids with dyslexia struggle with decoding. This means they have trouble connecting letter symbols to the sounds they make. And that makes it hard for them to read fluently and accurately.

It can also impact reading comprehension. So kids with dyslexia might have trouble answering questions about something they read. They might even avoid reading altogether — especially situations when they have to read out loud.

See a list of signs of dyslexia. And find out what to do if you think your child has dyslexia.

Strategies to try:

How ADHD can affect reading

What it is: ADHD is a common condition that makes it hard to focus. It can also cause trouble with self-control, organization, and other skills called executive function. One key skill ADHD affects is called working memory. This is the ability to hold on to information and use it later.

The reading connection: Trouble with working memory can make it hard for kids to remember something they just read. As kids work on decoding one word, they might lose track of what came before it. That can take a toll on reading comprehension.

Learn more about how ADHD and trouble with executive function affect reading. And find out what to do if you think your child has ADHD.

Strategies to try:

  • Find fun ways to help your child focus.

  • Make a chart to help your child track “who, what, when, where, and why.” Or add some action — like acting out scenes and reading aloud.

  • Try activity breaks, or brain breaks.

How slow processing speed can affect reading

What it is: Slow processing speed means it takes longer to take in information and respond to it. It often co-occurs with ADHD and dyslexia. Like other learning and thinking differences, it has nothing to do with how smart kids are. Instead, it’s about how fast they process information.

The reading connection: Kids with slow processing speed often take longer to words, apply reading rules, and make sense of text. They may have trouble making sense of stories because they’re bogged down in the text. And that can make reading feel frustrating.

Remember that a “good reader” isn’t necessarily a fast reader. There are lots of reasons kids may read slowly. Knowing why your child reads slowly can help you find ways to make reading less frustrating.

Strategies to try:

These are some of the most common learning and thinking differences that can cause trouble with reading. But they’re not the only ones. Kids who have trouble with social skills, for instance, might struggle to find the “larger message” in what they read. They might take text too literally and not grasp humor or emotion.

No matter what’s causing your child’s trouble with reading, there are lots of ways to help your child improve. Look for books that match your child’s reading level. Older kids might like graphic novels, which can make reading more fun and approachable.

Explore more ways to help your child with reading. If you have concerns about your child’s reading skills, keep an eye on what you’re seeing, and take notes. Connect with the teacher to find out what’s happening in the classroom, and ask your child what reading feels like.

The more information you have, the better equipped you’ll be to help your child improve.

Key takeaways

  • Dyslexia is a common learning difference that causes trouble with reading.

  • ADHD and slow processing speed can also make reading hard.

  • There are lots of ways to help kids improve, feel less frustrated, and even enjoy reading.


Read next