You may have noticed the yellow speaker icon at the top left of the article. You can now click that at the top of any of my articles or on any of my pages and you will be able to listen instead of read. I’ll explain at the end of this article why I’ve added this.
One of my biggest fears as a child was being called on to read out loud.
I’d feel my face get hot and I knew that it was visibly turning bright red.
My hands would start sweating and my breathing would start to feel labored.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like reading. The problem was that I didn’t feel like I was very good at it.
Actually, I loved reading and I still do. But it took me forever to get through a book because for some reason I found myself needing to go back and reread whole paragraphs of text that I’d somehow read through without a word sinking into my brain.
Sometimes I could even read a whole chapter of a book before realizing I hadn’t comprehended any of it because my mind was thinking about something that happened earlier in the day instead of paying attention to the words. I was reading. But I wasn’t paying attention. So the words simply went in and immediately left my mind without sticking.
Because of this I was what you’d call a slow reader. It took a lot of deliberate effort for me to stay focused on what I was reading. Add public speaking (which I am terrified of) to that, and you’ve got a very intimidating situation. So reading out loud… that was not something I wanted to do.
Reading was always a passion of mine, but I’m sure none of my teachers knew that about me. Because I can’t think of even one book that I actually read when I was in school. Cliff notes were my best friend. But it wasn’t because I was lazy. It was because I was such a slow reader that there was no way I could finish the assigned chapters in time to take the quizzes or pass the test at the end of the book. There was just no way I could do it without the cliff notes.
I remember being disappointed when I had to return a book at the end of an assignment because a lot of times I actually liked the book and was trying to read it but couldn’t finish it before having to hand it back.
So it was never a lack of interest or a matter of laziness when it came to that kind of reading. But when it came to textbook reading… that’s when I was really in trouble.
I could not for the life of me read a text book if I wasn’t interested in it. Believe me I would try. But if I was already having trouble paying attention to books I was interested in, how on earth could I be expected to pay attention to a very boring book that I had zero interest in? And there weren’t cliff notes for textbooks. This was before you could just do a quick google search and find a ton of articles on whatever it was you needed to know. So needless to say, my reading difficulties along with my already horrible attention span during class time resulted in nearly failing most of my classes. I was a very poor student.
ADHD and reading difficulties often go hand in hand. There can be a few reasons for that…
- Working Memory Deficits
- (Sometimes) Comorbid Dyslexia
Like I explained, ADHD brains have a lot of trouble maintaining focus. This is especially true if they are not interested in whatever it is they’re trying to focus on. It takes a lot of deliberate effort to keep our focus on anything we aren’t super into. Once we’re super into something though, we can then hyperfocus on it and good luck to anyone who tries to rip us away from it. Sometimes, very rarely, I would be super interested in an assignment at school so I would do amazingly well at it. My teachers would then get very excited and tell me “See? You can do well if you just put a little effort into it!”
At the time I had no understanding of why I was very good at school on rare occasions and why most of the time I was horrible at it, so I would say, “Yeah! I just need to try harder!” And the next assignment would roll around, I’d have zero interest in it, but I would put all my effort into it believing that if I just tried really really hard I could make myself hyperfocus magically and do well again. But my grade would come back as barely passing, sometimes even failing, and I would feel bewildered and ashamed. And of course my teachers would give me the speech, “You’ve shown me that you can do better. You need to try harder and not be so lazy.” I wish I had understood what was happening back then. I would have been a lot less hard on myself.
Working Memory Deficits
This is an excerpt from Very Well Mind that explains the role of working memory in reading difficulties of people with ADHD. I feel like they framed it perfectly:
In addition to remaining alert and resisting distractions, reading comprehension requires a student to be able to recall what has been read in preceding sentences and paragraphs. This way she can develop and modify an adequate working understanding of the message of each section of the text and how those components are related to one another. Processing and integrating all this information is complex. The student must be able to sort through the concepts in the text, select the most pertinent information, hold that information in mind and then analyze it.
A child must also be able to retrieve, relate, and apply relevant prior knowledge quickly and effectively in order to draw inferences. Keeping track of multiple concepts at once and continuously self-monitoring to make sure what they are reading makes sense can be incredibly difficult for a student with impaired working memory, often a problem for children with ADHD.”
I discussed working memory in my article on ADHD and Forgetfulness, and even went into ways you can improve your working memory. So if you’d like to know more about it, you can go read (or listen to) that article as well. Understanding the ADHD brain’s issue with working memory will help you better understand why reading can be so difficult for us.
Now let’s talk about how much harder it can be for a person to have both ADHD and Dyslexia. You’ve already seen how difficult it is to read with just ADHD. Now imagine that on top of that, as you are putting so much effort into reading, comprehending, and remembering what you just read and comprehended, the letters are also “jumping around” and you’re having to decipher the words.
I don’t have dyslexia, but my boyfriend does, and he’s had to explain to me how difficult and annoying reading is for him. It’s not that he or anyone else with dyslexia is less intelligent or illiterate. It’s just that reading takes a lot more effort.
This article on dyslexia is very eye opening and there is even a simulation at the beginning that shows you what reading with dyslexia can look like. I had a lot of trouble reading the text in the simulation. I got through it but it was not easy. A quote from that article explains dyslexia like this:
Dyslexia is characterized by difficulty with learning to read fluently and with accurate comprehension despite normal intelligence. This includes difficulty with phonological awareness, phonological decoding, processing speed, orthographic coding, auditory short-term memory, language skills/verbal comprehension, and/or rapid naming.”
My boyfriend (and plenty of other people) suffers from both ADHD and Dyslexia. When I first started my blog, my boyfriend would always apologize to me because he hadn’t read my latest article. He would ask me to send them to him but they were so long and it was hard for him to find the time to sit down and make himself read through them. After a while he explained to me what it was like to read with both ADHD and Dyslexia. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do it. It was just a difficult and time consuming task for him.
So when I got an email from one of my readers recently suggesting that I try adding a text-to-speech option to my articles, I thought of my boyfriend right away.
This reader wasn’t saying they had difficulty reading due to ADHD or Dyslexia. They were actually having vision issues and were having trouble reading because of that. They said they’d been following the blog for a while now, and wished they could listen to the articles instead of read them. They suggested maybe starting a podcast (which I’ve thought about and still may pursue in the future), or a text-to-speech application.
So I installed something called Website Voice which allows my readers to click a speaker icon at the beginning of the article or even on any of the main pages, and a voice will read the article or whatever text is on the page.
And I decided that since reading difficulties are common with ADHD, a new text-to-speech option would be a great addition to a blog for adults with ADHD!
From now on, any of my older articles and any new ones that come out can be listened to at your convenience. You can put it on while you’re cleaning your room or washing the dishes. Maybe put it on during your commute to work. It’s your choice.
If I find time in the future, I’d like to start a podcast where I actually read the articles in my own voice. So you may have that to look forward to. We’ll see.
Until then I hope this helps you out.
Annnd Until Next Time,
Keep Calm and Grow On