Spicing Up Stories Could Help Kids with ADHD, Reading Disabilities

Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and reading disabilities (RD) are integrated into the majority of mainstream classrooms across the country. These children may have similar IQ levels as their peers but often have difficulty with reading comprehension, decoding, interpretation, and sustaining attention. Educators have struggled to teach these children in the best way possible but many times cannot keep them engaged. However, adding a little variety to story lines may be just what these children need to get them hooked.

Children with ADHD need increased stimulation and arousal in the classroom. When they do not get it from external sources, they seek to find it through disruptive behavior and other means that can hold their attention. Kids with RD lose interest quite quickly in traditional story lines because they must exert extreme effort to decipher long plots and comprehend relatively uninteresting character portrayals. To determine what effect a spicier story would have, Suzanne M. Beike of the Department of Graduate Studies in Education at Purdue University conducted a study comparing how children ranging in age from 7 to 11 years, with ADHD, RD, and no disabilities, responded to and processed enhanced reading material.

Beike assessed the children’s comprehension, engagement, and attention to details after they read a high and low novelty rendition of Aesop’s fables. The high novelty condition included surprising twists and endings, more intense and active verbs, colorful adjectives, and unfamiliar characters. She found that even though the comprehension levels of the RD boys were relatively low, the novel story condition did positively affect these children. They were less taxed when reading the stories and sustained attention longer. The ADHD group also experienced more arousal and engagement when reading the high novelty stories, decreasing their need for self-stimulation. Beike believes these findings could help educators by encouraging them to enhance reading material for ADHD and RD children. She added, “It is also possible to ask children to develop their own surprising endings or to change the nature of the characters and actions in the existing text of materials they read.”

Beike, S. M., Zentall, S. S. (2012, February 13). The Snake Raised Its Head: Content Novelty Alters the Reading Performance of Students at Risk for Reading Disabilities and ADHD. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027216

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  • Hayley


    February 21st, 2012 at 2:36 PM

    so maybe you don’t necessarily have to change the story line so to speak, but maybe a little extra enthusiasm when you sit down to read with them could really get them going and moving in the right direction with encouraging a stronger love of reading and comprehension of the stories



    February 21st, 2012 at 11:41 PM

    AS much as I would love seeing kids with ADHD and RD be on the same boat with others,interpreting and presenting things differently is easier said than done,especially as we go towards higher education.what then?

  • Shayne


    February 22nd, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    Unfortunately I have to agree with Emery. While it sounds all well and good to do this, is this kind of modification really teaching these kids about getting along in the real world? For me it just seems like they would be much better served to conform to the system instead of always expecting the system to make exceptions for and conform to them.

  • Sharon


    February 23rd, 2012 at 7:55 PM

    The job of “the system” is to teach children. If a modification will motivate a child to read then who loses. Yes, it may be a challenge, but every child in the class will benefit not just the ADHD kids. ADHD kids cannot “conform to the real world” since it is not part of their plan to have these problems. They would actually love it if they were just like everyone else, ask them.

  • Chris Shave

    Chris Shave

    February 25th, 2012 at 8:02 AM

    This finding fits like a jigsaw piece into the puzzle that is reluctant readers and boys in general. In experience teaching 3rd graders, this pairing (ADHD & RD) are less passive in nature. Much of the “literature” teachers present to their students is bland, predictable and safe! The other students in the room may not be excited about it either, but they understand how to follow the rules, read carefully and answer the questions correctly–that isn’t learning and/or thinking!

    I can always tell when I’ve hit on a successful story with my class because there is a buzz that goes beyond the scripted “turn and talk” about the characters. In these situations, the kids feel compelled to discuss it on the playground, in lunch and on the bus. You know you have an engaging book to work with when the parents mention it or the school librarian notices a run on that author, series or genre.

    There are more “must-dos” if you want to get through to these kinds of readers– such as multiple genres, graphic novels, non-fiction (magazines) and student directed choice. A great place to start would be the book “Even Hockey Players Read” by David Booth.

    Finally, talk to one of us former reluctant readers about our experiences in school. For me: it was a remedial reading teacher who finally set the hook. He read/told Poe’s “A Tell Tale Heart” in a darkened room and to this day I can clearly hear the thump from under the floor boards.

  • Sharon


    March 6th, 2012 at 4:26 AM

    A good way to use this idea of spicing up a story would be through a reading/writing workshop. The students could rewrite a story, maybe even change it into a play form; they could take one of Aesop’s fables and change it to modern times while keeping the moral. Personally, I think we should be willing to do whatever it takes to help these students learn to think while reading in a way that works for them.

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