Co-occurring Learning Disorders
Dyslexia and ADHD are conditions which often occur together, though one does not appear to cause the other. They both appear to have a genetic component, and they can both impact an individual’s ability to learn and result in problems with executive function .
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that almost 50 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD also have another learning disorder such as dyslexia. The International Dyslexia Association estimates that 30% of those diagnosed with dyslexia have ADHD as well.
While ADHD and dyslexia are separate conditions; a person who has both may have a broad range of executive function impairments (problems focusing, using working memory, etc.), as well as an difficulty with the particular skills needed for reading, such as processing symbols quickly and accurately.
Symptoms — Similarities and Differences
Because of certain similarities and overlap, the two conditions can sometimes be confused. In learning environments for example:
Distraction – A child with ADHD might be distracted because it is hard for them to stay focused and pay attention. A child with dyslexia might appear distracted because reading is a struggle and they lose energy quickly.
Fluency – Reading fluency is measured in terms of speed, accuracy, and comprehension. A child with ADHD might have trouble with ready fluency because they lose their place or skip endings as their mind races ahead. A child with dyslexia can have problems with reading fluency because they spend a long time sounding out each word or read words incorrectly.
Writing – A child with ADHD might have difficulty with organization and proofreading. A child with dyslexia might struggle with spelling, grammar, organizing ideas, proofreading, and handwriting.
While there are some similarities in the two conditions, there is a fundamental difference. Unlike dyslexia, which shows up during reading and writing activities, ADHD symptoms occur n many different settings and have a behavioral component.
Different Paths to Diagnosis
ADHD and dyslexia are diagnosed differently and usually by different professionals. ADHD is considered a mental disorder and is typically diagnosed by a psychiatrist, psychologist, neurologist, and sometimes a family doctor.
Dyslexia, on the other hand, is a condition that is often first identified by educators who may then refer the individual to a doctor or psychologist for diagnosis and assessment. The diagnosis of dyslexia is often made by a clinical psychologist, school psychologist, educational psychologist, or a neuropsychologist.
Neither ADHD nor dyslexia can be cured, but both conditions can be treated independently. For help with reading problems caused by dyslexia, there are various specialized dyslexia reading programs. When searching for a good reading program for dyslexic students, look for those that include:
- Phonemic awareness
- Fluency building
- Decoding and articulation
- Detailed guidelines for spelling rules
Your child’s school may have specially trained teachers that can provide the help they need. However, if your child’s school does not provide this, consider getting a special tutor to work with your child after school. Accommodations and tutoring can be important for children having to deal with both ADHD and dyslexia to help them to achieve their academic potential. For additional resources on helping children with both ADHD and dyslexia, check out the resources listed below.