Understanding the Differences Between Dyslexia and ADHD


ADHD and dyslexia are both considered neurodevelopmental disorders. These are conditions involving differences in brain functioning that begin in developmental stages. The two have a high rate of co-occurrence, but there are some big differences to be aware of as a parent or an educator. 

It’s estimated that 25 to 40% of children with ADHD or a reading disorder also meet the criteria for the other category. We’ll get into some of the reasons adults are less likely to recognize dyslexia in children with ADHD. Early detection and treatment for these conditions are both important ways to improve a child’s learning experience. By extension, it’s also likely to improve their self-esteem

In this blog post, we’ll uncover the differences and similarities between ADHD and dyslexia. The final sections outline what you can do to support a child if you think they have both. 

How are ADHD and dyslexia different?

Dyslexia is a reading disorder that makes it difficult to decode speech sounds from letters and words on a page. What many people don't know is that it's not always about reversing or transposing letters. Each person with dyslexia experiences it in a different way. You may be surprised to know that dyslexia often comes along with strong verbal (speaking) and vocabulary skills. 

A person with dyslexia might have trouble identifying letters and breaking words into syllables. Or they might struggle with grammar and sentence structure. Children with dyslexia often have difficulty spelling, memorizing by rote, and recalling names. They may misread both small sight words and longer words. 

Children with ADHD can differ from their peers in three distinct areas. These are attention or concentration, external or internal hyperactivity, and managing impulses. Researchers have also found high levels of emotional dysregulation among children with ADHD. If they struggle with reading, it’s more likely due to issues with concentration, attention to detail, and impulsivity than misidentifying letters or words. These challenges can manifest as problems with writing as well.

How are ADHD and dyslexia similar?

ADHD and dyslexia both have a strong genetic factor, so they often recur in families, but not always. Traits of both ADHD and dyslexia are unique to each individual, though there are some significant patterns among them. Children with either of these conditions are usually slower processors with unique processing styles. They may have difficulty with working memory, naming speed and motor skills. 

Reading may cause a lot of fatigue for children with ADHD and dyslexia, but for different reasons. A child with dyslexia is a dysfluent reader because they misread characters and words. A child with ADHD may be a dysfluent reader because they miss punctuation cues, don’t finish entire paragraphs, or lose their place. From the outside, both situations can look like trouble focusing or tuning out distractions. Writing skills that are difficult for both groups include organization, proofreading and handwriting. 

What’s it like to have both ADHD and dyslexia?

ADHD symptoms can aggravate dyslexia symptoms and vice versa. Children with ADHD and dyslexia have problems with both reading accuracy and concentrating on activities that don’t seem rewarding. This can result in a lot of frustration, homework refusal, or daydreaming about other things instead.

Again, both conditions have symptoms in common that can make academic performance difficult. Children with both conditions are likely to receive a lot of negative feedback. They might underachieve at school despite being very intelligent and motivated. 

One problem many children with both ADHD and dyslexia face is that adults often miss their dyslexic symptoms. Many parents and teachers interpret reading frustration as other known ADHD traits. Low frustration tolerance or rejection sensitive dysphoria are both common ADHD symptoms. For children who have them, this can make for some emotionally fraught interactions. 

How can I help my child with ADHD and dyslexia?

Your role in parenting a child with ADHD and dyslexia is a particularly important one. You can support their developing sense of identity and self-esteem. You also have the power to motivate them and help them learn to overcome failure. Your child may be highly creative, an inspiring speaker, or great at synthesizing information. With the help of coaches and professionals, you can help your child unlock their ADHD superpowers

Many children with ADHD need medication to help them concentrate, and many don’t. But all children with ADHD can use some extra help with Executive Function skills. These are life management skills we all need to be effective in planning, initiating and achieving daily goals. Executive Function skills include attention, memory, time management, planning, prioritizing and emotional regulation. These are all skills our Executive Function coaches can help with. 

Improving attention and working memory are two critical ways children with these conditions can boost their Executive Function. Resilience, emotional regulation, and coping with stress are important, too. Understanding procrastination will help them beat the temptation to avoid frustrating tasks. They will often need to approach things in different ways than their peers. Having the cognitive flexibility to adapt and accept different viewpoints is helpful, too.

Help your child with ADHD and dyslexia develop Executive Function skills

Children with both ADHD and dyslexia can succeed in school and life as well as their peers. They need accurate diagnoses and the right support team behind them. One of the most important things you can do is to find professionals who can give your child the help they need. They might need a neurologist, a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist, a behavior specialist or an Executive Function coach

Your child can learn to thrive with ADHD and dyslexia, and we can help. Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an inquiry call.

Free resource: ADHD Success Kit



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