Getting the Right Diagnosis with ADHD and Dyslexia
Recognizing a child’s learning challenges is the first step toward getting them help. Sometimes, getting an accurate diagnosis for a kid with learning issues can be particularly difficult.
There are all the sibling conditions that often accompany a dyslexia diagnosis, and there can also be attention issues. One study notes that 25–40% of individuals who have ADHD are also dyslexic. When I encountered this study, it got me curious about how many students are being overlooked and only receiving a partial diagnosis and therefore inadequate intervention.
Since both conditions are highly heritable, we are talking about large numbers here. The current data states that dyslexia is 40–60% heritable, and ADHD is a whopping 77–88% heritable. And heritability isn’t all the two conditions have in common.
Why Getting the Right Diagnosis with ADHD and Dyslexia Can Be Difficult
While kids with ADHD struggle to focus in all areas, kids with dyslexia suffer mental fatigue during challenging decoding tasks, and that can look like a loss of focus.
In terms of reading comprehension, both conditions can look very similar. A dyslexic student will struggle to decode words and will often try to guess based on the pictures in the book. A child with ADHD can exhibit impulsivity and try and rush through the task of reading and end up making guesses due to their impatience with the job at hand.
Dyslexics will struggle with phonemic awareness, and while that’s not usually a hallmark of kids with ADHD, their impulsive and impatient natures can make them skip words and lose their place in the reading. Students with ADHD have a low working memory, which can show up as a struggle to fluently connect parts of the page or paragraph, which will impact comprehension.
Writing issues affect both groups. Dyslexia makes spelling difficult, dysgraphia affects pencil grip, spacing, and getting thoughts down on a page, and ADHD affects the ability to organize thoughts, space words, and proofread.
When a child is getting tested, the areas where resistance is exhibited offer key insights. If the child is more compliant during some parts of the evaluation than others, dyslexia is more likely. If the child is struggling with all aspects of the testing, ADHD may be more likely. This is, of course, a great oversimplification, and as mentioned at the outset, a large number of kids have both conditions.
The takeaway here is to find a testing diagnostician who is well-versed in both dyslexia and ADD/ADHD to make sure your child gets the help and support they deserve.
Thank you for reading about why getting the right diagnosis with ADHD and dyslexia is important. For a thorough discussion of dyslexia, you may enjoy the second edition of my award-winning book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know, available in softcover, hardcover, eBook, and audio. In addition to facts on testing and accommodation, my book gives you the tools to provide the social and emotional support children with dyslexia require. The second edition has the same great content as the first edition but now contains a very helpful bibliography and index and an exciting new cover.
And to learn more about how every student best learns to read, you may also enjoy Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent’s Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention, by reading specialist and shortlisted World Literacy Award nominee Faith Borkowsky.
Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong preliteracy foundation for their children. Check out the CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. Visit my Amazon author page for more information.
DuPaul, G. J., Gormley, M. J., & Laracy, S. D. (2013). Comorbidity of LD and ADHD: Implications of DSM-5 for assessment and treatment. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 46(1), 43–51. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022219412464351
Gialluisi, A., Andlauer, T., Mirza-Schreiber, N., Moll, K., et al. (2021). Genome-wide association study reveals new insights into the heritability and genetic correlates of developmental dyslexia. Molecular Psychiatry, 26(7), 3004–3017. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-020-00898-x
Faraone, S. V., & Larsson, H. (2019). Genetics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Molecular Psychiatry, 24(4), 562–575. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-018-0070-0