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Dyslexia & ADHD: Coming to Logical Conclusions     

By Tammy Jordan, CCC-SLP

 

According to research by the federal government, approximately 20 percent of school-aged children struggle with a reading disability, 10 percent have sleep difficulties, 7-10 percent struggle with ADHD and 6 percent have behavioral, emotional and social issues. These factors, and many others, can negatively impact a child’s academic performance.

At Hattiesburg Clinic Connections, our goal is to provide interdisciplinary comprehensive assessments in order to determine the most appropriate diagnoses and treatment options for each child.

Research also indicates that school-aged children struggle more in reading than any other area. In fact, a reading impairment is more prevalent than ADHD by approximately 10 percent. In spite of this statistic, many assume that a child’s reading difficulties are due to ADHD. A logical conclusion would be if ADHD symptoms are addressed, then reading issues will disappear. Unfortunately, this is not the case for all children.

For example, if a young child is exhibiting hyperactivity and/or inattention in the classroom but also demonstrates a pattern of inconsistencies related to reading, it may lead everyone to assume that addressing the ADHD is the answer to solving the reading problem. However, often in cases such as these, a child is performing poorly in reading but performing well in the area of math.

If hyperactivity and/or inattention were so extreme that it was negatively impacting reading development, wouldn’t math performance also be negatively impacted? Therefore, addressing the ADHD symptoms but ignoring the reading weaknesses may result in future academic failure and other social, emotional or behavioral problems for the child.

Certainly, addressing the ADHD symptoms will make a positive impact on a child’s overall academic performance; however, many children continue to exhibit a pattern of small inconsistencies in the areas of reading, writing and spelling long after symptoms for ADHD are well-managed.

I consider these weaknesses to be small “cracks” in the child’s reading foundation. These cracks manifest as guessing at words or confusing words when reading; forgetting how to spell common words when writing at the sentence level; and poor handwriting and written language skills.

While these cracks remain evident, they don’t necessarily equate to failing grades, especially during elementary school. Yes, grades may be excellent, but that is usually due to a lot of parent/teacher support and a lot of effort by the child behind closed doors. If these subtle cracks are not addressed while a child is young, how do these cracks impact a child’s academic performance during middle school and high school years? If small cracks aren’t addressed early in elementary school, by middle school, grades may plummet due to poor reading comprehension and written language skills.

The truth is that ADHD does not necessarily “cause” a child to struggle in the area of reading. However, if a child has dyslexia, this will definitely cause a child to struggle in reading and also in other areas, such as writing and spelling from memory. Dyslexia doesn’t mean that a child can’t read or reads words backwards. In fact, many people with dyslexia are good readers and have good reading comprehension skills. Simply put, dyslexia is a specific pattern of inconsistencies observed in the areas of reading, writing and/or spelling, in spite of adequate exposure and practice or “cracks” in the foundation of reading.

An article by ADDitude Magazine reported that 50 percent of children with ADHD also happen to have a coexisting learning disability. The number one learning disability, when a child has average intelligence and has been adequately exposed to letters and sounds, is dyslexia. Therefore, 50 percent of the time, ADHD and dyslexia occur together. This means that both should be considered rather than treating one area and ignoring or “hoping for the best” in the other area.

Many teachers and practitioners are unaware or unwilling to accept what current research is telling us. In an effort to accept these statistics and look at ADHD and dyslexia as separate issues that can negatively impact reading ability, one must agree with the following logical statements: 1) ADHD and dyslexia are two distinct diagnoses. 2) ADHD or dyslexia can negatively impact reading ability. 3) ADHD and dyslexia can negatively impact reading ability.

If these statements are logical, then one should come to the following logical conclusion: If ADHD and dyslexia can exist together, both must have distinguishable characteristics in regards to how each negatively impacts reading performance.

Here are some distinguishable characteristics of dyslexia and ADHD regarding reading:

Dyslexia

  • A language processing disorder
  • More specific to reading
  • Stress is usually centered around reading, writing and spelling from memory
  • Blurts out or guesses as a compensatory strategy
  • Uses visual patterns of the words and intelligence to predict the text for increased comprehension
  • When prompted to slow down, possible increase in word accuracy but too much focus on words often results in decreased comprehension
  • Level of interest does not significantly impact performance
  • Increased concentration and attention problems may occur regarding the reading demands
  • Increased movement may occur during reading task and immediately decrease once task is over

ADHD

  • A behavioral disorder
  • Not as specific to reading. Any event that is unstimulating can result in decreased comprehension and attention
  • Stress may be during any structured activity rather than primarily when reading
  • Blurts out or guesses but pattern fluctuates according to level of interest
  • Uses decoding skills more so than other strategies for increased comprehension
  • When prompted to slow down, possible increased word accuracy and comprehension
  • Level of interest may significantly impact performance
  • Increased concentration and attention problems may occur regarding the demands of structure
  • Increased movement and impulsivity is across all activities

It is very important for parents, teachers and health care providers to remember that ADHD and dyslexia often occur together. When this concept is not fully embraced, it can negatively impact academic programming and medical management for a child. Therefore, addressing the ADHD symptoms but ignoring the reading weaknesses may result in future academic failure and other social, emotional or behavioral problems for the child.

While it is true that not all children who are compensating for both ADHD and dyslexia will meet this fate, many children unfortunately will struggle though school and life unnecessarily. Parents, teachers and health care providers will need to work together to build a solid foundation for these children that reinforces the opportunity for success in the classroom and beyond.

 

(Sources: www.childstats.gov; www.additudemag.com)

At Connections, we offer behavioral and mental health evaluation. Following diagnosis, we work with you and your child to determine the best course of treatment and therapy for them. If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at 601-261-5159.

Information on this page should be utilized as a guide, not medical advice. If you feel you need to speak with someone regarding behavioral therapy or counseling, please contact Connections to make an appointment.