Cartoon of a girl with pink hair reading a book, with the large text 'ADHD' above her head and '& Dyslexia' below. Artist’s handle @the_mini_ADHD_coach visible.

Understanding the Link Between ADHD and Dyslexia

ADHD and dyslexia often coexist, sharing overlapping symptoms but also distinct differences. While both conditions can impact learning and daily functioning, understanding their connection is crucial for accurate diagnosis and tailored support.

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Written by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

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A word form our expert

The Link Between ADHD and Dyslexia, Explained

Do you have ADHD and dyslexia, or know someone who does? It may seem like a coincidence initially, but once you understand that ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition, it makes more sense. But what does this actually mean? 

In this article, we’ll explore the complexities and connections between the two conditions, including:

  • The prevalence of learning challenges in people with ADHD.
  • Understanding dyslexia: the symptoms, misconceptions, and realities.
  • Developmental dyslexia from a neurological perspective. 
  • The differences and overlaps between ADHD and dyslexia symptoms.
  • Practical tips for seeking diagnosis and managing both conditions.

Understanding Learning Challenges in ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. One of the most common ADHD symptoms that can manifest in a person is distractibility, which makes it difficult to focus on a task or activity. 

ADHD rarely travels alone. As well as comorbidities that affect our mental health (like anxiety and depression), there’s also a higher chance of learning difficulties.

According to statistics, between 30 to 50% of the ADHD population (diagnosed) struggle with learning. And, as per the recent statistics of the International Dyslexia Association, for every ten children diagnosed with Dyslexia, three of them can also have ADHD.

Cartoon highlighting over 50% of people with ADHD have a learning disability, showing a girl with pink hair and a figure with glasses pondering irregular verbs, emphasizing ADHD and dyslexia connection.

ADHD and dyslexia can overlap and co-exist, which means you have both disorders simultaneously, but they are still distinct conditions and don't necessarily cause each other. You can distinguish Dyslexia and ADHD from each other based on symptoms, brain function, and patterns of inheritance.

ADHD alone can already have a huge impact on academic performance, especially when these students aren’t receiving the proper, reasonable support or solutions to their struggles - even with a diagnosis.

For children with undiagnosed ADHD, this is so much more confusing and frustrating when you don’t understand why you’re struggling so much to learn.

Poor school performance can be misinterpreted as laziness or not putting in the effort to concentrate. How many of us with ADHD were told we were ‘failing to reach our full potential’? Disruptive behavior and inability to follow instructions are also early signs of ADHD. 

Now, let's learn more about the most common learning disability that a person with ADHD can experience.

What is Developmental Dyslexia and How Does it Affect the Brain?

Developmental Dyslexia, or Dyslexia in simpler terms, is a neurological disorder characterized by difficulty in processing language - both written and spoken - despite having average intelligence and adequate opportunities to learn. 

Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder and one of the most common. Learning disabilities are typically identified when a dyslexic student's academic achievement is significantly lower than what is expected for their age and intellectual abilities.

Illustration with text 'The most common learning disability among people with ADHD is Dyslexia' accompanied by a cartoon of a confused girl with pink hair holding a book.

Dyslexia, specifically, is believed to be caused by a difference in how the brain processes information. There are several symptoms of Dyslexia, but the most common one is difficulty in reading (aloud or mentally) and slow or poor reading fluency. This can manifest in several ways, such as taking longer to read, making more mistakes while reading, or having difficulty understanding what they have read.

It can also be experienced with the following:

  • Difficulty in learning new words
  • Trouble pronouncing words
  • Inaccurate word recognition
  • Slow or poor reading comprehension
  • Difficulty in writing
  • Misspelling words frequently
  • Slow and staggered speech
Infographic showing a girl with pink hair experiencing various dyslexia symptoms like reading speed, spelling mistakes, writing difficulties, and speech problems, keyword ADHD and dyslexia.

Developmental Dyslexia can originate from a variety of factors, but the most commonly known contributor is genetics. We know it can be passed down from a dyslexic parent to their child as an inherited trait, however, we still don’t know the fundamental cause

There are different theories as to how this neurological disorder develops, but more research is needed to have a solid answer.

Demystifying Dyslexia: Beyond Common Misconceptions

Like ADHD, Dyslexia is commonly misunderstood and labelled with harmful stereotypes. 

These hasty generalizations are just that: generalizations. They don’t reflect everyone’s individual experiences. 

As a result, many with neurodivergent disorders feel their experiences are invalidated, which impacts mental health, and self-compassion and can even mean people don’t seek the correct diagnosis. ‘It couldn’t be dyslexia, I don’t… [insert stereotype].’  

Let’s take a look at some of the most common misconceptions about dyslexic students and, in particular, children with dyslexia

Remember, these are misconceptions, not facts.

1. Dyslexic Children are Lazy

Actually, many dyslexic students work harder than their neurotypical peers to keep up with school assignments and tasks, it just might take them a little longer.

This misunderstanding usually happens when someone doesn’t finish their work as fast as others. No one sees the added difficulty, so this slowness is wrongly labelled as laziness.

2. Children with Dyslexia Aren’t Smart

The truth is, intelligence has nothing to do with dyslexia. Many individuals with dyslexia are considered ‘gifted’ because of their high IQ levels. Some of the most successful, intelligent people have dyslexia like Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates.

3. Dyslexia is a Result of Poor Parenting

For parents, this can be one of the most damaging and hurtful misconceptions about dyslexia. 

Dyslexia has nothing to do with how a child was raised or the kind of environment they grew up in. It is a neurological disorder caused by a difference in the way the brain processes information. Dyslexia can, however, be passed down genetically from a dyslexic parent - having one or both parents with dyslexia is a risk factor for developing it yourself.

4. People with Dyslexia Read Words Backwards

This is a common misconception because many believe that dyslexia means reading letters and words backwards (or magically floating around, thanks to 2010’s Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief). 

Having dyslexia doesn’t mean you read backwards, it’s just a difference in the way the brain processes information.

There are also several types of dyslexia and some deal with sounds and numbers rather than words.

Illustration depicting common misconceptions about dyslexia, with characters questioning if it causes reading backwards or affects speaking aloud, linked to ADHD and dyslexia awareness.
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By knowing these misconceptions about dyslexia (and ADHD), we can help stop the spread of false information and create a more inclusive society.

Both ADHD and dyslexia can be a real struggle for people affected by them, so let's stop making it even more difficult, and give them a chance to show that their unique ways of thinking, living, and processing information are just as valued.

The Confusing Overlaps Between ADHD and Dyslexia Symptoms 

Like ADHD brains, dyslexic brains are wired differently and the two share a lot in common. For example, either can cause you to read slowly, either through difficulty processing or difficulty focusing. From the outside, there doesn’t seem to be a difference. There are also similarities in motor skills and working memory deficits.

Two smiley characters with brain icons, illustrating the concept 'Like ADHD brains, dyslexic brains are wired differently', promoting ADHD and dyslexia understanding.

On paper, the two conditions seem very different. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that many associate with reading difficulties. ADHD is often characterized by hyperactivity and having an ‘unlimited energy supply’ (note: this is just a generalized representation of one type of ADHD). 

But the similarities lie in their symptoms, making diagnosis more complicated.

As briefly mentioned earlier, one of the biggest overlaps is reading.

A reading disability can be caused by undiagnosed ADHD, where your struggle is caused by inattention, trouble focusing, and ‘faulty’ executive function. It can also be caused by dyslexia, especially if you have difficulty sustaining mental effort, struggle with phonemic awareness, or have learning disabilities.

Another overlapping symptom of these two disorders is low self-esteem. People with ADHD often tend to have low self-esteem for a variety of reasons including rejection sensitivity dysphoria and judgment from hyperactive or inattentive behaviors (not focusing, being disruptive, etc.). 

People with dyslexia can experience that same low self-esteem due to the way they process language, their frustrations, and the commonly believed misconceptions and stereotypes we mentioned above. For example, with class activities that require reading or writing, they may be left out and feel like they are not good enough.

Making seemingly careless mistakes can be experienced by patients with dyslexia or ADHD. The symptoms of both of these conditions can result in frequent errors. Attention to detail is a skill that both struggle with, as is forgetting the things you read. 

These overlapping symptoms can make it pretty confusing for medical reviewers to determine if you have ADHD or dyslexia.

Graphic explaining the challenges of diagnosing ADHD and dyslexia with overlapping symptoms such as reading discomfort and memory issues, depicted by a girl with pink hair in various poses.

It's not easy having either of these disorders, let alone both. The best way to deal with them is to get diagnosed first to receive the appropriate treatment and accommodations you need immediately. After all, you can’t understand yourself fully and create a plan without knowing exactly what you’re dealing with first.

You Asked Us…

Can you have dyslexia with ADHD?

Yes, it's possible to have both dyslexia and ADHD, as they are separate conditions that can co-occur, impacting reading and attention skills. Early detection and tailored support can help manage symptoms.

Seeking Diagnosis and Getting the Right Support

If you or your child are experiencing any of these difficulties (or others we haven’t mentioned today), you should consult a professional to have yourself assessed for both dyslexia and ADHD.

Diagnosis is the most important step toward getting the support and understanding you deserve and need to be able to handle your dyslexia, ADHD, or both healthily. 

There’s a huge difference between ADHD diagnosis and dyslexia diagnosis. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is diagnosed using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).  To receive an ADHD diagnosis, you’ll be assessed based on your experiences with difficulty paying attention, working memory, or executive functioning struggles

Dyslexia is diagnosed by assessing your reading and writing skills, cognitive abilities, academic achievements, and other language skills. It also looks at family history. 

Once you have a diagnosis that you’re comfortable with (feel free to seek a second opinion if it doesn’t feel right), you should have access to professional medical advice.

You Asked Us…

What does dyslexia and ADHD look like together?

When dyslexia and ADHD coexist, challenges include significant problems with reading, attention, and executive function, requiring specialized support and strategies to navigate daily life effectively.

How to Manage ADHD & Dyslexia

So, we know that ADHD and dyslexia share similar characteristics. Whether you have either ADHD or dyslexia officially diagnosed, there are ways you can improve writing and reading whilst managing both conditions.

Here are some tips that you can take to ease your struggles:

  • Remember, there's no such thing as ‘too late for ADHD diagnosis’ or ‘too late for dyslexia diagnosis.’ It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you’re struggling to manage your dyslexia or adult ADHD symptoms, seek a professional opinion.
  • Don't be too hard on yourself. Self-compassion is key. These neurological disorders are out of your control, but you’re doing your best with what you have. Be kind to yourself.
  • Find a supportive group or community where you can openly talk about your experiences with both ADHD and dyslexia. This can help you feel less alone in your struggles and give you an idea of how other people handle their difficulties. Live chat sessions are also available, so talk to people who are willing to listen and understand your experiences.
  • Remember that people with these neurodivergent disorders aren't lazy or stupid. We just think and learn differently. Keep an open mind about your capabilities and what you can achieve despite having ADHD or dyslexia. Remember that other people with the same struggles even have above-average intelligence.
  • You can talk to educational psychologists or reading specialists to help you with different learning techniques that you may utilize to improve your phonemic awareness, reading speed, speed and accuracy of recall, and other cognitive skills.
  • Don’t be afraid to request reasonable accommodations from your employer or educational institution, like additional preparation time for projects. These accommodations are available for ADHD, dyslexia, or both, in addition to any other  chronic condition you might have under the disabilities act, depending on where you live.
  • If you notice someone struggling with the same things you have, be willing to lend a helping hand. 👌 Showing support and understanding can go a long way for people with both ADHD and dyslexia. Please direct them to mental health experts for detection of signs and symptoms and treatment.

Behavior therapy and ADHD medicines (like stimulant medication) can help you manage the symptoms of ADHD. These are tools designed to help. Ask your psychologist or psychiatrist if you can explore possible ADHD treatment that doesn't affect your dyslexia.

You Asked Us…

How does ADHD mimic dyslexia?

ADHD can mimic dyslexia through similar symptoms like reading difficulties and low self-esteem, yet they stem from attention issues rather than a primary reading disorder, highlighting the importance of accurate diagnosis.

Comprehensive infographic by @the_mini_ADHD_coach explaining ADHD and dyslexia, showcasing symptoms, misconceptions, and the unique wiring of affected brains, with a pink theme and website link."

Key Takeaways

  • ADHD often coexists with learning difficulties, with statistics revealing a significant portion of the ADHD population struggles with learning.
  • Dyslexia is a neurological disorder, not a result of laziness or lack of intelligence. These common misconceptions can perpetuate stigma and hinder proper diagnosis and support.
  • Dyslexia is characterized by difficulty in processing language, affecting reading, writing, and comprehension.
  • ADHD and dyslexia share overlapping symptoms, including reading difficulties and low self-esteem. Accurate diagnosis is essential due to the similarities in symptoms and potential comorbidity.
  • Diagnosis of ADHD and dyslexia involves different assessment methods, emphasizing the importance of seeking professional guidance.
  • Behavioral therapy and ADHD medications can complement treatment, with considerations for their impact on dyslexia.

While having ADHD and Dyslexia may be hard, don’t lose hope. With understanding, support, and effort, you'll be able to manage your symptoms and achieve success in whatever you want to do. 

Remember that these struggles don't define you as a person and that you are still capable of reaching your goals. Seek help when needed, and always keep in mind that you're not alone in this. ❤️ 

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it common for people with ADHD to have learning difficulties?

It is quite common. According to reports, as many as 50% of people who have ADHD also struggle with a learning difficulty, like dyslexia.

What’s the difference between ADHD and dyslexia?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to pay attention, decide, organize, recall, and stay still. Many people with ADHD can be easily distracted, impulsive, or ‘hyped up.’ Dyslexia affects the person’s ability to process written and spoken language. They might have difficulty reading or writing or a reading disability.

Is it possible to manage ADHD and dyslexia successfully at the same time?

Yes! Having both ADHD and dyslexia can be extra challenging, but with the right diagnosis, treatment, and support, you can live your best life while managing ADHD and dyslexia.

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