ADHD and Dyslexia: Why Is It Such a Common Combination for Kids?

Many kids with ADHD also experience a learning disability, most commonly dyslexia. Understand the differences between ADHD and dyslexia, and how they might affect your child's learning.

ADHD and dyslexia are two very different but common disorders affecting a child’s learning journey. Chances are someone you love is affected by one or both. Because both cause issues with learning, ADHD and dyslexia can sometimes be confused.

It’s common for a child who struggles with reading to show less interest and to become distracted or even defiant, appearing to exhibit ADHD symptoms. Conversely, a child who is undiagnosed and struggling with ADHD might miss critical steps in the reading journey and their deficits in reading might be confused with dyslexia.

What appears to be dyslexia and ADHD in the same child very well may be; they’re common comorbidities. It’s estimated that 30% of dyslexic learners also have ADHD.

Why are ADHD and dyslexia so common, and so commonly seen together? How can you tell them apart, and what are the next steps if you believe your child has ADHD, dyslexia or both?

The Differences Between ADHD and Dyslexia

ADHD and dyslexia are both hereditary, brain-based disorders that are among the most common disorders affecting learning in children.

ADHD and dyslexia are both lifelong disorders. People with ADHD and dyslexia learn strategies to succeed with their unique challenges and abilities, but neither ADHD nor dyslexia has a “cure.” 

Symptoms and Prevalence of ADHD

ADHD affects 5-7% of children in Canada, more than 1 in 20. There are three major types of ADHD: ADHD, impulsive/hyperactive type; ADHD, inattentive/distractible type; and ADHD, combined type. It’s important to state that there are many myths about ADHD which stem from misunderstanding about the types and symptoms of ADHD.

Most easily identified and stereotypical is the ADHD, impulsive/hyperactive type, which can manifest in fidgeting, loudness, impulsiveness, and difficulty with waiting and taking turns. ADHD, inattentive/distractible type is more common in girls and can more easily evade diagnosis, manifesting in distractedness, ‘daydreaming,’ chattiness, anxiety, and other, less obvious symptoms. ADHD, combined type, can present with a combination of these characteristics.

ADHD is medically defined as “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development…” ADHD treatments vary, but ADHD is not caused or treated by parenting or behavioural issues.

Symptoms and Prevalence of Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a disorder that causes difficulty in reading and is the most common learning disability in Canada, affecting as many as 1 in 5 learners. Dyslexia impedes a child’s learning and memorizing of speech sounds and how they relate to letters and words (decoding). First identified in 1877, dyslexia is one of the longest studied reading and learning disabilities.

People with dyslexia generally exhibit challenges with sounding out words, recognizing common words, spelling, rhyming, writing, reading comprehension, and word probles and instructions, among other things. Dyslexia has no cure but people with dyslexia can learn the skills and tools needed to thrive with their reading difficulties. Many dyslexic people are highly creative, successful people who have learned “out of the box” problem solving and imaginative skills whilst coping with their reading deficits.

Why Do Dyslexia and ADHD Seem So Common?

Simply because they are common! It’s true that you might be hearing more about ADHD and dyslexia in these days of online sharing, when information can spread so easily. This awareness is a boon; many people who have struggled through to adulthood are now receiving long-needed diagnoses for ADHD and dyslexia. In particular, girls and women are being diagnosed more frequently with ADHD in recent years.

The apparent increase in awareness and discourse around ADHD and dyslexia is not necessarily because these disorders are occurring with any increased frequency. Neither ADHD nor dyslexia is believed to be affected by technology, nutrition, parenting style, or intelligence. There is no reason to believe any particular aspect of modern society makes ADHD or dyslexia more likely.

Instead, the good news is that research and advances in medicine have made diagnosis more effective and equitable so more people with ADHD and dyslexia are being identified, and identified earlier.

Is it ADHD or Dyslexia or Both? How to Get a Diagnosis for Your Child

In Canada, only a registered psychologist or school psychologist can provide an official diagnosis of ADHD, dyslexia or any other disability affecting your child’s learning. You can choose to have your child privately diagnosed by a registered psychologist or consult with your child’s school to begin the assessment process and determine your child’s special needs and appropriate accomodations.

To be diagnosed with ADHD or dyslexia by a psychologist, your child must meet the diagnostic criteria within the accepted medical manual, the DSM-5. A school psychologist might also need to consider specific criteria for diagnosis that are different from board to board, beyond the general DSM-5 definition.

If you believe your child might have ADHD, dyslexia, or both, contact your child’s school principal. A formal Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) process follows, usually involving a psycho-educational assessment by a psychologist and the development of an Individual Education Plan (IEP)

Already have a diagnosis underway? Reach out for a functional Literacy and/or Math Assessment to identify gaps in your child’s learning journey due to previously undiagnosed disabilities. Our completely personalized, 1:1 online support for dyslexia, dyscalculia and learning disabilities can help your child learn the tools they need to overcome learning gaps and reach for the stars.



What symptoms of ADHD and/or dyslexia have you found most surprising? Did you confuse ADHD for dyslexia, or vice versa? Share below!


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