The Relationships Between Dyslexia and ADHD

Jillian Enright

Links Between Dyslexia & ADHD

Exploring commonalities amongst diverse neurotypes

Frequently co-occurring conditions

I’ve been exploring as many divergent neurotypes as possible, in particular those that commonly co-occur with autism and ADHD (my neurotypes).

ADHD and autism are my special interests, and I want to learn as much as possible about their comorbid conditions because many individuals I support are also more likely to have these traits. Here I share with you some of the similarities between ADHD and dyslexia.

Dyslexia symptoms

Dyslexia causes difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. Common signs of dyslexia in school-age children are:

  • Reading well below expected age level
  • Problems with auditory processing
  • Difficulty finding the right words
  • Problems remembering the sequences
  • Difficulty seeing similarities and differences in letters and words
  • Inability to sound out the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word
  • Difficulty spelling
  • Spending an unusually long time completing tasks that involve reading or writing
  • Avoiding activities that involve reading

Comorbidity & prevalence

It is estimated that at least 18% of children and teens with dyslexia also have ADHD, with ADHD being the most common comorbid condition in dyslexics. As many as 40% of children with ADHD also have reading disorders, compared to approximately 10% of the general population.

Links to ADHD

Reading disorders are highly common amongst neurodivergent individuals because of difficulties with executive functions. There are three main areas of difficulty that overlap between ADHD and dyslexia: working memory, auditory processing, and writing.

Working memory

Working memory is a form of short-term memory which requires holding information in mind while mentally working with it. Impaired working memory can make spelling, remembering sequences, and word recall quite challenging.

I used to wonder if I might be dyslexic because when I would try to copy numbers down I would often get them in the wrong order. However, this only happens with numbers or letters that are in an unusual or unfamiliar sequence.

For example, I don’t make that mistake if writing a word I know how to spell, but when I copy down a random series of numbers and letters I usually get the order wrong.

This likely means my issue is solely working memory, rather than a neurological difference in how I process and decode that information. In dyslexics, two very particular types of working memory are impacted: auditory working memory (AWM) and the phonological loop.

AWM and the phonological loop help us remember how letter combinations and words sound. Phonological awareness allows us to identify words that rhyme, recognize alliteration, segment a sentence into words, or a word into sounds.

Phonological awareness helps us sound words out when we don’t immediately know what they are or how to read them, and the phonological loop stores this information in our memory, making it easier to recognize and read those same word sounds in the future.

Auditory processing difficulties

Auditory processing is the ability to interpret the sounds we hear. Our brains identify the incoming sounds, analyze them, and attach meaning to them. Auditory processing difficulties can happen when a person has perfect hearing because they are problems in how the ear communicates with the brain.

It has been shown that people with ADHD and dyslexia frequently have auditory processing deficits. In ADHD, this is commonly understood to be a problem of regulating one’s attention, and greater difficulty in filtering out distractions and background noises.

While research has shown that people with dyslexia often have auditory processing deficits, the particular neural mechanisms are not well understood.

Studies have demonstrated auditory temporal processing (ATP) deficits in dyslexics, which impacts the ability to recognize differences in speech sounds.

It would make sense that if one has difficulty recognizing particular differences in speech sounds, and difficulty remembering phonemes, this would make it much more difficult to read, write, and understand unfamiliar words.

Writing difficulties

People with ADHD and dyslexia both often have difficulties with writing, but for different reasons. People with ADHD may struggle with weaknesses in their fine motor skills, or a disorder of written expression, called dysgraphia.

Dyslexics often struggle with writing as a direct result of their reading and processing difficulties. Reading and writing both rely on related underlying processes, as such, reading is a sub-skill required throughout the writing process.

Interestingly, there is evidence that dyslexics also struggle with the graphomotor skills related to writing — meaning challenges with the physical act of writing, and not just difficulties with reading and spelling.

These similarities are likely due to executive functioning deficits shared by Autistic, ADHD, and dyslexic neurotypes.

Dyslexic strengths

As with any neurotype, dyslexia comes with both pros and cons. Although dyslexics may struggle with some reading and writing tasks, dyslexia does not impact one’s intelligence. Many dyslexics are highly intelligent and creative people.

Some specific strengths seen in this neurotype are:

Narrative reasoning: Dyslexics tend to think in a highly creative, narrative, thinking style. This allows them to excel in learning and remembering when they transform abstract information into narrative information (for example, through story-telling).

Spatial reasoning: Dyslexics have an enhanced ability to process visual-spatial information. Visual-spatial processing allows us to know where objects are in space, including our own bodies, which is part of proprioception.

This may allow dyslexics to excel at puzzles, dancing, visual arts, reading maps, and other kinds of visual-spatial problem-solving.

Abstract thinkers: Many dyslexics are fantastic philosophers and critical thinkers. They are imaginative and creative. Similar to Autistics and people with ADHD, dyslexics possess strengths in problem-solving, ingenuity, and outside-the-box thinking.

Neurodiverse people are needed in the world to come up with unique solutions and inventions that others could not come up with.

© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB

Related Stories

How Executive Dysfunction Impacts Daily Life

Dysgraphia in Autism & ADHD

Neurodivergence and Auditory Processing Disorder

-

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. (DSM-5). APA Publishing.

Darweesh, A.M., Elserogy, Y.M., Khalifa, H. et al. (2020). Psychiatric comorbidity among children and adolescents with dyslexia. Middle East Current Psychiatry 27, 28. https://doi.org/10.1186/s43045-020-00035-y

Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64(1), 135–168. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-113011–143750

Fostick, L., & Revah, H. (2018). Dyslexia as a multi-deficit disorder: Working memory and auditory temporal processing. Acta Psychologica, 183, 19–28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2017.12.010

Gosse, C., & Van Reybroeck, M. (2020). Do children with dyslexia present a handwriting deficit? Impact of word orthographic and graphic complexity on handwriting and spelling performance. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 97, 103553. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2019.103553

Gu, C., Bi, H-Y. (2020). Auditory processing deficit in individuals with dyslexia: A meta-analysis of mismatch negativity. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 116, 396–405. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.06.032

Hebert, M., Kearns, D. M., Hayes, J. B., Bazis, P., & Cooper, S. (2018). Why Children With Dyslexia Struggle With Writing and How to Help Them. Language, speech, and hearing services in schools, 49(4), 843–863. https://doi.org/10.1044/2018_LSHSS-DYSLC-18-0024

Hendren, R. L., Haft, S. L., Black, J. M., White, N. C., Fumiko, H. (2018). Recognizing Psychiatric Comorbidity With Reading Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry 9. 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00101

Hettiarachchi, D. (2021). An overview of dyslexia. Sri Lanka Journal of Child Health, 50(3): 529–534. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4038/sljch.v50i3.9741

Kannangara, C., Carson, J., Puttaraju, S., Allen, R. (2018). Not All Those Who Wander are Lost: Examining the Character Strengths of Dyslexia. Global Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities 4(5): 555648. DOI: 10.19080/GJIDD.2018.04.555648

Khodeir, M.S., El-Sady, S.R. & Mohammed, H.A.ER. (2020). The prevalence of psychiatric comorbid disorders among children with specific learning disorders: a systematic review. Egyptian Journal of Otolaryngology 36, 57. https://doi.org/10.1186/s43163-020-00054-w

Lonergan, A., Doyle, C., Cassidy, C., Mahon, M. S., Roche, R. A. P., Boran, L., Bramham, J. (2019). A meta-analysis of executive functioning in dyslexia with consideration of the impact of comorbid ADHD. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 31:7, 725–749. DOI: 10.1080/20445911.2019.1669609

Rohrer, J. D., Knight, W. D., Warren, J. E., Fox, N. C., Rossor, M. N., & Warren, J. D. (2008). Word-finding difficulty: a clinical analysis of the progressive aphasias. Brain : a journal of neurology, 131(Pt 1), 8–38. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awm251

Roitsch, J., & Watson, S. (2019). An Overview of Dyslexia: Definition, Characteristics, Assessment, Identification, and Intervention. Science Journal of Education. 7. 81. doi: 10.11648/j.sjedu.20190704.11

Comments / 4

Published by

Neurodivergent. 20+ years social work and psychology experience. I write about mental health, neurodiversity, advocacy, education, and parenting. Founder of Neurodiversity MB. CYW, BA Psychology.

N/A
2733 followers

More from Jillian Enright

Comments / 0