Dyslexia And ADHD: What's The Difference?

Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT

Published 12/22/2020

Dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD, are two entirely different mental health disorders. Although both conditions can co-exist as some people who develop one often develop the other. However, neither can cause the other.

As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 50% of children diagnosed with ADHD also develop a learning condition or disorder like dyslexia.

Factually speaking, the symptoms of both conditions may seem almost the same at times, and this is one of the factors that may make it somewhat difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of certain behaviors being exhibited.

The International Dyslexia Association has stated that dyslexia and ADHD are capable of causing people to become “dysfluent readers.” This is characterized by symptoms like leaving out some parts of texts being read, getting tired, and easily frustrated when attempting to read. They may also have issues concentrating when trying to read. In some instances, they may shy away from reading or may even act out.

Dyslexia and ADHD may both cause some level of difficulty for people to understand what they may have read, even though they may be intelligent.

When people who have any of these conditions write, their handwriting may seem messy, and they may encounter some level of difficulty with spelling. All these may indicate that they may be facing various challenges with meeting certain academic or professional standards. This may result in them experiencing depression, anxiety, and a drop in their self-esteem.

While it is true that the symptoms of both dyslexia and ADHD are similar and may sometimes overlap, both conditions remain entirely different. The differences in both conditions extend to how both conditions are diagnosed and how they are treated. This makes it necessary to understand both conditions separately.

What Is Dyslexia?

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Dyslexia can be described as a reading disorder that can manifest differently from one person to another.

If an individual has dyslexia, one noticeable characteristic is that they may experience difficulty pronouncing words in their written form even though they might regularly use those words in their speech. This is possible because the brain has issues connecting the letters being seen to the sounds they represent. In other words, persons with dyslexia have issues with phonemic awareness.

They are also likely to find it difficult to recognize or decode words as a whole.

Research is still ongoing to discover the process written language undergoes in the brain. However, very little is known about the exact causes of dyslexia. It is known that several parts of the brain are required to work together for reading to occur.

In people without dyslexia, certain parts of their brains interact when they read. For persons with dyslexia, the process may be slightly different. Different parts of their brains are activated when they read, and their brains use different neural pathways in relaying and processing the written symbols.

Dyslexia In Adults

Dyslexia is a condition that spans an individual’s lifetime. Adults with dyslexia may have been able to make it through school undiagnosed and may cover up the symptoms effectively at work. However, they are still very likely to face difficulties when reading written materials.

They may also find planning quite difficult and may exhibit signs of short-term memory loss.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD is a chronic mental health condition characterized by a person having difficulty maintaining focus while carrying out tasks that require them to organize things, pay attention, or follow up on given instructions.

People who have ADHD may also be very active physically and sometimes hyperactive to the extent that may be considered inappropriate in some contexts.

For instance, a student with ADHD may shout answers out in class and may interrupt others in the class. Though generally speaking, students who have ADHD are not usually disruptive.

As a result of ADHD, some children may find long standardized tests or long-term projects quite difficult.

The symptoms of ADHD may also differ from boys to girls.

ADHD In Adults

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Dyslexia can be described as a reading disorder that can manifest differently from one person to another.

If an individual has dyslexia, one noticeable characteristic is that they may experience difficulty pronouncing words in their written form even though they might regularly use those words in their speech. This is possible because the brain has issues connecting the letters being seen to the sounds they represent. In other words, persons with dyslexia have issues with phonemic awareness.

They are also likely to find it difficult to recognize or decode words as a whole.

Research is still ongoing to discover the process written language undergoes in the brain. However, very little is known about the exact causes of dyslexia. It is known that several parts of the brain are required to work together for reading to occur.

In people without dyslexia, certain parts of their brains interact when they read. For persons with dyslexia, the process may be slightly different. Different parts of their brains are activated when they read, and their brains use different neural pathways in relaying and processing the written symbols.

Dyslexia In Adults

Dyslexia is a condition that spans an individual’s lifetime. Adults with dyslexia may have been able to make it through school undiagnosed and may cover up the symptoms effectively at work. However, they are still very likely to face difficulties when reading written materials.

They may also find planning quite difficult and may exhibit signs of short-term memory loss.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD is a chronic mental health condition characterized by a person having difficulty maintaining focus while carrying out tasks that require them to organize things, pay attention, or follow up on given instructions.

People who have ADHD may also be very active physically and sometimes hyperactive to the extent that may be considered inappropriate in some contexts.

For instance, a student with ADHD may shout answers out in class and may interrupt others in the class. Though generally speaking, students who have ADHD are not usually disruptive.

As a result of ADHD, some children may find long standardized tests or long-term projects quite difficult.

The symptoms of ADHD may also differ from boys to girls.

ADHD In Adults

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Certain studies have shown that the brain is capable of adapting. This means that if you or your child has access to a reading intervention specialist, you can significantly improve their reading ability. The specialist can specifically help develop your decoding skills as well as helping them understand the process of making sounds.

Consider All Available Options For Treating ADHD

According to a report by the CDC, medications, parent training, and behavior therapy are all vital aspects of treating ADHD in children.

Treat The Two Conditions

According to a study carried out in 2017, it was shown that both conditions had to be treated to witness significant improvement in persons with some reading disorders and ADHD.

Some evidence points towards the fact that medications used in treating ADHD may positively affect how a person reads by improving their memory and focus.

Learn To Play A Fiddle Or A Flute

Some research has shown that regularly playing a musical instrument helps the brain synchronize the different areas of the brain that may have been affected by both dyslexia and ADHD.

Help Your Child Boost Their Self-esteem

Children who have dyslexia and ADHD may often find it very challenging to feel confident about themselves. This may occur because they struggle with some tasks that may seem easier for their peers. You can help by doing these:

  • Identify 

When a child understands they have a condition with a name, like dyslexia or ADHD, it may help them. It helps them to understand the reason why they are experiencing certain symptoms. It also helps them to stop them from looking for ways to explain why they are the way they are, which often leads them to use terms like ‘I am dumb’ and ‘I am stupid.’ Help them understand that dyslexia and ADHD have nothing to do with their level of intelligence as both conditions majorly affect the child's reading and information processing.

  • Effort, Not Results

Regularly give your child feedback that is positive and encouraging regarding the effort they put into carrying out specific tasks rather than focusing on the results they achieve or grades they get in school. Children who have dyslexia and ADHD have to work a lot harder than their peers. And yet, that effort does not always reflect in their grades. Letting them know that you recognize their efforts goes a long way in making a big difference in a child’s self-esteem.

  • Activity Outside School

If your child shows that they are interested in any activity outside their school, encourage them. When they feel they are good at something –whether in the areas of crafts, arts, martial arts, sports, or any other area, it helps build their confidence. And the confidence that they build has a ripple effect that positively affects other areas of their lives, including their school-related activities.

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Like most learning conditions and mental health disorders, dyslexia and ADHD cannot be cured. Nonetheless, it is possible to treat and manage both conditions properly and independently so that you or your child can live a better life.

Treatments for ADHD include medications and behavior therapy, while treatments for dyslexia include reading interventions focused on improving decoding and articulation.

It is necessary to reach out to doctors, teachers, and therapists early enough to help minimize symptoms or work with the symptoms. Getting treatment early can make a big difference in how they learn and live their lives as adults.

If you think you have one or both conditions, take this dyslexia test or this ADHD test to find out. Then you can reach out to any of our certified therapists.