Dyslexia And ADHD: Coping With A Dual Diagnosis

By Nicole Beasley

Updated May 19, 2020

Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault

ADHD can be a difficult condition for children to cope with, especially when in school. But what do you do when your child has both ADHD and another disorder? According to the CDC, approximately 50 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD also have a learning disability, such as dyslexia. The two have some symptoms in common, and it can be difficult to know what you are dealing with. Here's what you need to know about a dual diagnosis of ADHD and dyslexia.

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What Is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a mental health disorder that prevents patients from being able to focus or concentrate on a single task. ADHD is often diagnosed in a child's early years once they start school. A child as young as kindergarten might be diagnosed with ADHD. Treatments vary, but behavioral therapy and medications are often used in combination to treat the disorder.

What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a reading disorder, and it is considered a learning disability. Dyslexia can look different for different people. Some people may have difficulty reading because their mind swaps letters, reading them in the wrong order so that words do not make sense. It may also be in the form of letters looking backward, such as a d being confused for a b.

The cause of dyslexia is unknown, but according to this expert, researchers have discovered that people with dyslexia use different parts of their brain while trying to read than people without dyslexia. There are few treatments for dyslexia, although special education can sometimes assist children in getting through school.

A Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis of ADHD and dyslexia might look different for different people. Both ADHD and dyslexia can make people dysfluent readers. They may have difficulty getting tired, distracted, and frustrated while reading. They may leave out parts of longer passages, or they may simply refuse to read at all.

When a child with both ADHD and dyslexia can read, they often have difficulty remembering what they read. The effort of reading is so difficult that they are focused on completing the task rather than remembering or understanding what was read.

Children and adults with this dual diagnosis often have poor handwriting, as well as poor spelling skills. They may have as much difficulty in written communications as they have in reading. However, it is important to note that people with this dual diagnosis are often highly intelligent and are excellent verbal communicators.

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People with both ADHD and dyslexia often struggle academically and professionally. This can lead to severe cases of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. It is important to treat both disorders equally and at the same time. Special education, behavioral therapy, and in some cases, medications can be used to treat these disorders and help people to cope more effectively in school and work.

Similarities In Symptoms

It can be difficult to know if the behavior you are seeing is related to ADHD or dyslexia. Although the two conditions are very different and must be treated independently, the behavior that you might see can be very similar. To address the issues, you need to be able to determine what is causing them. Here are some examples from experts at Verywell Mind that will help you understand the similarities between the two disorders.


Distraction is a classic symptom of ADHD. Children with ADHD are unable to focus or concentrate for long periods, and they are easily distracted if anything else is going on around them. Yet people with dyslexia can also be easily distracted, but for a different reason. Children with dyslexia often become distracted because reading tires them, and they lose interest in the activity.

Dysfluency In Reading

Children must be able to read fluently for them to be able to understand and retain what they are reading. Children with dyslexia often have difficulty reading fluently because they are unable to read or process the information they are seeing. Yet children with ADHD can also have dysfluency in reading because their mind is moving so fast that they rush on to the next part and skip sentences, paragraphs, or even pages.


Diagnosis of dyslexia and ADHD are very different, and different professionals usually determine them. A psychologist or psychiatrist, or both, are required for diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. Diagnosis of ADHD usually entails the professionals meeting with both you and your child, as well as getting questionnaires and assessments from teachers and other caregivers so that the doctors can get a clear view of symptoms.

Dyslexia is an educational issue rather than a mental health issue, so it is usually first caught by educators. Usually, a clinical psychologist, or educational psychologists, such as school counselors and special education instructors and administrators, are necessary to diagnose and begin treatment of dyslexia.

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Even though the two conditions are separate and diagnosed by different professionals, it is important to keep everyone on the same page. Whichever diagnosis your child gets first when the second diagnosis comes along, you need to inform everyone involved with your child of the disorders they are coping with. Your child's behavioral therapy counselor or psychologist should be aware of the dual diagnosis so that they can help your child cope.

What You Can Do For Your Child

There are several things that you can do for your child to make this dual diagnosis easier on them. Having dyslexia and ADHD doesn't have to mean that your child is miserable through school. There are a lot of ways that you can help them cope with their disorders.

Early Intervention

The earlier your child is diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, the sooner treatment can begin. Early intervention is key to your child's success. As soon as your child has been diagnosed, you need to assemble their educational team. This should consist of teachers, administrators, psychologists, counselors, behavioral specialists, and reading specialists. The team will work together and with you to make sure that all of your child's needs are met.

Work With A Reading Specialist

Dyslexia is a treatable disorder. Studies have shown that children who work with a reading specialist and learn interventions can improve their reading ability, even when a disorder such as dyslexia is present. The easier it is for your child to read, the easier school will be for them. It will also give them a confidence boost and help deter depression and anxiety.

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Use Multiple Treatments For ADHD

According to the CDC, it takes more than just some counseling or a magic pill to help your child cope with ADHD. ADHD treatments include behavioral therapy, medications, and parent training. How you discipline and interact with your child can make a big difference in how well the other two types of ADHD treatment work for your child.

Treat Both Conditions

You must make sure that both conditions are treated appropriately. If your child has both dyslexia and ADHD, often symptoms of either will not abate until both disorders have been treated. Some treatments will help with both disorders. There is some evidence that medication used for ADHD helps children with dyslexia as well.

Have Your Child Take Up An Instrument

Studies have shown that children who learn to play an instrument are more likely to be able to cope with ADHD and dyslexia effectively. These studies prove that playing an instrument synchronizes parts of the brain that are affected by ADHD and dyslexia.

Increase Confidence And Self-Esteem

Your child's confidence and self-esteem will likely take a big hit when they first start displaying symptoms of dyslexia and ADHD. They may develop anxiety, depression, or behavioral problems, all of which need to be addressed. One way you can help them is by explaining the name of their disorders and what they mean. Knowing these labels and knowing that their issues are not because they are stupid or did something wrong is important.

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You can also boost your child's self-esteem and confidence by giving them rewards for effort rather than results. If you give your child rewards only when they succeed, the effort becomes pointless to them. But when you reward them for effort, it shows them that you appreciate that they are trying their best, and they will be more likely to continue to put forward immense effort and cooperate with all treatments.

Get Therapy

One of the best ways that you can help your child when they have dyslexia and ADHD is to get therapy. In addition to the behavioral therapy that helps curb the symptoms of ADHD, counseling to help them cope with their thoughts and feelings about their disorders is also important. It is also a good idea for parents to have sessions both with and without their children so that you too can make sure that you are coping with your thoughts and feelings and can help your child the most.

BetterHelp allows you to talk to a therapist any time day or night from the comfort of your own home. We are here for you when you need to talk to someone the most. With online therapy, phone therapy, or video chat, BetterHelp therapists can help you and your child get through the most difficult parts of the diagnosis.

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