The ADD/ADHD Overlap
Posted on September 19, 2022 by Kerin Sullivan, One of Thousands of ADD ADHD Coaches on Noomii.
This article is a very simplified overview of how common the ADD and ADHD Overlap is with Dyslexia!
The ADD/ADHD and Dyslexia Overlap by Kerin Sullivan, M.ED, AOPGE
If you have ADD/ADHD did you know you it is highly possible you have Dyslexia too? Chances are you never knew this or were never properly screened.
Using simple terms: Dyslexia is caused by a brain difference in two parts of the brain…one of which is the frontal cortex and the very same area responsible for ADD/ADHD. So, it makes sense that they create or exacerbate the same symptoms. There is no way to know if one triggers the other, although it is possible to have Dyslexia without ADD/ADHD and also to have ADD/ADHD without Dyslexia.
I always on some level knew this overlap existed because I saw the distraction in my elementary/middle school reading students. I also too frequently saw children with IEPs(Individual Education Plans) that named ADHD as a primary diagnosis to qualify for a 504 plan instead of citing Dyslexia that was supported by testing. But it was only when I reluctantly agreed to work with adults and I became aware of how widespread the occurrence of the overlap between ADD/ADHD and Dyslexia really is.
I reluctantly agreed to work with adult students because it is very hard to re-train an adult brain with Dyslexia. In fact, research says is takes an average of 1-2 hours per day at least 5 days a week!
I knew no one would to commit to that and even then, results are not promised. I soon found out all of these people were told as children they had ADHD, or a non-specific learning disability, and after screening them they all had the tell-tale signs of Dyslexia.
My first client, Laura, was a fifty year old mom who had children tutored at the center. After her kids were diagnosed, she was fairly sure that she had the same struggles as her children, but she was told she was just a slow reader with ADD, (it is known that up to 50%
of diagnosed Dyslexia cases are directly inherited from a parent). What prompted her to ask for help is that she had to give a speech in front of a large group of other her peers and she was not confident about writing the speech, feeling vulnerable to criticism.
My second client James was told he must obtain an advanced degree to keep his position as a tenured staff training director at a very elite college. When he first came to me, he burst into tears! He felt he was carrying a secret from his employer that he could not read well, as he could only read very slowly, and he needed to read everything multiple times for understanding. He was referred to our Dyslexia center by a therapist and it was the first time he every contemplated he had an issue with reading because he was told he had ADD/ADHD.
Yet another student was Sam. Sam was a college student who had ADD/ADHD. He wanted to do well with his classes, but was really struggling. He felt bad that he is not a good student, and needed help to maintain an acceptable GPA. I gave Sam a quick informal screener, and he too showed signs of an underlying reading disability. I spent time with him to give him some technological tools to make his life easier and some information to his parents about how to get him some extra support services with the college.
My list of adults that I have helped with ADD/ADHD and Dyslexia keeps growing and since then I have identified many people in my own social circle that have similar stories. Please read on for more statistics about these two disabilities and the significant overlap.
ADD/ADHD combined includes 1 out of 20 people in the general population.
According to the CDC the cause of ADD/ADHD is low levels of the neurotransmitter epinephrine to a total of 4 regions of the brain. Commonly identified is a problem in the frontal cortex or the part of the brain that controls focus and “executive functioning”. Unfortunately, there is no known cure, but treatments include exercise, medication, and self-awareness.
If you were a child diagnosed by a pediatrician with ADD or ADHD most likely it was by having symptoms on a checklist. In school, if you most likely were given a “504 plan” which identified you as someone needing support, BUT THIS DID NOT REQUIRE A SCHOOL DISTRICT TO GIVE YOU SPECIALIZED INSTRUCTION.
Widely reported research agrees that 20% – 40% of people with ADD/ADHD also have DYSLEXIA!
According to the IDA 1 in 5 people are affected by Dyslexia.
• Fidgety-frustration (exactly the same symptoms)
• Difficulty remembering the alphabet
• Difficulty reading words
• Difficulty writing
• Problems remembering what is read
• Fatigue when reading
The word Dyslexia means, “trouble with words”. We know Dyslexia is caused by a brain difference. It is believed that through evolution a segment of the population is wired for “object recognition in the environment and their brains are not set up to hold linguistic information that is easily retrievable. Two parts of the brain are noticeably different than those without Dyslexia – the Frontal Cortex and also the left backside of the brain.
If you are diagnosed with Dyslexia by a qualified neuropsychologist and it is formally accepted by a public school district you are eligible for specialized reading services with research-based interventions that are able to retrain the brain to read. This huge group of people
makes up 50% of all learning disabilities in schools! 40% of students with Learning Disabilities including Dyslexia will also have ADHD. What a huge overlap!!!
To sum up the overlap: Dyslexia is caused by a brain difference in two parts of the brain…one of which is the frontal cortex and the very same area responsible for ADD/ADHD. Currently, there is no way to separate the activity in the brain generated for executive functioning versus the attention and processing needed to read.
If you have children, do not assume they have ADD or ADHD if they also do not like reading or struggle to read! Email your school district and request formal testing in all areas of reading. If you are an adult, you are not alone. Many keep their silent struggles to themselves, but that is not necessary. Help is available now, and you do not have to suffer. Just acknowledging you may have always had a reading disability is the first step to self-empowerment.