Understanding ADHD and Dyslexia

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Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral condition characterized by patterns of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. Dyslexia is a brain-based specific learning disability (LD). It affects a person's language ability, making it difficult to learn to read, spell, decode, and recognize words.

The two conditions can have overlapping characteristics, but it is also common for them to occur together. Children with ADHD are more likely to have a learning disability than children who do not have ADHD.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.8% of children between the ages of three and 17 are diagnosed with ADHD. Statistics suggest that between 25% and 40% of people with ADHD have dyslexia, and the same percentage of people with dyslexia also have ADHD.

This article discusses why the two conditions co-occur, how they are distinguished from one another, and strategies to help manage them.

The Connection Betweeen ADHD and Dyslexia

In the past, ADHD and dyslexia were viewed as being independent of each other. However, research has shown that executive function impairments related to ADHD are also associated with dyslexia.

ADHD and dyslexia are separate conditions; however, if a person has both, it means they have broad executive function impairments (problems focusing, using working memory, etc.), as well as an impairment of the particular skills needed for reading, for example, processing symbols swiftly.

It can seem difficult to know which challenges are related to ADHD or to dyslexia since both are neurobehavioral disorders. Since ADHD involves attention and dyslexia affects reading, the conditions can appear similar. Here are three examples:


Both children with ADHD and dyslexia can appear distracted; however, the reason behind the distraction is different. A child with ADHD might appear distracted because it is difficult for them to pay attention, while a child with dyslexia might seem distracted because reading requires a great deal of effort and their energy has dwindled.


Fluent readers are able to read with accuracy, relative speed and, if reading aloud, add expression to the words. In order to comprehend what they have read, a child needs to be able to read fluently.

A child with ADHD might not be a fluent reader because they lose their place or skip endings because their fast brain has raced on to the next part. Someone with dyslexia might not be a fluent reader because they spend a long time sounding out each word or reading words incorrectly.

Whatever the cause, both affect the reader's ability to understand what they read. It also means reading is not an enjoyable activity for them.


Writing and penmanship can also be problematic. Someone with ADHD might have problems with organization and proofreading, while a child with dyslexia has problems with spelling, grammar, organizing ideas, proofreading, and handwriting.

A good way to distinguish the two conditions is to remember that dyslexia problems occur mostly during reading and writing activities, whereas ADHD symptoms appear in many settings and are more behavioral in nature.

Complications of ADHD and Dyslexia

Having ADHD and dyslexia together can increase the complications of both conditions. People with dyslexia have problems with spelling, reading, and recognizing words. As a result, reading comprehension, vocabulary, and general knowledge is reduced compared to other children the same age who do not have dyslexia.

However, dyslexia is not a reflection of intelligence. Most people with dyslexia have normal or above-average intelligence.

Unfortunately, people with the condition may struggle with poor self-esteem and low academic confidence. They may think of themselves as less intelligent or less competent than their peers who do not have dyslexia.

Having ADHD at the same time can make it more difficult for kids to focus. People with ADHD also often struggle with feelings of poor self-esteem and confidence, often because they tend to have more struggles at school and work due to inattention, impulsivity, and high energy levels.

Diagnosis of ADHD and Dyslexia

The two conditions are diagnosed using different criteria and often by different professionals. ADHD is identified by a psychiatrist, psychologist, neurologist, and some family doctors based on criteria established in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5-TR). 

Dyslexia is a condition that is often identified by educators and who may then refer the individual to a doctor or psychologist for diagnosis and further assessment. Typically, dyslexia is diagnosed by a clinical psychologist, school psychologist, educational psychologist, or neuropsychologist.

Because dyslexia is not a medical condition, an evaluation for dyslexia is not usually covered by medical insurance. 

The severity of dyslexia varies from mild to severe, which is also true of people with ADHD. This means no two people will have symptoms that are exactly the same.

Treatment of ADHD and Dyslexia

Medications are often prescribed to help children and adults manage specific ADHD characteristics. Treatment for dyslexia, on the other hand, focuses on educational interventions to improve reading and fluency.


Medications that are often prescribed for ADHD include stimulants such as:

  • Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine)
  • Concerta (methylphenidate extended-release)
  • Focalin (dexmethylphenidate)
  • Ritalin (methylphenidate)

Non-stimulant medications are also available, such as Strattera (atomoxetine) and Wellbutrin XL (bupropion hydrochloride).

Behavioral Strategies

Behavioral strategies can also help people with ADHD improve their focus, reduce distractions, and cope with environmental factors that make it more difficult to stay on task. Such strategies can include having routines, utilizing charts and planners, and incorporating timers and alarms to help kids stay on task.

Educational Programs

There are various specialized dyslexia reading programs. They are often based on or include elements of the Orton-Gillingham approach. Its research-based method is widely regarded as an effective form of treatment for dyslexia.

Not all reading programs are helpful for dyslexic students. Look for ones that include phonemic awareness, fluency, and detailed guidelines for spelling rules.

Your child’s school may have specially trained teachers that can provide the help they need. However, not all schools do, in which case you could find a special tutor to work with your child after school.

Accommodations in school for ADHD and dyslexia are very helpful for your child to be able to achieve their academic potential.

Coping With ADHD and Dyslexia

One of the biggest challenges for children with ADHD and dyslexia is being able to feel good about themselves. Often, their confidence and self-esteem are low as they struggle with tasks that their peers may find easy. Some strategies that can help people cope include:


When children know they have a condition with a name, like ADHD and dyslexia, it helps them. They understand why they are the way they are, and it stops them from looking for explanations for themselves, which are often terms like ‘I am stupid’ and ‘I am dumb."

Focus on Effort

Give your child positive feedback on the effort they put into a task rather than their results or grades. A child with dyslexia and ADHD has to work harder than other students, yet that effort is not always reflected in their grades. Knowing that their effort is recognized by you makes a big difference to a child’s self-esteem.

Encourage Activity Outside of School

When your child shows an interest in an activity outside of school, encourage it. Being good at something—whether it is a martial art, a sport, arts or crafts—builds confidence. It has a positive ripple effect on other areas of life, ​including school-related activities.


Helping kids understand ADHD and dyslexia, focusing on efforts instead of achievements, and encouraging interest in other activities can help kids better cope with the challenges they face.


ADHD and dyslexia are both neurobehavioral conditions that often occur together. This can lead to a number of complications, including low academic achievement and poor self-esteem. Interventions and supportive assistance with medication and behavioral strategies can help people manage the characteristics of ADHD. Educational programs can help people develop new skills to improve their reading abilities.

A Word From Verywell

When you are learning about dyslexia, a common message is ‘early intervention is key.’ Early detection of any condition is of course helpful. However, if you realize your child has dyslexia while they are older, do not feel guilty. It is never too late to get tested and seek the appropriate treatment.

If your child has ADHD and dyslexia, the ADHD symptoms can mask the dyslexia tell-tale signs. Also, children often find ways to compensate for and mask their difficulties, which makes it harder to detect potential problems.

If you are reading this as an adult and think you might have dyslexia, you can still get a dyslexia evaluation. Even if you are no longer in school or university, understanding the root of your challenges is helpful for your confidence, self-esteem, and career.

18 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Jacqueline Sinfield
Jacqueline Sinfield is an ADHD coach, and the author of "Untapped Brilliance, How to Reach Your Full Potential As An Adult With ADHD."