Dyslexia and Coexisting Conditions

  • Students on the dyslexia continuum are often affected by co-existing or comorbid learning challenges. According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 60% of students with dyslexia meet the criteria for at least one neuropsychiatric disorder. Some students with dyslexia will face challenges with anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyscalculia, dysgraphia, executive functioning disorder, as well as speech and language disorders. The most common comorbid conditions are described in the following passages:

    Anxiety: Students with dyslexia frequently demonstrate symptoms related to anxiety. Even with systematic supports in place, some students may feel frustration, confusion, or worry surrounding the perception of an impending academic failure. Families and schools can partner to provide emotional support systems and interventions to enable students to learn to cope with anxiety.

    ADHD: While there is not a causal link between dyslexia and ADHD, it is estimated that 30% of students with dyslexia are also impacted by ADHD. Characteristics of ADHD include impulsivity, inattention, distractibility, and hyperactivity. A diagnosis of ADHD is made in a clinical setting after a thorough examination and data collection process.

    Dyscalculia: Dyscalculia is a specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics, reading, or written expression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, there is no single form of math disability. Symptoms may present when attempting to grasp math concepts such as time, measurement, and spatial reasoning, or when solving arithmetic problems.

    Dysgraphia: Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects fine motor skills. Often displayed in writing, dysgraphia interferes with spelling, word spacing, and the ability to document thoughts on paper. With so much time focused on creating letter shapes, students often lose narrative direction and forget what they wanted to write. Students with dysgraphia may benefit from explicit handwriting instruction and keyboard accommodations.

    Executive Functioning Disorder: Executive functioning relates to the use of skills to organize and act on information. The following skills are central to executive functioning:

    1. Metacognition - awareness of one’s own thought processes

    2. Working memory

    3. Attention / focus

    4. Self-control

    5. Target-directed persistence

    6. Cognitive flexibility

    Students with an executive functioning concern may have challenges paying attention, remembering items, organizing tasks, managing time, or maintaining control in order to analyze a problem.

    Speech and Language Disorders: Students on the dyslexia spectrum may also present with common speech or language disorders. Some students may have difficulty articulating sounds or with the accuracy of sound production. While impairments in reading and language are discrete disorders, they are often closely related conditions.