What Do You Mean It's Not Just Dyslexia?

What Do You Mean It's Not Just Dyslexia?
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was first published October 6, 2015.

When my son was diagnosed with dyslexia, we were pretty devastated. But we overcame that hurdle with support from his teachers and tutors. However, we were not prepared to hear that dyslexia was not his only challenge. We couldn’t believe there were more barriers to his academic success. Wasn’t dyslexia enough???

So what other kinds of learning challenges often co-exist with dyslexia? We learned that there can be many related issues, including ADHD, verbal and visual processing issues, receptive and expressive language issues, and many more. There is a 33% overlap in reading and math difficulties. Dyslexia is not clear cut, nor does it typically occur alone without other issues. According to the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, “dyslexia is not a disorder with clear cut boundaries or with a single cause.”

What exactly are these co-morbid issues?  One disorder you may have heard a lot about is ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), a term with which most of us are familiar. We were very surprised when our son was diagnosed with ADHD.  He wasn’t hyperactive in any way . . . he was a dreamy child who loved imaginative play.  However, ADHD presents itself in different ways.  I learned that there are actually 3 types of ADHD:  the inattentive type only (my son!), the hyperactive/impulsive type, and the combined type.

In my job as admissions director at a school for dyslexic children, I often have parents tell me that they don’t agree with their child’s ADHD diagnosis, because their child can focus for long  hours on a Lego set or puzzle.  What parents sometimes don’t realize is that this need (and ability!) to hyper focus on a task of their choosing is actually a symptom of ADHD.  This becomes an issue in the classroom when this same child is asked to focus on a task in which he is not interested, such as a difficult academic assignment. When this happens, teachers often see avoidance behaviors, such as needing multiple bathroom breaks, trips to the school nurse for small ailments, and behavior that is distracting to classmates, as well as the child.

So what are some symptoms of ADHD?  If your child has the inattentive type of ADHD, he or she may daydream, make careless mistakes, forget things (including their shoes!), lose or otherwise misplace things, get distracted easily, or avoid tasks that require a lot of mental effort.  My son could never find his shoes, even though we set up an official shoe closet!  If your child has ADHD, hyperactive type, he or she may seem to be in constant motion, have trouble staying seated, or become physically active at inappropriate times.  Children with the combined type of ADHD are often impulsive and speak without thinking, have trouble taking turns, interrupt others, or call out the answer before the question has been completely asked.

If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms and it’s interfering with his or her success in school, you should confer with your pediatrician or psychologist.  They can diagnose ADHD and suggest options that can help your child cope. One excellent resource for parents is a non-profit organization called C.H.A.D.D., Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, which offers a clearinghouse of  information and groups throughout the country that offer support and parenting tips.

What other issues may be interfering with your child’s learning? Your child’s psycho-educational report contains precious information about his or her learning profile.  Even if your psychologist sits down and discusses the results, you probably still have questions.  The amount of information is really a great deal to absorb, especially when you are trying to process the fact that you child does indeed have a learning disability.  I’ll be explaining more about psychological evaluations and other learning issues in my next post.  There is so much to know, and we are always discovering more about these challenging learning differences!