Chicago Dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

What is it Like to Have Both Dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Living with either dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), let alone both of them, can be hard, unless you really know how to advocate for yourself and unless you have supportive people in your life.  Dyslexia and ADHD are both conditions that make traditional school environments a challenge; in fact, in earlier times, many of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD were based on teachers’ perceptions of children’s behavior.  As adults, people with dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorders can choose career paths that play to their strengths and find social groups of people who understand what they think, but the school years can be really hard, especially when schools or parents act like the dyslexia or ADHD is a weakness on the child’s part, or, worse, intentional misbehavior.

Dyslexia is defined as difficulty with reading, especially difficulty with recognizing and sounding out words on the page.  About one out of every 20 Americans has been diagnosed with dyslexia, but it may affect one of out every five people to some degree.  Famous people with dyslexia include actors Jennifer Aniston, Salma Hayek, Anthony Hopkins, and Tom Cruise, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, personal computing pioneer Steve Jobs, author Lewis Carroll, Olympic athlete Greg Louganis, and polymath Leonardo da Vinci.

With appropriate support to manage their dyslexia, it is possible for children with dyslexia to learn to read.  In fact, some people with dyslexia even learn to read two different languages that use two different alphabets.  They need to be taught strategies about associating graphemes (letters) with phonemes (sounds), and some people with dyslexia find it helpful to memorize the shapes of words rather than thinking about the shapes of individual letters.  Some college students with dyslexia carry marker boards so that they can associate the sounds of words with the way it feels to write them.  Typefaces such as OpenDyslexic have been designed specifically to reduce similarities between letters, making them easier for people with dyslexia to read.  All of this supports the idea that it is useful not to think of dyslexia as a disorder, but rather to consider that there is more than one way to learn to read.

Likewise, it is useful to think of Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD or ADHD)  just as a way in which a person’s mind works, rather than a problem in the way a person’s mind works.  One young man with ADHD likes to describe it not as “attention deficit disorder” but as “awesome hunter-gatherer brain”, based on the theory that the symptoms of ADHD, such as the ability for a slight movement far off in the distance to draw one’s attention, are useful adaptations.  That tiny stimulus that today’s classroom teachers call a distraction was, in ancient times, a potential danger or a potential meal.

Today, counseling and learning support are the most often used methods of managing ADHD.  If, even with counseling and learning support, children are not able to manage the symptoms of ADHD in a way that parents and counselors consider acceptable, they may refer the child to a physician who may prescribe medications to reduce the symptoms of ADHD.  Whether to take medications and which ones to take varies from one child to the next, and the decision to start and continue medication should be made by the child, his or her family, and the physician.  Classroom environments in which children are encouraged to stand up and walk around during class activities are more conducive to learning for children with ADHD than classrooms in which they are required to sit still for long periods.

If your child has been diagnosed with dyslexia or ADHD, or if you or the child’s teacher thinks your child should be tested, contact a learning center that specializes in dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD), and other learning difficulties.  Cognitive Solutions Learning Center in Chicago offers these services at