The Active Reader
Unlocking Literacy Since 1996
Dyslexia and AD/HD
Is there a connection?
Sometimes I wonder if the medical establishment got together and tried to find the worst possible terms to describe conditions. Fortunately, the term "Dyslexia" actually makes perfect sense – "dys" from German/ English roots meaning difficult, and "lege" which means to speak in Latin, and to read in Greek. It even derives from all three primary etymological roots of the English language! (Yes, I feel that deserves an exclamation point!)
On the other hand, my two least favorite terms are "ADHD" and "comorbid." Unfortunately, they are often mentioned in the same breath.
Let me begin by addressing the use of "ADHD" as an umbrella term to describe attention difficulties. While I realize that some differentiate between "AD/HD" and "ADD," the fact is that "ADHD" has become the primary term for attention issues, and must be amended by "without hyperactivity" if the child does not have excessive energy. This is problematic for several reasons.
First, while many students who struggle with reading may struggle with impulsivity, too much energy for the traditional classroom, or "ADHD," it's important to note that while "hyperactivity" is the most obvious characteristic of AD/HD, it is not fundamental to it. Whatever you want to call it – ADD, ADHD, AD/HD, "ADD Inattentive Type" – these are all conditions that relate to the quality of attention, not to activity level.
Why does this matter? Because if the kid with "hyperactivity" doesn't get help, the whole class suffers. So he's more likely to get timely intervention. Meanwhile, the child with plain old "ADD" is too busy looking out the window to cause any trouble. It looks like there's no actual problem... she just lacks focus, right?
Not necessarily. She might have attention issues and dyslexia. But when "ADHD" is the prevalent term, the lack of "hyperactivity" may prevent her from getting the help she needs. How can someone who's not hyperactive be ADHD? That "H" is the cause of a lot of heartache. (And yes, I use the terms "he" and "she" intentionally, as this is often – not always – how it plays out)
What's more, "hyperactive" does not mean they have attention problems – the kid labeled as "hyperactive" is quite possibly the one who'll end up leading the nation someday; having "excess energy" is a characteristic of many highly successful individuals.
On this site, I will use AD/HD to refer to all attention disorders, unless specifically noted. But I want to go on record as saying that neither ADD or AD/HD are appropriate or accurate terms. Kids with AD/HD don't necessarily lack attention, they just can't manage it. can pay attention and focus. The problem is, that they lack the ability to manage their focus.
Also, disorder? I think not. AD/HD people have difficulties with executive skills, which make it difficult to succeed in some conventional ways. But that difficulty, and the chaos it may produce, is often the catalyst that leads to the breakthroughs we need – in schools, in homes, and personally.
I'm not sure what they were thinking when they came up with the term "comorbid" to describe simultaneously occurring conditions, but that's the term. If you have a child who is struggling with attention, you may hear that term bandied about, because AD/HD is often "comorbid" with dyslexia.
A different approach to managing distractions.