Before we can go into the difference between the interesting symptoms of dyslexia and ADHD/ ADD, let’s define the two and see how they differ and especially what causes the difference.
It doesn’t serve us to dig deeply into labels and define them, as it would encourage us to ‘fix’ the symptoms instead of eliminating the cause.
What is Dyslexia and How Do I Recognise It?
The word itself means (Greek): dys- difficulty or impaired
Lexia: language. Difficulty with the written or spoken word in many forms.
The term dyslexia was coined in 1887 by Gustav Berlin, defined as difficulty to read, pronounce, spell, and write, ranging from being fully illiterate, slightly or hardly at all.
Prior to that, dyslexia had been called ‘word blindness’.
Most people don’t know much about dyslexia and would say something like:’ b/d reversal, people who don’t read well or there is something wrong with them, but I don’t know.’
I can’t blame them – I was one of these people until I had a son with quite severe dyslexia and was thrown into the deep end. That means in the beginning, all I saw with my beautiful 8-year old Keanu were the struggles, the melt-downs, the anxiety and the fact that he didn’t learn to read like most of the other children at school, that he couldn’t spell or write. He spelled ‘thinks’ as ‘fekx’, just as an example.
Not one teacher suggested that he might be dyslexic and when he was in year 2, a friend of mine gave me a copy of ‘The Gift of Dyslexia’ by Ron Davis and it clicked for me. I not only found out that my son is dyslexic but also why he couldn’t learn the way the other kids did…and how we could help him.
I had always known that this creative child was smart, but that wasn’t apparent at school – less so with every year that passed. He was put into the banana group, the bottom of the barrel in reading groups and with every year, his confidence was diminishing.
Only after a facilitator had worked with Keanu to give him the tools to correct his challenges did the journey to becoming an avid reader start and my journey as a Davis dyslexia facilitator as well.
The Official and More Complex Definition of Dyslexia
Many dyslexics have trouble pronouncing words when you see them in writing, even if you use the word in your everyday speech.
That might be because their brain has trouble linking sounds to the letters on the page — something called phonemic awareness. They might also have trouble recognising or decoding whole words. Researchers generally do not know the exact causes of dyslexia. What is known is that reading requires several areas of the brain to work together.
In people without dyslexia, certain brain regions activate and interact when they’re reading. People with dyslexia activate different brain areas and use different neural pathways when they’re reading. Although that is true, the solution they use – mostly to sound out – is misguided: the standard approach is to try to train a dyslexic brain to act like a neurotypical one.
The Cause and the Symptoms of Dyslexia
To describe the symptoms of a dyslexic child or adult, let me first describe my son to you, because the symptoms my son and most children I worked with showed were the effect of a series of causes:
- You find a child that is a bright, curious, creative picture thinker. They are great fun to be around, have lots of friends, quirky ideas and there were only a few things that were a bit out of the norm: putting shoes and clothes on the wrong way round, words muddled up a bit (spaghetti became pasghetti, for example) or misunderstanding due to their visual thinking style (for example, Keanu wanted to become a chair maker, to be as rich as Bill Gates, who is a chairman…alas, somebody who makes chairs). Being visual or tactile, as most dyslexics are, they perceive their world in pictures and when something doesn’t make sense yet, they get their creative mind’s eye to take in the entire picture until they can create meaning around it.
- These children, like my son Keanu, enter school, filled with excited enthusiasm, looking forward to more fun, friends and learning. Only then they encounter symbols, letters and words that don’t seem to make sense. There are no pictures around these letters. Still their minds try to go around them (hence the b/d confusion) and still, no meaning. Eventually some of these words create a picture in their mind: cat, tree, bag. But then there are so many sight words they get to read early on that don’t get a meaning no matter what: the, in, on, for, to….
- Now the confusion deepens. The majority of the reading, especially in early years, includes these non-picture words. About 75 % of early reading is composed of them: ‘My mum is in the house’: ‘mum, house’ are the only pictures (2/6)
- How to deal with the mounting confusion, the frustration and the rising feeling of being different, of maybe being dumb? These kids are incredibly bright and able, but they now need to find an outlet for these horrible feelings.
- They usually go into one of three solutions: Disorientation as an escape and for entertainment, which we call daydreaming. Teachers tell their parents that the child would do well, if only they’d be concentrating or paying attention.
- Second solution: Disorientation as and emotional release. These children get more and more anxious, frustrated, angry, fearful…any emotion that gets almost unbearable.
- Third solution – and that was my son: Disorientation into humour, becoming the class clown – a popular way and less distressing for parents and school, than the pain of emotional distress.
- Only now do we find the symptoms of this sense of confusion and the different levels of disorientation: the child struggles to read, spell, write, focus and often associated with it emotional issues, math problems, poor handwriting and a range of challenges around concepts such as time, sequence, order and others. Dyslexic individuals are not processing the world in a linear way, but rather a round visual way. All the concepts mentioned are linear at the core.
We all get confused, but the reason for a confusion around dyslexia is different.
Symptoms of dyslexia are symptoms of disorientation. The brain doesn’t get what their eyes see. It gets what their eyes think they see.
- What their ears hear. It gets what their ears think they hear.
- Their balance and movement sense is disrupted
- Their internal sense of time can either speed up or slow down.
It is up to us to help the dyslexic individual to self-correct the causes of dyslexia to become the masters of their learning.
Most correction programs today focus on fixing the perceived challenges, using phonic approaches that try to add phonemic awareness, phonic rules and other pathways that have come easily to auditory learners.
They see dyslexia as a condition, like a disease – and like eradicating a disease they do what science does best: dissect the problem:
Now your child could potentially be diagnosed 70 + labels, names like reading disability, phonological deficit, comprehension deficit, non-verbal learning disabilities, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, hyperlexia, auditory processing disorder, dysphasia (a language disorder) or aphasia (loss of language), phonemic awareness dyslexia, developmental delay and the list goes on.
While in science, like chemistry, it proves useful to break down to smaller and smaller particles to make sense scientifically (periodic table), we have to be aware that Dyslexia is not a disease, a germ, a condition… You cannot take a blood test to make sure you are dyslexic. Maybe a brain scan…but all a brain scan would show that the right side of a dyslexic brain may be showing more activity than the neurotypical brain.
How to Define ADD/ADHD? How Does Attention Deficit Disorder, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Fit Into this Picture?
ADD/ADHD is defined as: ‘developmentally inappropriate inattention and impulsivity with and without hyperactivity. People with ADD may struggle with low self-esteem, troubled relationships and poor performance in school’.
ADD/ADHD are names given to a variety of characteristics which can include one or more of the following:
- Tendency to excessive daydreaming
- Behavioural issues
- Difficulty making friends
- Lack of awareness, or knowledge, of time
- Difficulty understanding instructions
- Difficulty with personal organisation and/or finishing things
The Cause and the Symptoms of ADD/ADHD
The biggest difference between dyslexia and ADD/ADHD is the pathway.
Yes, we usually have a visual learner too, but the disorientation, that a dyslexic person experienced usually starts when they get confronted with symbols that they cannot make sense of.
For the hyperactive or distracted child, it starts much earlier. Life, the environment, external factors disorient them. Their brain is already wired to be fast and their surroundings appear slow and boring.
Their perception is altered by that combination of boredom and confusion and causes disorientation. Disorientation speeds up the internal clock, slowing down external time. Their sense of balance and movement is also affected and distorted – and movement (hyper activity) helps them to restore the balance between internal and external differences: not moving would be similar to motion sickness.
I believe ADHD is often caused when students are not interested in the subject and/or don’t understand what the teacher is saying.
The solution would be to give the ADHD individual the tools to restore orientation and control their behaviour themselves, without drugs. Adderall, Ritalin and other amphetamines aim to increase the amount of dopamine that is released into the brain. Orientation does the same, yet without amphetamines.
ADHD and dyslexia can co-exist.
Although one disorder doesn’t cause the other, people who have one often have both. About 50 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD also have a learning disorder such as dyslexia.
An example: For the third time in 10 minutes, the teacher says, “Read.” The child picks up the book and tries again, but before long she’s off-task: fidgeting, wandering, distracted.
ADHD and dyslexia can both cause people to be “dysfluent readers.” They leave out parts of what they’re reading. They get tired, frustrated, and distracted when they try to read. They may even act out or refuse to read.
For children with ADHD and dyslexia it may be hard to understand what they’ve read, despite the fact that they’re intelligent and often very verbal.
When they write, their handwriting may be messy, and there are often problems with spelling. All of this can mean they struggle to live up to their academic or professional potential. And that sometimes leads to anxiety, lower self-esteem, and depression.
But while symptoms of dyslexia and ADHD overlap, the two conditions are different. They’re diagnosed and treated differently, so it’s important to understand each one separately.
For example, a student with ADHD might shout out answers, wiggle, and interrupt other people in class.
ADHD might cause some kids not to perform well on long standardized tests, or they might not turn in long-term projects.
Different Solution for ADD/ADHD
In order to fully understand ADD/ADHD, it is important to recognise that a person who has it will often have incomplete mastery of important life concepts such as: consequence, cause, effect, time, sequence and order. Many of the behavioural issues that some people display can be traced back to their lack of understanding of these concepts, that other people master instinctively as they develop through childhood.T
he dyslexia mastery problem, which we currently run as a Reading Challenge, should follow the concept work, to make sure the foundations are strong to build literacy on.
If you are interested to join one of these programs, please contact Barbara Hoi here.
Solutions for Dyslexia
How to Learn to Read in 20 Hours is a new program running for the month of January 2021:
- one hour a day, five days a week, via zoom –
- for a small group of motivated dyslexic adults, or parents of dyslexic children or tutors/teachers
- addressing focus and attention
- reading, writing and spelling in a different way, suitable for visual or tactile learners
- half-price ($475) that includes the course, materials needed, membership to a private Facebook group
The recordings will be available to the students for that month, in case they couldn’t be there every time, but the idea is to be part of a group and a private facebook group to get questions answered and a personal attention to make sure, the literacy levels improve in every area.
Please contact Barbara Hoi for a detailed program.