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Well, “hello, page 419…”: Anxiety, ADHD, and dyslexia

Anxiety, ADHD, and dyslexia go together like baseball and hot dogs (unless, of course, you have a gluten allergy…then skip the bun). I was recently asked what Neural Pathways Learning Center does. In short, we help with anxiety, attention, and focus among children, adolescents, and adults. If you have trouble reading between the lines, that’s pretty stinkin’ age-inclusive. The issues of anxiety, attention, and focus often accompany dyslexia. I wasn’t surprised when I came across chapter 30, on page 419, of Overcoming Dyslexia, by Sally and Jonathan Shaywitz. The chapter title is “Anxiety, ADHD, and Dyslexia.” It does not matter when in life a person is diagnosed with dyslexia, the diagnosis comes with a “full load of anxiety.” The authors write:


In fact, it is rare to see a dyslexic who doesn’t also have anxiety or, for that matter, ADHD. It is important to be aware of these very common comorbid conditions, for they too must be recognized, diagnosed, explained, and treated if the dyslexic individual is to have an optimal outcome. Anxiety and ADHD so commonly occur along with dyslexia that it is critical that once someone is diagnosed as dyslexic, anxiety and ADHD must be asked about. Both anxiety and ADHD are well described and well delineated, and each can be treated effectively.” (Shaywitz & Shaywitz, 2020, p. 419)



Labels are crazy things. They are both helpful and potentially hurtful. I’m sure glad the cans in my cabinet are labeled because I can distinguish the green beans from clam chowder.[1] A feeling of reassurance can accompany a label because it provides common language. In the case of diagnosis, it assures us that others have journeyed with similar symptoms. We can better prepare ourselves for the road ahead. As for cans, we know what is inside before opening them. Clearly, labels are potentially hurtful when they are used to stigmatize others. I see this commonly in the field of mental health. However, Shaywitz and Shaywitz (2020) write specifically to parents of dyslexic children, “beware of such innocuous-sounding but essentially uninformative and unhelpful terms as learning differences and learning disability. A dyslexic individual learns little from this kind of label. Self-awareness is certainly not strengthened by these terms, which are vague and lack specificity” (p. 92). In other words, green beans are green beans, just like dyslexia is dyslexia.


Since evidence exists for the co-occurrence of dyslexia and anxiety (and even ADHD), then be aware of the symptoms so that you can help. A child does not have to be swinging from the light fixtures to be diagnosed with ADHD. I will blog about ADHD in the future, but for now the DSM 5 symptoms include:

· Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities (e.g., overlooks or misses details, work is inaccurate)

· Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities (e.g., has difficulty remaining focused during lectures, conversations, or lengthy reading)

· Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly (e.g., mind seems elsewhere, even in the absence of any obvious distraction)

· Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., starts tasks but quickly loses focus and is easily sidetracked)

· Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities (e.g., difficulty managing sequential tasks; difficulty keeping materials and belongings in order; messy, disorganized work; has poor time management; fails to meet deadlines)

· Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (e.g., schoolwork or homework; for older adolescents and adults, preparing reports, completing forms, reviewing lengthy papers)

· Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones)

· Often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli (for older adolescents and adults, may include unrelated thoughts)

· Often forgetful in daily activities (e.g., doing chores, running errands; for older adolescents and adults, returning calls, paying bills, keeping appointments)


Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes, and by that, I mean varieties. Kids even express anxiety differently from adults. I will also blog about anxiety in the future. For now, some telltale signs can include:


· Anger

· Difficulty sleeping

· Defiance

· Flipping their lid (I'll blog about this one, too)

· Lack of focus

· Avoidance

· Overplanning

· Negativity


Whew! There are a lot of criteria and symptoms listed here. I hope you don’t have medical school syndrome after reading this. My wife has diagnosed herself many times with many conditions. Remember, just because one condition is present, it does not mean that another is also. At the same time, we should be aware of relationships between labels to treat more effectively when warranted.

[1] New England variety chowder, of course

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