How Autism/Aspergers and ADHD are Linked with Dyslexia

Introduction

As a neurodevelopment disorder autism/Aspergers is fairly rare.  In the US the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) state that 1.8% of the population are autistic.  In comparison, other types of neurodevelopment disorders are more common.  Such as ADHD, where the CDC estimated that it affects 9.4% of the US population.  And dyslexia, where here in the UK it is believed that 10% of society are dyslexic.  Globally this number is slightly reduced to around 7%.

When writing this article the aim was to research autism and dyslexia and the relationship between the two.

Research 

Autism and Dyslexia Links

When researching Autism and Dyslexia it was hypothesised that the two conditions where separate and unrelated.  Autism certainly affects social communication and the way we interact verbally.  Whereas Dyslexia is more related to reading and writing.  Plus people can certainly be autistic without having dyslexia.  And definitely (more commonly), the reverse is true where, people can be dyslexic without being autistic.

It is also very true that a large percentage of people are not limited to one neurodevelopment disorder, but can have multiple.  Some of which include: autism, ADHD, dyslexia and schizophrenia.  For example some estimates believe that between 30% and 50% of autistics are also ADHD, especial in the ages before preschool (Leitner et al (2014)).

When researching the links between autism and dyslexia, there was unexpectedly evidence of an overlap.   Where it made it difficult to clearly determine whether, for some autistics, it was autism that was causing reading and writing difficulties; or whether it was having the two separate conditions of autism and dyslexia together. 

One piece of research that led to this thinking was a scientific journal article by Huang et al (2020).  Where it described that ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) and dyslexia are genetic and share similar communication difficulties in relation to reading or language.  So much so they could be related to the same gene which is know as  the Dock4 (dedicator of cytokinesis) protein family. 

Although this thinking is quite deep it was worth mentioning.  

For the remainder of the article it will be stressed that autism and dyslexia are different, but a person can be both.

ADHD and Dyslexia Links

When looking at how many people are ADHD, that have dyslexia the percentage is high.  

On the Synapse website it estimates that between 30-50% of ADHD people are also dyslexic.

A similar statistic is stated on the webmd website.  Where it describes how ADHD and dyslexia are different disorders of the brain but can often overlap.  Where about 30% of people with dyslexia are also ADHD. 

Poll – Number of People Who are Autistic and Dyslexic

As mentioned in the introduction it is estimated that between 7-10% of people are dyslexic.  I decided to create a poll on Twitter to gauge if autistics are more or less likely to be dyslexic than general society.

Out of the twenty responses: 10% said they are severely dyslexic, 15% mild and 75% said they aren’t dyslexic.  Although this was in no way a scientific study, and the results should be taken as a rough indication at best, this limited survey showed that 25% of autistics/Aspies have some form of dyslexia.  Which is a much higher percentage than the expected 10%.

Difficulties in Diagnosing Autism and Dyslexia 

Diagnosing people like us, who are autistic/Aspie, for dyslexia can be very difficult.  

Even at a young age, evidence shows that children with high functioning autism are often very good at reading, and many are even advanced for their age.  But although they are very good at reading individual words, they may struggle to comprehend (or understand) what they have read.  So need a lot of help and support in this area.

It is also shown that struggling  with writing occurs with autistics as well as people who have dyspraxia, dysgraphia, and sensory processing disorders.  As each can have difficulties including: motor skill problems, clumsiness, and poor handwriting.

One of the biggest barriers with assessing autistics/Aspies with dyslexia is that we find a way to mask our dyslexia, like with many aspects of our lives.  Even though dyslexia is a lifelong condition, so cannot be cured, we develop techniques to enable us to read and write.  This is called compensatory learning and can be so effective that autistics/Aspies can pass a range of dyslexia screening tests, even when they are dyslexic.  So the tests need to be designed really well to compensate for this Frith (2013).

My Dyslexia

I believe I’m mildly dyslexic.  But have never been diagnosed.  I could read well, but the words often got jumbled up when I was reading.  I really struggled to understand the words I read, as a whole as well.  I also had trouble with writing, up until my early twenties.  But found many ways to mask this.  

I didn’t pass my English at school but persevered, and after two years at night school managed to achieve my English qualification.  

At the age of twenty I decided, I wanted to go to university and knew I needed to improve my reading and writing.  So, like with many aspects of my life, I was determined to try and turn my weaknesses into strengths.  This level of commitment needs to come from within, rather than people trying to persuade or encourage you.  But I had a crazy determination.  I spent a year reading for several hours each and every day.  Even though reading was painful at first.  Incredibly tiring and difficult.  I somehow carried on, through perseverance and dedication.  Then something eventually clicked and I became good at it. 

I then went to uni, even though I was terrified, and scared of failure.  Spent every waking hour studying through my whole course and got the highest grades possible.  I was burnt out through most of it, as you can imagine. But I did it because I had to, for myself.

Even after six years at university I still have to work on my writing.  Still have to proof read after: every word I write, then every sentence, then every paragraph and finally the whole text several times.  Often reading out loud, as it uses different parts of the brain.  And of course still make many mistakes.  For example: even though I’m sure I wrote down the words correctly at the time.  Missing the s at the end of plurals. Or thinking of the word I want to write next, and writing the ending of that word, instead of the word I’m on. Or missing out words altogether even though I know they were in my mind.

Tips to Help 

With dyslexia, like autism, it can be tough at times.  But we can overcome it.  Like there are many famous people who are autistic, (probably a lot more than we realise); There are famous people who are dyslexic and have overcome their difficulties.  Some famous dyslexic people include: Tom Cruise, Richard Branson, Whoopi Goldberg and Steven Spielberg.

Unfortunately, at the minute, there is no magic cure for dyslexia.  But many people, like with autism, see its positives.  Such as being more creative.

It is always worth, if possible, to get a diagnosis for dyslexia to get the help and support you need.  Depending on the severity, once a diagnosis is in place, there are many ways in which you can get extra help.  Such as extra tuition at school, tailored to help dyslexic learners. Or extra resources at university or college such as special software, laptops, electronic writing equipment, or learning support to help take notes or proof read work etc.  Plus extra time in exams to proof read work, which will undoubtedly help you to get higher grades.

The NHS website highlights just how important early interventions are when it comes to helping dyslexic children read.  Most help comes in the form of teaching children to read using phonics (the sounds letters and groups of letters make) and monitoring a child’s reading to check understanding. 

Learning phonics really helped me to improve my reading and as a Learning Support Assistant myself, I see amazing results with this method when I help people one to one. 

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