When my son was first diagnosed with dyslexia, I also learned that he had dyscalculia. In addition to these “gifts,” he also has some executive functioning challenges, as well as sensory processing and auditory processing issues. Over the years, I have learned that many of my students have had additional learning differences along with dyslexia. This prompted me to investigate other conditions that could co-exist with dyslexia. When I spoke to professionals and started to delve into research, words like “co-exist,” “co-occur,” and “co-morbid” came up in the literature (For this blog I will interchange the terms).
Below defines each term:
- Co-exist: to have something occur at the same time or same place.
- Co-occur: to occur simultaneously.
- Comorbid: relating to a medical condition that occurs with one another.
According to research, nearly 50% of the population with Dyslexia will experience other Specific Learning Difficulties (SLD). These difficulties are said to “overlap,” “co-exist,” or “co-occur” with dyslexia. This is the norm rather than the exception. Specific Learning Difficulty is the umbrella term that includes other specific difficulties. According to the DSM 5, “SLD is a type of Neurodevelopmental Disorder that impedes the ability to learn or use specific academic skills (e.g. reading, writing, or arithmetic), which are the foundation for other academic learning.”
With this understanding, we must be aware that our students with dyslexia may also have one or more of the difficulties outlined in the diagram below. This image depicts how various conditions can overlap and affect one another. This understanding will help tailor instruction to meet the needs of this population.
Due to the high incidence of co-occurrence between different SLD’s, it is essential to understand that each profile is unique. For example, I have dyscalculia, auditory processing disorder (APD), sensory processing disorder (SPD), and some executive functioning deficits. My son has dyslexia, sensory processing disorder (SPD), auditory processing disorder (APD), dyscalculia, and executive functioning deficits. Many of our characteristics overlap; however, our processing looks different from our unique profile. It is important to note that these conditions run on a spectrum from mild to severe and no two people are alike. If we see the human brain as an individual fingerprint, it is easier to understand our students and plan for instruction.
Many educators and parents innocently label these children as “lazy, unmotivated, and inattentive,” or may think they are “just not trying hard enough.” For example, some students with dyslexia have poor comprehension skills, but superior verbal ability. Some can read at grade level, but experience frustration with written work (dysgraphia/specific language impairment). Using terms such as “lazy and unmotivated” are unintentional and innocent mistakes we sometimes make as parents and teachers. We only see the input and output of information. Take, for example, children who have auditory processing disorder. They might miss what they are asked to do, and as a result, they can appear “inattentive” or “lazy.” The input (information from the parent or teacher) is received, but there is a breakdown in the processing (storage, working memory, and retrieval). These children may glaze over and forget what was heard, and as parents and teachers, we see little output from them. As a result, we mistakenly assume the child doesn’t care and is lazy. When in fact, the processing (the part that is invisible to the eye) is the problem. This is why it is essential to understand common co-existing conditions.
Another way of understanding the above example is an allergic reaction to a healthy food. We see the input (food) and the output (the behavior, rash, illness, etc). However, we cannot see the process within the body that is taking place. We think to ourselves, “I ate healthy foods. Why am I sick?” Some people live a lifetime of eating healthy foods and yet suffer. There are children who spend years in a healthy education environment and yet continue to suffer. If we look this analogy and shift our thinking about educating children in the way they learn and process, we can drastically improve learning and make a positive difference.
Unidentified and unsupported dyslexia and related conditions can lead to emotional anguish, frustration, and poor self-esteem. In turn, this can result in learned helplessness, anxiety, and depression. Awareness and understanding will help us provide the intervention necessary for success and prevent the additional emotional disabilities (such as anxiety and depression) that we unknowingly create. If we deal with the underlying causes, which are usually undiagnosed specific learning difficulties, rather than the symptoms (behavioral issues) we can better help this population. We must also remember that these labels are important in order to get the accommodations and modifications that our children deserve and need. This provides understanding and self-acceptance for the person who may possess any of these difficulties, as well as those who work with that individual. We cannot induce positive change if we do not first acknowledge and then understand. My hope is that acknowledgment and understanding will propel action for progressive educational reform for the sake of these students.
For a more in-depth understanding of co-existing disorders of dyslexia, please join the Orton Gillingham Online Academy for our webinar: “Co-existing Conditions of Dyslexia.” We are anticipating a launch date for sometime in May, 2018.
This webinar will:
- Provide an understanding of Specific Learning Disabilities and criteria for diagnosis
- Define of each coexisting condition listed above
- Provide characteristics of each coexisting condition
- Investigate the steps to take if we suspect an overlapping condition
- Provide “user-friendly checklists” that can help within the classroom setting
- ADHD and Dyslexia. Retrieved from https://dyslexiaida.org/adhd-and-dyslexia/
- Coexisting problem behavior in severe dyslexia. (December 2011). Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1471-3802.2010.01190.x
- Related Disorders of a Learning Disability: What You Should Know. Retrieved from https://ldaamerica.org/what-you-should-know-about-related-disorders-of-learning-disability/
- Rosemary Tannock, Ph.D.DSM-5 Changes in Diagnostic Criteria for Specific Learning Disabilities. What are the Implications? Retrieved from https://dyslexiaida.org/dsm-5-changes-in-diagnostic-criteria-for-specific-learning-disabilities-sld1-what-are-the-implications/
- Types of Learning Disabilities. Retrieved from https://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/
- What is a Specific Learning Disorder? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/specific-learning-disorder/what-is-specific-learning-disorder
OGOA Blog writer, Marcy McIver has a Bachelor of Education in Special Education and a MSc in Brain Based Learning. She has been teaching for 15 years and has spent the last three years providing remedial intervention to children with dyslexia. She is passionate about helping students with various learning differences and how to better support this population using cognitive neuroscience to maximize motivation and learning.