“Your Brain Is Different — and Wonderful!” Talking to Kids About Dyslexia
Dyslexia is largely misunderstood and, as a common ADHD comorbidity, it often exacerbates ADHD symptoms (and vice versa). Acknowledging challenges will help children and teens with both conditions feel understood and supported.
Q: My child has been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. How do I talk to them about both conditions?
ADHD and dyslexia commonly appear together and are highly treatable. Ultimately, the way in which you talk to your child about these conditions will depend on their age. But for all ages, you’ll want to nurture strengths, instill a growth mindset, and show unconditional love and support.
Talking with Younger Kids
- Explain what dyslexia and ADHD mean. Emphasize that everyone’s brain is different. For example, some people have a passion for art, others for nature and the outdoors. Young children are likely already aware of their reading challenges and other areas where they struggle, so it’s best to focus on neurodiversity and inherent differences. Let them know that dyslexia won’t prevent them from being terrific at school and at activities outside of school.
- Lead with your child’s strengths. Support their interests and notice where they shine. Are they great with pets? Maybe they’re a wonderful sibling? Ask them what they enjoy; their answers might surprise you.
Talking with Tweens and Teens
- Be honest. I’m not afraid to tell my patients at this age that co-occurring dyslexia and ADHD means they’ll have to work a bit harder than their peers. Explain that they might have trouble reading or copying teachers’ instructions from the board. They might need to accept extra tutoring or classroom supports. Honesty about these challenges will validate your child’s experiences and reduce shame.
- Be optimistic. Help your child understand that dyslexia is not a sign of lower intelligence. Assure your child that you and their teachers will work to support them and help them succeed.
- Maintain perspective. Remind your child that there is more to them than ADHD and dyslexia. They are not defined by these conditions, but by who they are as individuals. Involve them in activities they’ll enjoy, such as Scouts, sports, or volunteering, to offset the pressures of school.
- Boost self-esteem. Encourage your teen to join a support group that helps connect them to peers with shared experiences. Your child will be able to talk openly about their challenges with others who simply get it, and this will do wonders for their self-confidence.
Ways to Encourage Reading
- Listen to audiobooks and have your child read along with them.
- Identify books your child might like, such as graphic novels or books about topics that interest them.
- Read a book together and take turns reading out loud.
- Use spell-check or online dictionaries to help with homework if permitted.
- Use apps that make decoding words into a game.
Talking About Dyslexia: Next Steps
- Download: Signs of Dyslexia at Every Age
- Read: The Best Way to Explain Learning Disabilities to Your Child
- Read: Famous People with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia & Other Learning Differences
Cheryl Chase, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Independence, Ohio. She specializes in the diagnostic and neuropsychological assessment of certain conditions affecting children, adolescents, and young adults.
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