Understanding Autism, Dyslexia, & ADHD


Most, if not all individuals have been affected or know someone who is affected by autism, ADHD, or dyslexia. These mental health conditions have been on the rise in the past few years; in fact, the University of Milan, working alongside the University of Exeter Medical School, has found a considerable overlap in symptoms between the three diagnoses. These overlapping symptoms can lead to misdiagnosis or a failure to recognize the best medical treatment plan for an individual. Through our article we will discuss diagnosis, stigmas, and school-related accommodations that come hand-in-hand with autism, ADHD, and dyslexia.
Understanding and identifying the early signs and symptoms of these behavioral health conditions is crucial for appropriate individualized treatments. Many times pediatricians and pediatric neurologists refer patients for formal psychological testing and evaluation to a licensed clinical psychologist for diagnostic formulations and treatment recommendations. Also, by law, school districts provide full and individual evaluations and special accommodations to the children diagnosed with a mental health condition. The Individualized Treatment Team (IEP) at the school then monitors the child’s progress or lack thereof. Focusing on the child’s strengths and abilities rather than their disability should be a prime focus.
This article will discuss common symptoms of these mental health conditions, treatment interventions, and resources available to children diagnosed with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and dyslexia symptoms.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is of the most common mental health disorders affecting children. ADHD also affects many adults. There are three different types of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD). The Combined Type is characterized by two main components, which include inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms. The Inattentive Type includes symptoms of inattention primarily involving lacking the focus and attention required to carry on with daily activities, and concentration difficulties. This lack of attention conflicts with the individual’s life, thereby affecting the ability to perform in concentration-based tasks that are common at school and work. The third includes the Hyperactivity and Impulsivity Type, which consist of excessive and impetuous acts such as fidgeting excessively or frequently talking abruptly in social situations. At least six symptoms from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) must be present in any of the two components to classify a child up to the age of 16 with ADHD. On the other hand at least 5 symptoms from the DSM-V are needed to diagnose an adult 17 or older with ADHD. The symptoms must be present for at least six months.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder that may cause problems in language, thinking, feeling, and the ability to relate to others. The diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder encompasses two main areas which are a persistent deficit in social interactions and repetitive patterns of behavior. Symptoms for having a persistent deficit in social interaction involve the lack of nonverbal communication, an absence of reciprocating socially, and a deficiency in establishing relationships. Repetitive patterns of behavior include a high fixation to routines, becoming upset easily for not following a routine, and repetitive motor movements. These symptoms must cause impairment to daily life in order to be classified as autism.
Dyslexia falls under the broader category of a learning disorder. A learning disorder consists of having difficulty with learning tasks such as writing, reading, or mathematics. Dyslexia, which is a subcomponent of learning disorders, focuses on the area of having trouble with reading. Reading is impaired by reversing letters, difficulty making out words, and a lack of coordination when transitioning from words.
Just like with any other mental health condition, ADHD, dyslexia, and Autism Spectrum Disorder have stigmas surrounding them. One of the factors that makes it difficult for people with these disorders is that there are many who believe that these disorders are not real. Many are quick to pass judgment on children with ADHD and ASD, such as believing they are misbehaved and undisciplined, or chiflado — spoiled. However, these are clinical conditions and treatments are available. Children with dyslexia also have this similar experience; for example, it is easy for people to believe that the reason why the child is having difficulty in school is because they are lazy or unintelligent. During these moments, families with children who have ADHD, dyslexia, and ASD experience the stigma associated with these disorders. They often experience shame, judgment, and isolation.
So how can we combat stigmas toward these disorders? The simplest answer is being mindful. It is okay to not know all of the information about every disorder ever, but it is not okay to be making quick assumptions about strangers and their families. Be mindful about the judgments you make, the things that you say out loud, and what you post online. It will make it easier on families with people who have disorders, friends, and maybe even yourself.
In addition, a very easy way to begin combating stigma is to increase awareness,simply by using sensitive language. A mental health illness is a medical diagnosis. Like diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, or any other medical condition, a mental health condition is a medical illness. People are not ADHD, autistic, or bipolar. They are individuals diagnosed with a mental health condition. We never say, “There goes diabetes or cancer,” do we? But again, individuals are quick to judge and must realize that people come first. Their abilities come first and not their disability. By focusing on their strengths and adhering to appropriate treatments available, stabilization and progress are possible outcomes.

There are various types of mental health treatments that can help with ADHD and ASD. One popular avenue is the holistic approach to psychiatry. This method includes psychopharmacological intervention in addition to psychosocial interventions. Research notes that when combining both approaches, we see better treatment outcomes. Of course, there are some parents who do not resort to medication management and only utilize psychosocial interventions, such as skills training, parent management training, and counseling interventions. Another popular treatment for both ADHD and ASD is Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), which is utilized in an ample gamma of professional settings. In clinical and educational settings, it can be described as a tool to “create [a] meaningful and functional behavior change in an individual in order for that individual to lead an independent and productive life as a member of society.” Overall, ABA can improve behavioral issues, social skills, verbal behavior, and daily living skills (Szpacks, 2006). Additional supplemental treatment interventions for ASD include speech, occupational, and physical therapy. Research indicates by having up to 15 to 20 hours of stimuli a week, children have a better treatment prognosis.
By being more informed we, as a community, are able to better understand these three behavioral health conditions and the symptoms that accompany them. Being able to recognize the existence and prevalence of ADHD, autism, and Dyslexia helps facilitate the deterioration of stigmas that still exist in our society and communities. Although these conditions must be treated with a specialist, the understanding and acceptance offered by the people surrounding the patients are critical for their emotional stability. As a society, we need to be more mindful about our judgments, and more intentional when offering help to others.

References available upon request
(Co-authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Paola Quijano, Melissa Briones, Abigail Nunez-Saenz, Andy Torres, Amy Ramirez, Fernando Martinez, and Armando Villarreal-Sosa)