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Teen struggling with anxiety over his schoolwork because of his dyslexia

The Relationship Between Dyslexia and Anxiety

8 min.

Discover the connection between dyslexia, anxiety, and overall mental health. Learn how this common learning disorder can lead to increased anxiety and how to manage and cope.

By: Dr. Caroline Fenkel, DSW, LCSW

Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC

March 13, 2023


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Table of Contents

People with dyslexia struggle to read fluently, which creates a significant challenge for children and adults. Whether in school or at work, the dyslexia-stress-anxiety connection can create even more challenges. 

It is difficult to manage mental health conditions on your own. Working with a skilled mental health professional can produce life-changing results. Although everyone feels worried or nervous from time to time, anxiety disorders produce fears and worries that aren’t always temporary and can worsen over time.

Here’s what you need to know about the relationship between dyslexia and anxiety and how mental health services can have a profound and far-reaching influence on your daily life.

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What is the relationship between dyslexia and anxiety?

Dyslexia is a life-long learning disability that is not associated with intelligence. There are several ways that dyslexia can impact your mental health, including but not limited to:

  • Financial health
  • Education
  • Physical health
  • Career
  • Social connections
  • Psychological and emotional health

It is important to note that not everyone with dyslexia has mental health challenges in all those areas. They may also not experience problems in all areas all at once. If you or your child has dyslexia, you can probably identify the areas where you need extra support.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, Dr. Samuel T Orton was among the first researchers who recognized the association dyslexia had with emotional challenges. From his research in the early 1900s, he concluded that children with reading difficulties had some of the same issues as adults who had suffered an injury to the left hemisphere of the brain that dealt with reading. 

He and his colleague, psychologist Anna Gillingham, worked together to design and publish effective classroom instruction resources to help a child with dyslexia conquer their specific learning disability challenges with reading comprehension. The method they pioneered is still one of the most commonly used instructions for children with a language processing disorder.

Orton noted that children appeared well-adjusted and happy until they began early reading instruction. Over the years, children with dyslexia became frustrated and experienced social and emotional problems. 

The stress and frustration are based on a student’s inability to learn successfully no matter how hard they try. The experience of appearing to be careless in class while struggling hard to learn basic skills can lead a student to feel chronically inadequate. 

Although the emotional consequences of dyslexia are related to the language processing problem, it is a consequence of the learning disability and not a trigger that causes the disability. In addition to an anxiety disorder, a child or adult with this learning disability may also experience other comorbidities or symptoms of mental health conditions that are important from a research and clinical standpoint, including:

  • Anger
  • Poor self-image
  • Depression
  • Chronic stress
  • Anxious feelings

It is important to have a thorough evaluation since attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia can occur together and may easily be mistaken for each other. Both conditions cause challenges with concentration, information processing, and focus. 

While dyslexia affects mostly reading comprehension and math, ADHD symptoms can have a significant impact on nearly all areas of a child’s or young adult’s life. Dyslexia may be mistaken for ADHD more frequently, which results in a child or young adult not getting the specific support they need for reading and math.

What is dyslexia?

According to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is a language-based learning disability with a cluster of symptoms. Most people have specific issues with language skills that impact reading. They may also have difficulty with pronouncing words, spelling, and writing. 

While the condition is permanent, the impact is different at different stages in a person’s life. For example, during the early school years, dyslexia makes learning to read and spell challenging for children. At work, an adult with this learning disability may find it more difficult to create reports, process statistical information, or get confused when given multiple instructions at once.

While the condition does not get better or worse, the symptoms of a learning disability can change as the demands of school and work change. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke notes that children who are identified early may experience fewer mental health challenges when they receive support from family and friends and participate in a strong remediation program.

Stress associated with symptoms of dyslexia, such as problems with reading comprehension, can increase the risk of anxiety and other mental health issues. According to the International Dyslexia Association, roughly 14% of children in schools nationwide have a condition that qualifies them for help under the special education law, such as dyslexia. 

Nearly 50% of those who qualify under the special education law have a learning disability, and 85% of those have a primary disability in language processing and reading. They estimate as many as 20% of the overall population has some symptoms, including poor spelling, mixing up similar words, and reduced reading experience.

The Learning Disabilities Association of America also provides a comprehensive network of resources for caregivers, students, teachers, and professionals who serve individuals with learning disabilities. These resources include policy and advocacy strategies, information on related disorders, and state-specific resources.

Teenage girl struggling with her schoolwork because of dyslexia

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a typical and normal mental state during which you feel apprehensive about the past or future. Usually, there are unpleasant physical sensations, such as a pounding heart or jitteriness, associated with anxiety. Your mind and body use this state to alert you to the possibility of danger. 

Feeling anxious occasionally is unavoidable, but sometimes those feelings get out of control. When the brain gets stuck on high alert or when anxious feelings intensify and persist, anxiety can get in the way of your daily living. 

Once anxious feelings impact your ability to function, it becomes an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are mental health issues and can become serious problems, such as panic disorder or separation anxiety disorder, which both may impede the ability to function. Several types of anxiety disorders include:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder interfere with daily life for months, if not years. They include having difficulty concentrating, being irritable, difficulty controlling feelings of worry, sleep problems, headaches, unexplained pain, and being easily fatigued.

Social anxiety disorder: People with social anxiety disorder have a persistent and intense fear of being judged by others. The fear of social situations may seem out of their control and get in the way of work, school, and other seemingly non-threatening social situations. People may experience a racing heart, stomach aches, and feel self-conscious.

Panic disorder: People experience sudden and unexpected panic attacks that include a pounding or racing heart, chest pain, feeling of impending doom or of being out of control, sweating, and trembling or tingling. There is a sense of loss of control when there’s no clear or imminent danger.

Phobia-related disorders: Several phobia-related disorders are triggered by an intense fear of a specific situation or object. The feeling of fear is out of proportion to the actual danger. Specific phobias can include a fear of flying, receiving injections, clowns, heights, or spiders.

Persons with dyslexia may develop symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder related to significant stress they may experience at work or school, which may lead to other anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Anxiety may also manifest as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Why do people with dyslexia sometimes struggle with anxiety?

According to the British Dyslexia Association, living with a dyslexic partner can be discouraging and frustrating. It can affect a person’s ability to be organized, lower their self-esteem, and create challenges with timekeeping and self-expression.

Although dyslexia increases a student’s challenge, many dyslexics also have some surprising strengths. The most common things that dyslexic students find challenging are taking notes in class, understanding written information, and reading skills. 

These difficulties may manifest in having problems following sequential instructions or travel directions, learning to tell time, memorizing lists or phone numbers, and staying on topic. Dyslexic children and young persons become tired and frustrated and may have trouble finishing their assignments within the time limit allowed. 

While dyslexics have difficulty with detailed information, they can more easily process big-picture information, which means they see patterns that many other people miss. When caregivers and teachers are unable to identify these strengths, it can increase a student’s frustration with their perceived inability at school and therefore raise their anxiety levels.

Tips for managing anxiety and dyslexia

As you can imagine, since dyslexia increases a student’s challenge to read and follow directions, many young persons have difficulty completing tests and quizzes within the specified time, have test anxiety, and may have difficulty completing their homework. 

One of the best ways to help your students or yourself is to get skilled professional help to develop strategies that reduce anxiety levels and therefore improve information processing, which also helps lower stress.

It is important to know the signs of anxiety so you recognize them in your child or yourself. Because dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence or laziness, you can learn strategies to improve your level of success in the classroom or at work. 

It can also help to listen to other dyslexic students or young adults that have found ways to overcome the learning disorder. Many of the strategies you can use to lower anxiety levels and improve functioning can be learned when working with a skilled mental health professional who has experience treating clients with anxiety. 

Caregivers can strive to communicate calmly with a child during stressful situations. This helps to lower the child’s anxiety level and helps them process the conversation more easily. This is also a time to learn the situations that trigger feelings of anxiety and the strategies that help a young person function successfully in the classroom or at work.

Charlie Health can help

Caregivers and young persons find living with dyslexia challenging. The skilled mental health professionals at Charlie Health can help you and your family learn strategies to lower anxiety levels, which ultimately helps improve the ability to function in the classroom or at work.

If left untreated, anxiety disorders can worsen and have significant implications for students and young adults. Professional help and appropriate treatment are available with skilled therapists who may combine individual therapy, facilitated groups, and family therapy to effectively treat people with mental health issues that impair their daily living.

Our Admissions Team is available 24/7 to discuss your unique needs. Connect with us today!


British Dyslexia Association, Living with a Dyslexic Partner,

International Dyslexia Association, Dyslexia Basics,

International Dyslexia Association, Social and Emotional Problems Related to Dyslexia

National Institute of Mental Health, Anxiety Disorders,

Reading Horizons, Orton-Gillingham Method

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