The Struggle of Black Boys Battling ADHD and Dyslexia in Public Schools.

There are commonalities between ADHD and Dyslexia. Students who have ADHD or dyslexia may learn to talk late, learn words slowly, have difficulty forming words, problems remembering the sequence of events, avoid reading or speaking, and have difficulty processing spoken language and directions. Since I’ve been a Special Education teacher, I’ve had quite a few black children diagnosed with either ADHD or dyslexia. What’s even more alarming is the fact that literacy proficiency tends to also be a barrier. It is hard to tell whether the diagnosis of ADHD or dyslexia was necessary or if these black boys were pushed down the special education track because of their literacy deficits. Black boys have more challenges in public schools because they are overrepresented in special education programs. 

One reason is that black boys are overrepresented in special education programs is because  ADHD symptoms are closely related to dyslexia. Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that makes reading, spelling, decoding, and recognizing words extremely difficult. I see it daily with my boys. They struggle with basic skills that should have been mastered in third grade. Overcrowded special education classes don’t have the resources or supports needed to reach our Black boys. Parents don’t realize that co-taught settings provide an additional teacher in the classroom, but is it the right setting? 

How we educate Black boys in special education programs is critical! 

The learning environment for Black boys battling ADHD or Dyslexia makes a difference. In my classes, I give my students their own work stations. I combine social-emotional learning techniques into my classroom management. Competitive activities work well for Black boys who have ADHD or dyslexia. For example, I utilize multiplication facts tournaments and flashcards to help scholars struggling with math foundational skills to grasp the concept.  I use similar methods in reading and writing lessons to get them excited about learning. Accountability through classroom roles and jobs helps keep the boys motivated while teaching/reinforcing important life skills. It works! 

Black boys who have ADHD or Dyslexia need to be engaged in learning. 

Although black boys may display hyperactivity at times, that doesn’t mean that we should push Black boys into sports or entertainment. It is our job to partner with the parents of Black boys to help transfer this energy into reading and learning. Helping parents to engage Black boys who have ADHD or dyslexia in learning requires us to know the signs. More Black parents need to know the early signs of detection.

Black parents should seek the help of teachers and support staff in early learning centers and grades K-1st. We fail Black boys by 2nd grade because we know test data is pulled at this grade level to determine prison beds and policies. Therefore, we must be more proactive in early grades to get our Black boys the help they need. 

What can we do to catch signs early? 

Partnerships with teachers are key. This year, I’ve seen at least three of my scholars battling dyslexia who also have ADHD. From teachers’ notes, I can see the difficulties they have had and the lack of literacy support. Teachers are on the frontline with parents to help catch early signs of ADHD and dyslexia. Also, a lot of parents aren’t aware they can request the school counselor or test administrator to give the Woodcock-Johnson test. From my experience, it’s most helpful for parents of Black boys to request this in grades 2, 4 and 6 if they are noticing the following challenges in learning. 

  • Inability to master reading strategies 
  • Difficulty reading aloud
  • Slow and messy handwriting
  • Spelling problems
  • Mispronouncing names or words
  • Reading below expected grade level
  • Low Lexile scores 

Black Boys Don’t Have to Suffer in Public Schools . . . 

They have to suffer in special education programs due to the over-identification of Black boys with special needs; i.e. ADHD and Dyslexia. As educators, we must urge more Black parents to work with teachers and vice versa. We also have to rethink co-taught settings, pacing scales, and standards to provide better educational outcomes for Black boys.


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