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Bipolar Disorder and the Connection to Dyslexia

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Biology 103
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

Bipolar Disorder and the Connection to Dyslexia

Meredith Stoll

Dyslexia is affecting more and more children every year, and although most educators would agree that dyslexics are "not people who see backwards, (1)" there is still no solid theory on why dyslexics cannot differentiate between the sounds "or" and "ro." At the same time, bipolar disorder is becoming more and more understood by scientists as more and more people, especially children, are diagnosed with every year. These two seemingly different disorders, both lacking a cure, are often found within the same children, and yet no substantial research has been conducted nor have educators been taught how to teach some one who is both dyslexic and bipolar.

The most universal diagnosis of bipolar disorder consists of massive mood swings, ranging from manic to severe depression, all within a few hours. Manic episodes often consist of long periods, in which sufferers may feel elevated, think that they are invincible, have trouble focusing on one topic, and need little to no sleep. Depression episodes can also be long, but instead of riling sufferers, it makes them fall into a state a feeling hopeless, increased apathy, decreased appetite, and "a drop in grades, or inability to concentrate (2)."

Bipolar disorder, especially found in children and adolescents, is not just a phase that they can hope to out grow. It is a biological phenomenon in which the brain overworks in some areas to compensate for others not working hard enough. Neurotransmitters are cells that send signals between brain cells using chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine, also known as monoamines (2). In bipolar patients, "40 percent have a loss of the serotonin 1a receptor, which may contribute to the atrophy of neurons, and may set off depression (3)." These lack of neurons affect the other parts of the brain that control understandings of rewards, possible dangers, and emotions. By not having as many messenger cells, these areas of the brain are not as connected to each other, meaning that sufferers' brains are not able to control themselves as much as a person without bipolar disorder because their brains are "wired differently (4)."

Bipolar disorder used to be thought of as an adults-only disorder. While only 1-2 percent of the adult populations suffer from this disorder, it is now thought that up to one third or 3.4 million children may be exhibiting symptoms of bipolar disorder (3). Bipolar disorder by itself would seem bad enough, but "it is suspected that a significant number of children diagnosed in the United States with attention-deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD) have early onset bipolar disorder instead of, or along with, ADHD (2)."

ADHD is, like most disorders, not completely understood, and although the symptoms are now recognized, the causes are still in dispute. Sufferers are often hyperactive, unruly, and unable to concentrate. Medications as Ritalin are often used to combat such hyperactive symptoms and help sufferers return to a normal life. While the symptoms are often treated, the cause of them is not understood nearly as well. ADHD is thought to be the result in imbalances, within and outside of the body. Factors such as congenital and biochemical are thought to be main causes, although more and more research is proving that stress can also be a significant contributor to the outbreak of symptoms. For every child or adult who is suffering from ADHD, approximately 50 percent also suffer from other learning disorders, the main one being dyslexia (5).

At one time, a dyslexic was dismissed being lazy or even dumb. It affects one in 20 people (6), and is now known as one of the most common learning disorders. Thought to be congenital, dyslexics have problems "translating language to thought or thought to language (1)," meaning that they often have problems reading or remembering how to spell a word, not matter how often they see it. One theory as to why dyslexics cannot make the connection between written and spoken language is that the they have smaller magnocellular pathways, routes on which magnocells, or nerve cells found between the retina and the place where the right and left images are combined to form one image, carry the image to the brain. Since these pathways are smaller, some of the information may be "lost (7)."

But Dyslexia is not purely a visual problem, and the answer to the riddle has yet to be solved. One thing researchers do know it that stress, anxiety, and other factors can increase the impairment of this disorder (5). Men and women, along with children cannot have their dyslexia cured, but they can learn to live with it. Unfortunately, dyslexia does not display many physical symptoms; so diagnosing the disorder can be difficult, unless one knows quite a bit about it. As a result, many children are not diagnosed until later, and still have to deal with the stresses of being thought of as an underachiever or having a lower IQ by other fellow students and even teachers. When dyslexia is combined with ADHD or bipolar disorder, the levels of stress and anxiety on an individual skyrocket, making all of the conditions worse, and forcing the student to have an even harder time with school and everyday life.

The possible link between dyslexia and bipolar disorder has not been nearly as extensively investigated as the two disorders in isolation. But a link may exist. If about majority of cases of bipolar disorder also involve ADHD and about half of all ADHD cases involve dyslexia and/or another learning disability, it may be possible that a direct link between bipolar disorder and dyslexia may exist. At the moment though, there is no research ongoing directly connecting the two.

Teachers are responsible for educating all children, including those with learning disabilities. To, a multisensory teaching approach, known as the Orton and Gillian approach (8) has been proven to help dyslexics learn and master previously impossible tasks substantially. But, the Orton and Gillian method can only help those with dyslexia alone and does not ever consider other disorders that may be at play within the same student. Although the multisensory approach can be easily adapted for each dyslexic, seeing as each case of dyslexia varies in severity, it has yet to be modified to compensate for ADHD or bipolar disorder. Until the day when scientists and teachers formulate connection and method of teaching that deals directly with a combination of learning disorders, sufferers are going to continue to struggle, in turn making their disorders even worse and giving them more power over their lives.



1) - a database for articles and links for psychological disorders


3) Kluger, Jeffrey, "Young and Bipolar," Time Magazine 160 (August 19, 2002): 38-51








Comments made prior to 2007

"Bipolar Disorder and the Connection to Dyslexia" by Meredith Stoll should be the basis for some serious research by someone like Sally Shaywitz, MD at Yale New Haven and author of "Overcoming Dyslexia." I have been a youth advocate since I was young. At age 47 I was diagnosed with the "disabilities" of dyslexia and ADD. For the past 18 years I have studied dyslexia in particular and education in general and have come to a few alarming conclusions regarding my "disabilities."


First of all, dyslexia and ADD are great gifts and suspected to occur as much as 18% overall according to the International Dyslexia Association. Tom West does a wonderful job of explaining the gift of dyslexia in his book "In The Mind's Eye" as he identifies many of the worlds great dyslexics from Albert Einstein to Leonardo DaVincci. Conclusion: Education is disabled, not me.


My research indicates that among homeless, prison and 12 step populations, dyslexia occurrs 3 to 4 times the 18% IDA supposition. If we use Meridith's research of 1 in 20 ratio, or 5%, then we are talking 12 to 15 times the general population. In either case this amounts to a horrific indictment against the educational systems severely outdated and myopic approach to teaching language and logic "to the test." Public education could certainly take a few lessons from the incredible successes of Rudolph Steiner's Waldorf Schools over the past 85 years. Ernest Boyer and his "Eight Human Commonalities" and Howard Gardner, the world's leading expert on Multiple Intelligence Theory could lead the way to correcting this wasting of human minds and potential. My own personal experience indicates that the artistic community has a very high incidence of dyslexics. Conclusion: Education knows better, therefore it can do better.


Most all professionals I work with believe that ADD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, etc. have their roots in the dyslexically wired brain. Our unwillingness to nurture these wonderfully gifted individuals effectively disenfranchises them (this was certainly my experience and that of hundreds of youth I have worked with past 40 years) to the point that their self esteem is so negatively impacted that they wind up homeless, imprisoned, addicted or committing suicide. Conclusion: If these assumptions, belief's and theory's are correct, public education in the United States is not just wasting extraordinary human potential, it is likely killing many of our students.


I do hope someone out there is paying attention ... Barry Finch, 10 February 2007



Charlotte Mais's picture

Dyslexia and Bipolar

My Son is 33, from the age of 5 I have been fighting for him, all wanted to help, but at that time things where not known in depth.

His life has been a struggle, he did 6 years in Portland young offenders. Prison officers there understood him, and helped him more, then any doctors, psychiatrists, or psychologist, also me as I knew where he was at night(safe).

There was an officer in Portland, had been there 23 years, and told me prisons are full of boys like my son. Still in and out of prison, and I'm still trying to make sense of things.

He isn't bad he has defects. Mainly being his first phychologist when he was 7 to 8 marked his Bangor test wrong. I still have all his papers today, also him saying 'dyslexia what ever that is?'.

At 14 and a half already excluded, Granny paid for him to go to Bath Dyslexia Unit. They where horrified as well as, his father, brother, and I. I his mum had kept all his papers.

Wrote things daily, with the intentions, of Writing a Book.
To be called The Black Sheep, after his sentence, I couldn't call the book The Black Sheep, due to political correctness.
Also I had a Breakdown.

I Remember his mood was either high or low, no inbetween.
Was there Bi-Polar there?

Serendip Visitor's picture

dyslexia/bipolar connection

I am diagnosed with both dyslexia first/then bipolar. The dyslexia was when I was very young, so young in fact, that when I was rediagnosed and given the bipolar disorder diagnosis, the dyslexia wasn't even considered. This has caused a severe problem with my growth as a woman, wife, Christian American. My empathy for all who have this is great. The examinations and discrimination towards me is great. I have been locked up for just a state of confusion, because people do not understand I am not even violent in anyway, and I have been diagnosed with bipolar, they are afraid and I end up getting put into a mental health facility. It only now, to me, is considered a place of rest to me. This, my friends, is what it has come down to....

Serendip Visitor's picture

I have the same diagnoses

I was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 7. I also had my IQ tested at that time and it was 134. Throughout primary school I struggled with general communication and lashed out physically. This period also included a struggle with intense migraine attacks. Eventually a doctor linked this with dairy products. Once these were cut out of my diet, the migraines subsided. I was fortunate that I had a strong mother who fought for me and got the special help I needed. I saw a dyslexia specialist and addended a special school for people with various learning disabilities once a week. In the fulness of time, she corrected my dyslexia as best she could and I was able to go onto to university and a professional career. I look back and realise that I also probably had undiagnosed ADHD. Again, my mother dealt with this by making me attend Judo classes twice a week, swimming club three times a week and scouts. These activities helped to alleviate my excess energy. The icing on the cake was being diagnosed with Bipolar at the age of 25. Most people use one side of their brain or the other. I recently learned that dyslexics use both sides of their brains at the same time which causes conflict. Most people also go through life with relatively stable mood. I believe that if you can find equilibrium, left and right, up and down, you have the perfect mind. The mind works very much like a gyroscope and during a recent manic episode, I was able to sync my mind with the gyroscope in my self winding watch. The watch stopped! Far more research is urgently needed into the mind and researchers should spent more time interviewing patients rather than observing them. Mental illness is just the brain getting out of alinement and a period of treatment and medication helps to get us back on track. The doctors really could learn so much more if they didn't just treat the symptoms but asked more questions and didn't just dismiss the answers, no matter how outrageous.

Stella Rouse's picture

Your story is my story, Like

Your story is my story,
Like you I followed my diagnosis of Bi-polar with that of Dyslexia and am now eventually linking it all backwards from my 8 year old dyslexic son, back to my own experiences, to my parents and further to my grandparents. The link between Dyslexia and Bi-polar is strong.
Firstly I am looking at the Omega 3 EPA-DHA levels which are ‘severely depleted’ through pregnancy and breastfeeding and now linked to postnatal depression. Secondly I am looking at my blood sugar levels [the brains source of energy], to see if there is a link between the dyslexic mind working harder and possibly needing more fuel. I have lots of theories and links but I am only in the process of backing them all up.

You ‘MUST’ read the new book August 2011: ‘The Dyslexic Advantage' by Dr Brock L Eide & Dr Fernette F.Eide, it has changed my own perception of ‘myself’: ‘that I am only good at what I do because I work very hard at overcoming my inherent stupidity’. This will not happen to my children or their children! The book argues that the inherited dyslexic mind works differently.
I am relieved to find that I am not alone in looking for a root ‘cause’ and not just a ‘quick fix’ to mask the various ’symptoms’ of dyslexia and bi-polar depression, and that there are others looking for the link between them.
Does the dyslexic mind eventually give up hope in todays ‘well read’ and highly educated society and resign itself to accepting its ‘perceived’ place in life and take the drugs for being different, with the constant worry and threat hanging over them, that there is the ‘mental institute’ for those who persist in saying that the doctors may have it wrong, but that is my mothers story.
I have children who have inherited this link so I have to keep looking for the answer.
'There is a fine line between genius and madness', is the ‘inherited’ dyslexic standing on that line?
You are not alone,

candace arnold's picture

the school cannot

the school cannot understand! I am fighting with my son's school at this time in regards his dyslexia.

my son (who is 13)was tested at age 5.

The dyslexia schools can help. research on google.

Anonymous's picture

Bipolar & Dyslexia

My husband was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child and was never helped to overcome that obstacle. He is extremely bright and can do almost anything and yet he thinks himself - "stupid". This is so far from the truth. This last year '07, he was diagnosed "Bipolar" and has been suffering from this. My youngest son, is having terrible difficulties at school and I have always believed that he is dyslexic. He is the youngest of 9 children and the only child I have with my husband who is dyslexic and bipolar. I am very concerned and can not get the teachers to take me seriously. The say they gave given my son some tests and they don't think he is dyslexic. I disagree. Now I have been researching Dysgraphia and feel that this connection with dyslexia tells of all of my sons symptoms. We have no insurance, where do I go from here, how do I get him tested and get help? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Serendip Visitor's picture


Have you gotten help yet? This was posted in '08? There are plenty of ways to get help for your son and your husband. However, your comment itself also showed a bit of confusion the way it was written. Are you having difficulty yourself due the stress and anxiety involved in this situation? Are you still with your husband? Are you alright? Have you sought help for yourself through a Pastor or church? Sometimes, they can first guide you, then refer you for help financially. There is also usually a Village Hall located in every town that has financial help available to those in need. There is also usually state aides if need be. I was helped by the state when I was younger and my parents could not afford to pay for me in medical ways. I have tried to make sure, that I work for a living, or am a productive American Citizen, even though I am now disabled. There were and are still times I seek outside help. There is no shame in it. We are all human beings and creatures of our God.