How to spot the signs of undiagnosed disorders in children

Every child is unique. Therefore, it can sometimes be very problematic to identify developmental problems or learning difficulties that have not been diagnosed.

It’s more common than you might think that serious problems are not also addressed – a 2018 report by the UCL Institute of Health Equity found that 40% of people with learning disabilities went undiagnosed in childhood.

Take autism, for example – this is more of a developmental disorder than a learning disability, but around a third of autistic children have learning difficulties. “They can be difficult to diagnose,” explains Hannah Hayward, a neurological development specialist at the mental health clinic Clinical Partners ( “While there are many different ways people with autism or ADHD are present, there are some key signs to look out for and steps you can take to ensure your child is getting the right support.”

Other potentially hidden problems are dyslexia and dyspraxia. But how can you, as a parent rather than an expert, spot the signs of these fairly common problems?



Hayward Says Children With Autism Might Have Problems With …

Relationships and Friendships – Difficulty managing the beginning and end of friendships and problems in resolving conflicts.

Transitions – Moving to both secondary school and university is a big trigger for many autistic people if they seem to have got on well beforehand.

Senses – autistic children can be both sensory (uncomfortable with sounds, lights, textures on the skin, smells of food) and sensory searching (enjoying the feel of certain textures or sniffing things). This could mean, for example, that they do not eat certain foods or that they do not wear certain clothes.

Intense Interests – You may take an intense interest in common activities, such as applying makeup, but do so repeatedly to irritate the skin.

Communication – You may have difficulty expressing your needs and feelings.

What to do if you think your child is on the autism spectrum

Hayward encourages parents to speak to the school’s teachers and Special Education Coordinator (SENCo) and their GP and visit the National Autistic Society website (NAS – for more advice.

“Some people live their entire lives without a diagnosis of autism and without adequate support,” said Tim Nicholls, director of politics and public affairs at NAS. “In some cases, they develop significant mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, and are in crisis. ”


Dr. Tony Lloyd, CEO of the ADHD Foundation ( estimates that 5.26% of people have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but only 2.9% of children in the UK are diagnosed. “So we miss 40% of them – mostly girls, as girls are less hyperactive and therefore often go unnoticed.”

Lloyd Says Children With ADHD Could …

Impulsive – this can make it difficult for the child to meet the demands of life. “This leads to frustration and emotion,” explains Lloyd.

Inattentive – This can lead to poor memory, difficulty organizing and planning thoughts, and poor initiation of tasks, which can be associated with a lack of education.

Hyperactive – some children are hyperactive. Lloyd says this is the least debilitating aspect of ADHD, but the one that parents and teachers find the most difficult.

Suffering from related conditions – ADHD rarely occurs alone, explains Lloyd – 42% of children also have dyslexia and 26% have autism or dyscalculia (difficulty with math), dyspraxia, and tics.

Immature – ADHD causes a neurodevelopmental delay of around two to three years, so children with this condition may behave immaturely.

“It is a myth that all children with ADHD misbehave,” says Lloyd.

“The hyperactive child will of course require parents and teachers to be more vigilant. ADHD is not a behavioral disorder, but rather a neurodevelopmental disorder that if not identified and supported can materially affect some children with lifelong consequences. “

What to do if you think your child may have ADHD

Undiagnosed and untreated ADHD increases the risk of mental health problems in adolescence and adulthood, says Lloyd. If parents are concerned that their child has ADHD, they should speak to their school and family doctor and get an assessment from a specialist pediatrician, he says.


Dyslexia is a learning disability that primarily affects reading and spelling. “Dyslexia is often detected in elementary school, even though some people’s coping skills are so good that dyslexia difficulties don’t become apparent until much later,” says the British Dyslexia Association (BDA –

“There are some obvious signs, such as a ‘prickly’ profile, which means that a child has areas of strong ability in addition to vulnerabilities.”

The BDA says some of the general signs to look for are …

Slow processing speed – causes slow spoken and / or written language. Young children may have difficulty learning to sing or recite the alphabet and language development may be slower. Elementary school age children can do poor and messy written work, confuse and be reluctant to read similar letters like b / d, p / g, etc.

Poor focus – young children can find it difficult to pay attention, sit still and hear stories, and older children can be class clowns, disruptive, or withdrawn.

Difficulty following instructions – dyslexics may seem not to be listening and are easily distracted. They can also be bad timekeepers and not good at personal organization.

Forgetting words – You may not recognize familiar words, have trouble remembering something in the order, such as: B. on weekdays, and are confused about the difference between concepts like left and right and up and down.

What to do if you suspect your child has dyslexia

A diagnostic assessment can be performed by a subject teacher or an educational psychologist who will produce a report on the child’s strengths and challenges. The BDA emphasizes that it is important to work closely with your child’s school. Further information can be found on the BDA website.


Dyspraxia, also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD), causes problems with fine and / or gross motor coordination and affects approximately 5% of school-age children. Dr. Sally Payne, Chair of the Dyspraxia Foundation Research Panel (, says, “Poor awareness of the condition means that dyspraxia often goes undetected and many families have no explanation for their child’s difficulties and have no access to support your child needs. “

The Dyspraxia Foundation says that signs of dyspraxia in children …

Slow to Reach Milestones – “Parents often find that their child is slower to reach milestones, such as walking, and to dress on their own,” explains Payne. “These capabilities will eventually be achieved, but with more effort and variability in performance.”

Problems moving large and small bodies – Balance and posture can be impaired, as can the ability to grip and manipulate equipment such as pencils and cutlery. “Poor pencil grip and awkward movements in sports school are often early indicators in school,” says Payne.

Poor organization and memory – Many children with dyspraxia have difficulty planning, organizing, time management, and memory.

Underperformance in School – While dyspraxia does not affect intelligence, poor handwriting and slow processing speed can cause dyspraxic children to be underachieved in school.

What to do if you think your child may have dyspraxia

Parents who are concerned about their child’s development should speak to their child’s health visitor or teacher to see if they have similar concerns. In this case, the child can be referred to the school’s SENCo or other professionals for further assessment. A formal exercise assessment and medical assessment are an integral part of the diagnosis.


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