Is Dyslexia a Red Flag for Underwriters?
Dyslexia and dyscalculia are relatively common developmental disorders that can present in many ways. They are usually mild forms with no real impact on daily life, but they can also be severe conditions that cause persistent struggles in school and at work.
Underwriters could reasonably ask whether a person with such a developmental learning disorder is at risk of worsening symptoms over time, leading to occupational disability, but can learning disorders really affect someone’s health status and lead to mental health issues?
By definition, dyslexia and dyscalculia negatively affect reading, writing and spelling abilities, or mathematical performance. Both are usually diagnosed early in elementary school or even kindergarten but can go undetected until adulthood.
Importantly, these disorders can occur despite having normal intellectual capacity, educational opportunity, and without causative visual or auditory impairments.
There is no cure for dyslexia and dyscalculia. It is only possible to learn to adapt to and manage the impairments through learned techniques, learning-style adjustments, and practice. Having learned how to cope with a reading or math disorder, one can successfully use those skills to perform reading and math related tasks in the future.
People affected by these kinds of cognitive impairments can still excel in school and have successful careers if given the proper support.
The most effective treatment for either dyslexia or dyscalculia starts in childhood and varies depending on the severity of the condition and the person-specific manifestation. Treatment plans are created on an individual basis but share common aspects revolving around providing individual support for reading, spelling and math.
For dyslexia, treatment plans focus mainly on providing additional reading support with a specialist as well as working with phonics. Technology can play a role with speech-to-text programmes and writing assistants providing “automatic” help with writing and spelling.
Dyscalculia is treated similarly, revolving around giving additional, specialized instruction in math. Breaking down concepts or problems into more manageable pieces and taking additional time to complete math problems can also be beneficial. As dyscalculia and dyslexia often occur in tandem, improvements in reading ability can translate into improved math skills as well.
Dyslexia and dyscalculia can affect the life of a person, depending not only on the disorder severity but also on the individual perception of it and the nature of support from the person’s surroundings.
Most young children with learning disorders are well-adjusted and happy. Only when they start to attend school, and the deficits become more apparent, can stigmatization and lack of support cause them to develop feelings of inferiority, stress, anxiety, anger and sadness, which can last into adulthood. Therefore, an elevated risk of comorbid mental disorders is not surprising, and early intervention is preferable.
The rate at which dyslexia and dyscalculia occur in conjunction is high – in up to 40% of cases. Other developmental disorders – such as dysgraphia, which involves difficulties with the physical act of writing and dyspraxia (a co-ordination disorder) – may also be present.
The presence of multiple developmental disorders has been shown to increase the risk for psychopathology when compared to an isolated diagnosis.
At underwriting, we need to consider several aspects. In and of itself, a dyslexia or dyscalculia diagnosis does not prevent an applicant from being offered cover. People with dyslexia or dyscalculia who have adopted successful learning strategies, or who otherwise have shown that they are adapted to their condition, present a very low risk.
The most important aspect of dealing with a case involving a learning disability is the presence of comorbidities. As noted, some of the most common comorbidities are ADHD and depression/anxiety. In any case, where a dyslexia or dyscalculia impairment appears, the case should be checked for the possible presence of any of these common comorbidities.
If there are any comorbidities, then they should be rated based on the characteristics of that individual’s conditions, but when the case of dyslexia or dyscalculia has no comorbidities, a Life, Critical Illness, or TPD benefit can usually be evaluated as a minimal risk. As the disorders are generally diagnosed in childhood, by the time a person is of age and ready to apply for insurance coverage, we can safely assume that they have managed to cope with his or her condition (e.g. having successfully completed some form of higher education and/or maintaining a job). Therefore, in underwriting, these learning disorders in insolation are not a cause for concern.