Is ADHD a Learning Disability? Can a Child Have Both?

What is Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? What is a learning disability? Can a child have both? Yes, a person may have ADHD and a learning disability. If parents feel something is not right with their child’s behavior or development they must have him evaluated by a medical doctor as soon as possible because there are effective strategies to help children cope with challenges.

Often the first evaluations help rule out what the child may not have such as problems with hearing, eye sight, health issues, allergies, thyroid problems, etc. This post also has 5 ADHD Myths parents should be clear about. Not knowing what is preventing a child from succeeding in school is frustrating for parents, for the child and for his teachers.

If a child has ADHD a management strategy tailored for the child can be started. If a child has a learning disability there are accommodations or support strategies to help this child to succeed in spite of his challenges. And if a child has both ADHD and a learning disability each must be dealt with to help this child to reach his full potential.

The Mayo Clinic Staff writes, “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often persists into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.” It is believed that 75% of children with ADHD will continue to have symptoms in adulthood; however, the levels of hyperactivity tend to lessen as the person gets older.

Hyperactive/Impulsive: Symptoms

In PARENTING A CHILD WITH ADHD by Dr. Kay Trotter, parents will find many answers to their questions about their child who seem to have symptoms of ADHD. One thing I like about Dr. Trotter’s guide is the encouraging advice she has for parents, “Most importantly, remind your child that ADHD doesn’t make him or her broken or bad. Reinforce positive behaviors, stick to productive rules and routines, and nurture your child’s strengths. And, help your child appreciate all of the qualities that make him or her special and unique…

When people picture someone with ADHD, they likely imagine a wild, rambunctious child who misbehaves and seems uncontrollable. Too often, hyperactive/impulsive children are labeled “bad kids” at school and in other social settings.

In truth, however, hyperactive/impulsive children are not bad or even willfully misbehaving. Studies and neurological imaging show that the ADHD brain has an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for impulse control. In other words, the ADHD brain matures slowly, and often incompletely (note: this has nothing to do with intelligence)…”

Comorbidities Common with ADHD

Children with signs of ADHD must be followed, evaluated by medical professionals, receive treatment and have accommodations or strategies to cope with his/her challenges. Some say ADHD is the most under-diagnosed and over-diagnosed disorder. One reason why ADHD is difficult to diagnose is because an individual may have some of the following accompany problems (comorbidities):

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
  • Learning disabilities (LD)
  • Tourette syndrome (TS)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Conduct disorder (CD)
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • Speech problems
  • Substance Abuse disorder in adults

Learning disabilities are due to genetic and/or neurobiological factors or injury that alters brain functioning in a manner, which affects one or more processes related to learning.

Those with a learning disability have average or above average abilities in most areas and are only weak in one or just a few areas. A learning disability is lifelong and may co-exist with other condition. Often children are misdiagnosed because, lets say, a child has a learning disability and his behavior of fidgeting, being inattentive, and other ADHD-like symptoms causes him to receive a diagnosis of ADHD.  With a closer evaluation it is found that he has a learning disability and support in the area of his disability will change his behavior.

So a Person May Have ADHD and a Learning Disability

“Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition which include difficulties with attention, increased activity, and difficulties with impulsivity. Estimates show that 11 percent of school-aged children and about 4 percent of adults have ADHD. It is usually first identified when children are school-aged, although it also can be diagnosed in people of all age groups. In an average classroom of 30 children, research suggests that at least one will have ADHD…”  ADHD Resource Centre

Is ADHD a Learning Disability? Can a Child Have Both? ADHD MythsSo it is a misconception that ADHD is a learning disability. A learning disability is a disorder found in children of normal intelligence who have difficulties in learning specific skills. A child with a learning disability in reading, lets say, may very often not have any other problems in the other areas of learning. A learning disability can be found by school tests that measure performance in the various areas of learning. ADHD is medical condition that requires an evaluation by a  health professional.

A child with any or all of the three sub-types of ADHD: hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, is affected all the time and in all areas of his studies or life.  A child may have both, ADHD and learning disabilities but both are not the same. This is why it is so important to have a thorough evaluation by health professionals and school staff  so parents and teachers know what they are up against and can decide how to help this child.

Many children with learning disabilities and or ADHD have average and above average intelligence but they cannot reach their potential when the effects of these conditions are blocking their way.  They can  be successful if an effective course of action is taken. They can receive medical treatment for ADHD and can be taught skills and strategies and changes to their environment at home and school can be made.

1 The LDAC definition of Learning Disabilities (2002), para. 5.


Five ADHD Myths taken from ©Helpguide.org

MYTH #1: All kids with ADD/ADHD are hyperactive.

FACT: Some children with ADD/ADHD are hyperactive, but many others with attention problems are not. Children with ADD/ADHD who are inattentive, but not overly active, may appear to be spacey and unmotivated.

MYTH #2: Kids with ADD/ADHD can never pay attention.

FACT: Children with ADD/ADHD are often able to concentrate on activities they enjoy. But no matter how hard they try, they have trouble maintaining focus when the task at hand is boring or repetitive.

MYTH #3: Kids with ADD/ADHD could behave better if they wanted to.

FACT: Children with ADD/ADHD may do their best to be good, but still be unable to sit still, stay quiet, or pay attention. They may appear disobedient, but that doesn’t mean they’re acting out on purpose.

MYTH #4: Kids will eventually grow out of ADD/ADHD.

FACT: ADD/ADHD often continues into adulthood, so don’t wait for your child to outgrow the problem. Treatment can help your child learn to manage and minimize the symptoms.

MYTH #5: Medication is the best treatment option for ADD/ADHD.

FACT: Medication is often prescribed for attention deficit disorder, but it might not be the best option for your child. Effective treatment for ADD/ADHD also includes education, behavior therapy, support at home and school, exercise, and proper nutrition.

Helpful Sites on ADHD:

Read our post Hyperactive, Impulsive, Inattentive Children Often Become Adults with ADHD Too.

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