ADHD and Learning Disabilities

Health Writer

How can you help your child cope with ADHD and subsequent Learning Difficulties? There is a way.

ADHD and Learning Disabilities

ADHD is not considered to be a learning disability although it can sometimes interfere with a child's ability to do well in school. The National Institute of Mental Health indicates that 20%-30% of children with ADHD also have a learning disability. Learning Disabilities can appear in preschool children as problems in understanding sounds or words or having a hard time using words to express themselves. School age children with learning disabilities can have difficulty in reading, spelling, writing and/or arithmetic. One of the most well known learning disability is dyslexia, a reading disability. It is estimated that up to 8% of school age children have a reading disability.

Some symptoms, such as disorganization, weak executive functioning and the inability to use strategies can be present in both ADHD and Learning Disabilities. Children frustrated with Learning Disabilities can also exhibit symptoms similar to ADHD, such as inattention and inability to focus. Even so, ADHD and Learning Disabilities are separate and independent disorders. Although some people have suggested that the co-morbidity between ADHD and Learning Disabilities is high enough to warrant evaluation for all children with ADHD, most school districts will not perform tests without a child exhibiting symptoms of Learning Disabilities. Some parents choose to have their child tested independently of the school to determine if both exist.

Some of the more common Learning Disabilities include:

Developmental Speech and Language Disorder

  • Developmental Articulation Disorder - A child having difficulty controlling their rate of speech. Young children may be slower in beginning to make speech sounds.
  • Developmental Expressive Language Disorder - A child having difficulty expressing themselves with words.
  • D__evelopmental Receptive Language Disorder - A child having difficulty distinguishing sounds.

Academic Skills Disorders

  • Developmental Reading Disorder - This is more commonly known as Dyslexia. Difficulties with any of the processes involved in reading are included in Dyslexia; however, many people may also have trouble distinguishing or separating sounds in the spoken word.
  • Developmental Writing Disorder - A child has problems with any of the functions involved in writing including vocabulary, hand movement and memory.
  • Developmental Arithmetic Disorder - This is also called Dyscalculia and includes problems with basic math facts, alignment of math problems, and recognition of numbers and difficulty with memorization of facts.

Motor skills developmental problems or delayed development are also sometimes considered to be Learning Disabilities. More than one area of learning problems can be present in an individual.

Both parents and teachers are able to request an evaluation for Learning Disabilities. If a parent believes their child has any of the above disabilities and they are interfering with the child's ability to succeed in the classroom, they should request an evaluation. This request must be in writing.

Once a parent has requested an evaluation, they should gather as much information as possible. Keep a notebook and write down your observations when your child is completing homework, reading or writing. Include information on where they seem to be experiencing the most difficulty. In addition, talk with your child's teachers to find out performance levels and areas that your child is having problems in the classroom. If you use additional care givers, such as relatives, babysitters or after school programs, talk with them as well. Ask them to record their observations.

The school should contact you with the date of the evaluation and who will be performing it. Provide a copy of your observations to be included in the evaluation.

Once the process has been completed, you should be notified and invited in to the school to discuss the findings. If a Learning Disability has been discovered, you will meet with a team to determine classroom and school strategies that will work to help your child succeed. The school may set up an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), with specific items for your child's teachers to implement.

If you disagree with the results of the evaluation, you are able to have an independent evaluation completed. You will need to pay for an outside evaluation. If you have an independent evaluation performed, you will need to submit the results to the school. The completed evaluation should include the following information:

  • Diagnosis according to DSM-IV
  • Medical History
  • Academic History
  • Current Symptoms
  • Examples of Impairment
  • Explanation of ruling out of other diagnosis
  • List of all standardized tests used during the evaluation
  • Summary
  • Suggestions for accommodations
  • Name and qualifications of person completing the evaluation (complete evaluation should be on the provider's letterhead that includes name, address and phone number)

This evaluation may be submitted to the school with a request for them to readdress the need for accommodations.

If you still are not satisfied, contact your school district to ask about the appeal process. (This may be different in different areas, so you will need to find the specific process for your school district.)

Suggested Reading:

FriendsOfQuinn.com: Where learning disabilities meet support

Preparing for School Meetings

How IDEA Applies to Children with ADHD

Section 504 for Children with ADHD

Classroom Management of ADHD

Suggestions for IEPs or Section 504s