- Need to know: ADHD learning difficulties
- ADHD effects on learning
- Teaching strategies ADHD
- Learning strategies for ADHD
- Is ADHD a learning disability?
Is ADHD a learning difficulty?
ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and learning disabilities are two distinct conditions that often coexist in children. While they are separate diagnoses, there is a significant overlap between the two. A child with ADHD is likely to experience different levels of difficulties with attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, symptoms that impact their ability to sit and learn in a typical classroom. Children with learning disabilities may also exhibit very similar traits to those with ADHD, these commonalities may make it difficult to identify and may delay individual diagnoses. Overlapping features include:
Inattention: Both ADHD and learning disabilities can manifest as difficulties with sustained attention, focus, and staying on task during academic activities. Children may struggle to concentrate and may appear easily distracted or disorganised.
Executive functioning deficits: Executive functions involve cognitive processes such as planning, organisation, time management, and working memory. Deficits in executive functioning are common in both ADHD and learning disabilities, leading to challenges with organising thoughts, task initiation, and self-regulation.
Academic performance: Both conditions can impact academic performance. Children may experience difficulties with reading, writing, spelling, maths, or other subject areas due to attentional difficulties, processing speed issues, or challenges in integrating and applying learned information.
Social and emotional challenges: Children with ADHD and learning disabilities may face social and emotional difficulties. They may struggle with impulse control, managing emotions, or making and maintaining friendships due to executive functioning deficits and the impact of their academic challenges.
Research shows that 30-50% of children with ADHD also have some type of learning disability (LD). An LD sometimes explains why a child on effective ADHD medication can sit still and stay focused and yet struggle academically.
Learning difficulties with ADHD: Things to consider
Learning disabilities are neurodevelopmental conditions that affect how children process information and acquire certain academic skills. They can impact various areas such as reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia), mathematics (dyscalculia), or overall learning (specific learning disability). Recognising the signs is crucial for obtaining the right support and interventions:
Academic specific challenges: Learning disabilities tend to manifest as specific difficulties in one or more academic areas. For instance, dyslexia is characterised by difficulties in reading and decoding words, while dyscalculia affects maths skills.
Consistent and persistent challenges: Learning disabilities-related difficulties are consistent and tend to persist over time, even with additional support and practice.
Unrelated to attention: Unlike ADHD, learning disabilities are not directly related to attention and impulsivity issues. Children with learning disabilities may have typical attention and focus but still struggle with specific academic tasks.
Intellectual ability: Learning disabilities are not indicative of a child’s overall intelligence. Children with learning disabilities may have average or above-average intelligence in areas unrelated to their specific learning challenges.
Without early identification and the right support children with ADHD and learning disorders are more likely to:
- Repeat a grade
- Be suspended
- Dropout of school
- Not start or finish a tertiary degree
- Be unemployed
ADHD classroom strategies
Focus on strengths: Children with ADHD and learning differences struggle everyday in the classroom, and without immediate and targeted support, these difficulties may turn into a sense of inadequacy that can permeate their whole world. Take the time to understand your child’s strengths and to share them with their educators. Creating opportunities for a child to succeed at home and at school is crucial in helping them develop positive self-perception and belief in their abilities.
Keep a record: Carefully take note of all your concerns, including your child’s difficulties, and symptoms using the Keywell App. Use that and any other specialist reports/assessments to advocate for accommodations for your child in school, and for accurate diagnoses and treatment plans.
Comprehensive assessment: Seek a comprehensive evaluation by qualified professionals, such as educational psychologists or specialists. It’s crucial to identify the specific nature of the challenges your child is facing and to develop an appropriate support plan tailored to their needs. Understanding the unique combination of difficulties is essential in providing effective strategies and interventions to help the child succeed academically and in other areas of their life.
Individualised Education/Learning Plan (IEP/ILP): Collaborate with educators and specialists to develop plans that outline accommodations, modifications, and support strategies. These plans can address academic needs, executive functioning challenges, and social-emotional well-being.
Structured environment: Provide structure, routine, and clear expectations at home and school. Consistency and predictability help children with ADHD and learning disabilities feel more secure and can improve focus and self-regulation.
Supportive environment: Create a safe environment where your child feels comfortable discussing their challenges and seeking help. Encourage open communication and emphasise that everyone learns differently. Highlight their strengths to boost their confidence.
Multimodal instruction: Utilise a variety of techniques that leverage your child’s strengths to reinforce learning. Incorporate visual aids, hands-on activities, and assistive technologies to enhance engagement and comprehension.
Break tasks into manageable steps: Help your child break down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Teach them strategies like creating to-do lists, using visual organisers, or setting timers to aid in organisation and task completion.
Teach self-advocacy skills: Teach your child to understand their learning needs and advocate for themselves. Encourage them to communicate their challenges and request assistance when necessary. Help them develop self-advocacy skills so they can actively participate in their educational journey.
Collaborate with professionals: Maintain regular communication with teachers, specialists, and therapists involved in your child’s education. Sharing insights and working together ensures consistent support across different environments.
Seek additional resources: Explore community resources, support groups, and online platforms that provide information, strategies, and guidance for parents of children with learning disabilities. Connecting with other parents facing similar challenges can offer valuable insights and support.