ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed disorders in children, affecting around 5% of kids nationwide. It’s also a primary reason why some bright children struggle in school, affecting their ability to learn and frustrating their parents and teachers.

ADHD is not currently classified as a learning disability, although its symptoms can make learning in a traditional school setting difficult. ADHD affects many of the traits and behaviors children need to excel in school, which is why many children with ADHD have trouble in the classroom.

Even though ADHD isn’t technically a learning disability, a large percentage of children with ADHD also have a diagnosable learning disability. Some have overlapping symptoms, while others may share a common origin through brain chemistry and physiology.

ADHD And Learning Difficulty

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is often associated with trouble in the classroom or “bouncing off the walls,” paired with trouble focusing.

What is ADHD classified as? ADHD is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder by the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5™). This is the manual produced by the American Psychological Association to help professionals diagnose mental disorders.

Symptoms of ADHD can make learning very difficult for children, including:

  • Trouble paying attention
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor executive function (including the ability to sit still, pay attention, and follow directions)
  • Struggles to sit still for more than a few minutes
  • Impulsive behaviors, such as talking excessively or at inappropriate times
  • Making careless mistakes on schoolwork

There are 3 main subtypes of ADHD, categorized by the predominant symptoms:

  1. Inattentive type, where inattentive traits dominate
  2. Hyperactive-impulsive type, where impulsivity dominates
  3. Combination type, where inattention and impulsivity happen equally

Children with all types of ADHD can struggle with their academic skills for schoolwork and the social skills to fit in with their peers. Because of these difficulties, kids with ADHD tend to have low self-esteem.

What are the effects of ADHD on learning? The effects of ADHD on learning are difficulty paying attention to and completing schoolwork and the inability to focus long enough to follow directions. This can affect not only the information learned and retained but also social interactions and mood.

What Is A Learning Disability?

What is the definition of a learning disability? The definition of a learning disability is a developmental disorder that affects the psychological processes people use to read, write, do math, or think.

Generally speaking, learning disabilities are caused by differences in how the brain is wired. They often are influenced by genetics and tend to run in families.

Learning disabilities cause impairments that make it difficult for children to do the basic tasks that help them perform in school. These children struggle with reading, writing, math, and other core academic skills because of their disabilities, affecting their performance at school.

The Link Between Learning Disabilities And ADHD

Children with ADHD also have diagnosable learning disabilities around 30% of the time. These comorbidities, diseases, or conditions that one person has simultaneously can also create issues at school and exacerbate the effects of ADHD.

There is an incredible amount of symptom overlap between ADHD and learning disabilities. For example, inattention to detail and an inability to focus on words could be symptoms of ADHD or dyslexia. It takes a skilled professional to assess symptoms to make a proper diagnosis.

Common Learning Disabilities In Children With ADHD

What learning disabilities are associated with ADHD? Learning disabilities associated with ADHD include:

These disabilities fall under the blanket term specific learning disability, which includes learning disorders and intellectual disabilities. Between 30 and 50% of kids with a specific learning disability also have ADHD.

In addition to learning disabilities, children with ADHD are more likely to have mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. ADHD also often occurs with oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. All of these conditions can make school very difficult for kids.

Many of the symptoms of ADHD also overlap with symptoms of autism, which is why autistic children are sometimes misdiagnosed with ADHD.

Diagnosing ADHD

Your child’s teacher may assess your child for ADHD and tell you if they’re concerned that your child should be evaluated, but they can’t give a diagnosis. ADHD must be diagnosed by a medical professional, usually a pediatrician or a psychiatrist.

The doctor will give your child a diagnosis of ADHD if they feel your child meets the criteria outlined in the DSM-5. They will interact with your child and evaluate them for ADHD traits and behavior. Your child’s doctor will also ask you or your child’s teacher about possible symptoms.

Because so many symptoms overlap between ADHD and learning disabilities, it can be challenging to get an accurate diagnosis. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your child and ask questions to ensure that a learning disability isn’t masquerading as ADHD, or vice versa.

Treating ADHD And Learning Disabilities

Once your child has a diagnosis, you can work with their doctor and teacher to develop a treatment plan. Traditional ADHD treatment includes medication and therapy, as well as accommodations in the classroom to help your child succeed academically.

Although ADHD isn’t technically a learning disability, it does fall under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). By law, public schools must provide special education services to children with special needs that affect learning, like ADHD.

Many pediatricians reach for a prescription to treat ADHD, but there are other effective treatments that don’t come from a pill bottle. These often start with dietary changes and reducing toxins.

Giving your child a healthy, whole-food diet will provide them with the macro- and micronutrients they need for optimal cognition. A functional medicine specialist can determine whether your child should be taking any supplements in addition to any dietary changes.

A proper diet can also reduce inflammation in the brain and throughout the body, potentially reducing ADHD symptoms. You should also consider eliminating gluten, dairy, and sugar from your child’s diet since they are all major causes of inflammation.

Eat organic foods as much as possible to bypass toxic pesticides or fertilizers that can aggravate symptoms. Avoid other common toxins like artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives in food.

You will also want to with a holistic health professional to identify any other sources of toxins in your child’s environment.

If your child is still struggling to concentrate, you might try giving them a small amount of caffeine. Caffeine is a natural stimulant, so it works similarly to Ritalin or Adderall, but without the side effects. Check with your doctor to find a suitable dosage for your child.

ADHD doesn’t disappear as your child gets older, but finding an effective treatment can help reduce the severity of the symptoms your child experiences. A holistic approach is the best way to ensure that ADHD symptoms are adequately controlled over the long term.

The Outlook for ADHD And Learning Disabilities

The symptoms of ADHD and learning disabilities may overlap, but they are distinct disorders. Although many children who have ADHD have a learning disability and vice versa, an ADHD diagnosis doesn’t automatically mean your child has a learning disability.

There are excellent treatment options for both ADHD and learning disabilities. Although medication is often prescribed to children with ADHD, it can have many adverse side effects. Safer and more effective treatment plans are available as a first resort.

Working with a functional medicine specialist allows you to treat the source of the problems, not just indirectly treat the symptoms. They’ll work with you to design a multilateral approach to heal the underlying causes of ADHD so your child can succeed during their school years and beyond.

If you live in the Roswell, GA, or northern Atlanta metro area, we would love to talk to you about creating a holistic treatment plan for your child. Click here to get in touch with us and learn more about natural treatments for ADHD.


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