The Relationship Between ADHD and Learning Disabilities

Lindsay Knake

| 2 min read

Lindsay Knake is a brand journalist for Blue Cross Blue...

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities can appear to have a lot in common. But what is the relationship between these conditions?

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattentiveness, an inability to focus on tasks, and fidgety behavior among other physical and mental indicators. In adults, ADHD may lead to difficulty with executive functioning, inconsistent performance at work, and frustration.
However, some with ADHD can hyperfocus, especially on a topic they are interested in.
ADHD is one of the most common conditions diagnosed in children in the U.S., and it’s becoming increasingly diagnosed in adults.

What are learning disabilities?

A learning disability as a persistent difficulty learning and using academic skills, such as reading, writing, language, or math, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fifth Edition (DSM-5).
Learning disabilities are not a measure of intelligence, but a person with a learning disability can struggle to learn in the traditional ways.
Examples of learning disabilities include:
  • Dyscalculia: A condition that causes difficulty with math, numbers, and reasoning.
  • Dyslexia: A disorder that affects language processing and makes reading, speaking, writing, and understanding words more challenging.
  • Dysgraphia: A condition that causes problems with memory, spelling, and grammar
  • Dysphasia/Aphasia: A condition that causes impairments in speech and language.
  • Auditory processing disorder: A condition that makes it challenging to process sounds.
  • Visual processing disorder: A condition that causes the brain to struggle to process visual information.

Is ADHD a learning disability?

ADHD is not a learning disability, but it can affect learning.
Both ADHD and learning disabilities can impact executive function, which includes the ability to make plans, manage time, stay on task, or follow directions. Children with ADHD may have trouble sitting still for hours each day in school or concentrate on topics they don’t find interesting. ADHD can also lead to impulsive behavior.
There is an additional link between ADHD and learning disabilities; people with ADHD are more likely to also have a learning disability, and vice versa, according to a study. Both have a genetic component. Having a learning disability and ADHD is its own challenge as the symptoms of one may mask symptoms of the other. Learning as much as possible about the conditions will help you or your loved one navigate them. Getting diagnoses, treatment, and accommodations for ADHD and learning disorders can improve learning outcomes and performance.
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