Is ADHD a Learning Disability or a Behavioral Disability?

April 2, 2021
Is ADHD a Learning Disability?


ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental conditions currently affecting approximately 9% of kids and 4% of adults in the U.S. It is marked by problems with paying attention for prolonged periods and focusing. At times, people with ADHD have behavior issues related to impulsivity or hyperactivity. The average age for ADHD diagnosis is seven years, and symptoms are usually evident by age 12.

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The primary question most people ask in their online searches to find out more information about ADHD is “Is ADHD a learning disability or mental illness?’ The tidbits below will help you get a clear answer to this question.


What is ADHD?

ADHD, by definition, is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects a person’s behavior, feelings, and thinking process. When diagnosed with the condition, it means that your brain’s prefrontal cortex is not performing at the level expected for your age. This part of the brain regulates your behavior, emotions, and decision-making. Therefore, these are the aspects affected by ADHD. In short, the condition is considered a developmental disorder affecting your executive functioning.

Along with differences in brain development between people with ADHD and others, there is reduced frontal lobe activity in ADHD because of reduced dopamine levels. The low levels of this crucial neurotransmitter cause hyperactivity, attention problems, and impulsivity. The symptoms associated with ADHD inform its classification as a behavioral disorder.

ADHD affects more boys than girls. Though its cause is not clear, it has been shown that environmental factors and genetics play roles in its development. It is a chronic condition, meaning it lasts a lifetime and will not just ‘’go away’’. Though manageable, most people with ADHD do not get the attention they need because of misinformation, misdiagnosis, or under-recognition.


ADHD Symptoms


What Is a Learning Disability?

The word learning disability is an umbrella term for dyslexia, dyscalculia, auditory processing disorder, and visual processing disorder. Different brain regions communicate with each other through neural networks. In those with learning disabilities, these networks have issues that result in the regions of the brain not communicating effectively with each other. This affects the person’s ability to receive, process, store, retrieve, then transmit the information he/she receives. This, in turn, leads to difficulties with following directions, problem-solving, speech, reading, and writing.

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Is ADHD a Learning Disability?

No, ADHD cannot be classified as a learning disability. While learning disabilities affect skills like reading or math, ADHD affects executive functions like the ability to control impulsive behaviors, emotions, and focus.

Even so, because learning requires the use of executive functions, most people with ADHD have learning difficulties. This is because they cannot focus on the aspects they are taught, cannot use their working memory to retrieve what they have been taught, and cannot engage in tasks that need concentration.

Some people ask ‘’does ADHD cause learning disabilities?’’ The short answer to the question is no. Research, however, shows that 30-50% of kids with ADHD have a concurrent learning disability. When these two conditions interact they undoubtedly make learning quite a challenge.

Though ADHD is more of a learning difficulty, it can be considered a disability under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and makes a person eligible for special education. ADHD falls under the ‘’Other Health Impaired’’ category. Under this category, those with ADHD qualify for accommodation under Section 504 and the ADA if their condition affects a major life function like learning.


Learning Disability
Common Risk Factors for Learning Disabilities


Is ADD/ ADHD a Learning Disability?

ADD (attention deficit disorder) is one presentation of ADHD. It is also called attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder because it has a predominantly inattentive presentation. If you have been asking ‘is inattentive ADHD a learning disability?’ you are talking about ADD/ ADHD under a different name. The condition manifests as disengagement, careless mistakes, a limited attention span, distractibility, and forgetfulness. It can be mistaken for a mood or anxiety disorder in adults.

Kids with ADD/ ADHD will generally not disrupt classes and might even sit quietly like other kids. Even so, this does not mean that they will not struggle to focus on what is being taught. Kids with ADD/ ADHD also have this ‘daydreamy’ or ‘spacey’ behavior that most teachers mistake for ‘apathy’ or ‘laziness’. They will also sometimes frustrate their teachers when they do not follow instructions or fail to finish their schoolwork.

While ADD/ ADHD is not a learning disability, it will still make learning a challenge. Unfortunately, its symptoms are not recognized as quickly as those of ADHD. This causes patients to go through the academic shame, apathy, and frustration that often lasts a lifetime. In some cases, the condition is misdiagnosed as a learning disability.

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Most ADHD patients think that attaining education is beyond their scope and drop out of school or do not enroll in the first place. However, schools currently use multiple strategies to help kids with learning difficulties, ADHD, or to learn more effectively. There are also several ways of building a supportive home environment to ease learning for these students. With these approaches, there are many people with learning disabilities and ADHD who lead successful lives.

Your first stop should be at a well-equipped clinic like Mango Clinic where an accurate diagnosis of ADHD is made, along with its type. After this, the doctor will start you on the right management approaches to keep your symptoms in check and help you learn effectively. This way, an ADHD diagnosis will have little to no negative impact on your life’s quality.

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