ADHD Is Not a Learning Disability (But it Does Affect Learning)
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) isn’t a learning disability – but it can impact how you learn new information.
For example, do you have to work twice as hard as everyone else to finish a course, read a book, or focus on your work?
The key is understanding how ADHD affects your learning process. This enables you to seek the support you need to manage symptoms and find strategies to help you succeed!
So having ADHD is not a life sentence for bad grades or poor work performance. You can still achieve your career or academic goals with proper treatment and structures.
Keep in mind that ADHD affects people differently. Some symptoms of ADHD, such as the inability to stay focused, can make learning difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming. In addition to that, some people with ADHD may have a co-occurring learning disability.
Continue reading to explore the similarities and differences between ADHD and learning disabilities.
ADHD and Learning Disabilities: How Are They Different?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how your brain carries out specific functions and regulates certain behavior.
ADHD is not classified as a learning disorder because it doesn’t impact specific academic skills.
According to the DSM-5, a learning disability impacts specific academic skills, such as reading, writing, learning a new language, or math.
On the other hand, ADHD affects your executive function, which is a set of mental skills that helps you organize, plan, remember details, and direct your focus. For many people, this leads to challenges with starting or sticking with studies.
However, this impairment might not be enough to meet the criteria for diagnosing a learning disorder.
Simply put, ADHD does not directly influence an aspect of education, such as reading or writing. However, ADHD can make it harder to concentrate, learn new skills, or retain information.
How Does ADHD Affect Learning?
Both groups of ADHD symptoms (inattention and hyperactive/impulsive) can impact a person’s ability to learn.
The following are some examples of how symptoms of ADHD may affect learning:
- Difficulty staying focused: A person with ADHD may be easily distracted. They might miss or forget deadlines and struggle to concentrate during lectures or exam revisions.
- Overlooking details: Those with ADHD might make careless mistakes and miss important information in their study notes or exam questions.
- Struggling to organize or prioritize: Being disorganized may cause a person to overlook deadlines, dates, and assignments. A lack of prioritization can also cause a person to feel overwhelmed and procrastinate on important learning tasks.
- Poor time management: ADHD can cause time blindness – a lack of perception of time. This may lead to missed deadlines, being late for lectures or meetings, and procrastination.
- Trouble remaining still: Having ADHD makes it more challenging to sit still and focus on the task at hand. A person with ADHD might constantly leave their seat during work, lectures, or meetings.
- Losing important items: Misplacing important items, such as schoolwork, meeting notes, and learning materials, can be common in ADHD.
If you think you may be struggling with learning due to ADHD, it’s best to seek professional advice as soon as possible.
Getting treatment and support for ADHD can help you better manage your symptoms and overcome challenges related to learning and studying.
What Is a Learning Disability?
A learning disability is a disorder in one or more basic processes involved in using or understanding a language. This causes a person to experience challenges in listening, thinking, speaking, writing, reading, spelling, and doing math.
According to the DSM-5, some symptoms of a learning disability include the following:
- Reading slowly or inaccurately
- Writing without clarity
- Difficulty remembering number facts
- Struggling with mathematical reasoning
- Getting grades well below the average expected for their age
A learning disorder can impact a person’s grades at school, performance at work, and the handling of daily responsibilities and activities.
Some examples of learning disorders include dyslexia (reading disorder), dyscalculia (number-based disorder), and dysgraphia (writing disorder).
While some of the symptoms of ADHD may look similar to that of a learning disorder, the diagnostic criteria and treatment approach for each condition differs.
For instance, ADHD can be treated using a combination of medications and behavioral therapy. However, a learning disorder is typically treated through special education or language therapy.
It’s also important to note that a person may have ADHD and a co-occurring learning disability. Some research suggests that around 45% of students with ADHD also have a learning disability, and these two conditions may interact to make learning more challenging.
In this case, the optimal treatment approach may look different from treating either ADHD or a learning disability alone.
Therefore, getting the correct diagnosis will help ensure you receive the best treatment to effectively address your symptoms and learning challenges.
ADHD May Affect Learning but Doesn’t Define What You Can Achieve
While ADHD isn’t a learning disability, it can affect how well you pick up new information or skills.
ADHD does not define your intelligence or capability.
It simply affects how your brain is wired. Because of this, the ADHD brain and non-ADHD brain receive and interact with information differently.
The first step to overcoming learning challenges is to seek a proper diagnosis for your symptoms.
A therapist or ADHD coach can also help you improve essential skills like managing time, staying focused, and prioritizing your tasks and activities.
This puts you in the best position to thrive in your career or academics and reach the goals you’re working hard to achieve!
If you think that ADHD may be affecting how well you study, you can take ADDA’s ADHD screening test for adults. This questionnaire helps you gauge whether you might be experiencing this disorder. With this information, you can better decide on the next steps to take to get assessed for your condition.
 Committee to Evaluate the Supplemental Security Income Disability Program for Children with Mental Disorders; Board on the Health of Select Populations; Board on Children, Youth, and Families; Institute of Medicine; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Boat TF, Wu JT, editors. Mental Disorders and Disabilities Among Low-Income Children. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2015 Oct 28. 10, Clinical Characteristics of Learning Disabilities. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK332886/
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. DSM-5 Changes: Implications for Child Serious Emotional Disturbance [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2016 Jun. Table 7, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Comparison. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519712/table/ch3.t3/
 DuPaul, G. J., Gormley, M. J., & Laracy, S. D. (2012). Comorbidity of LD and ADHD. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 46(1), 43–51. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022219412464351