How ADHD Affects Learning
What is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? And what does it have to do with learning disabilities? First of all, ADHD is not the same thing as a learning disability (LD). But it certainly can interfere with learning and behavior. Also, about one-third of people with LD have ADHD, too. This can cause a lot of confusion for parents, teachers and children.
The Difference Between LD and ADHD
Although LD and ADHD are different, they do share some similarities. Both are neurological disorders that affect how the brain receives, processes and responds to information. But their origins are different and people receive different types of treatment for them.
Researchers are still studying the cause of ADHD. Evidence points to levels of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin) being out of balance. This can lead to problems with organization, easy frustration and social interactions. In turn, this can affect schoolwork and learning.
With LD, the specific systems in the brain that are deficient are even less well understood. LD is a broad category that includes many different types of problems in areas such as listening, reading, writing, spelling and math. Processing information in each of these areas depends upon a brain that is wired for speed and efficiency. When the flow of information is misrouted or delayed, or when one area in the brain is not working at full capacity, the result is a breakdown in learning.
ADHD is often treated with medication and therapy, and LD with educational and behavioral approaches.
Causes and Symptoms of ADHD
ADHD is a common childhood brain disorder that may continue into adolescence and adulthood. ADHD often runs in families. Many studies suggest that genes do, in fact, play a big role in ADHD. Other potential contributors to ADHD include:
- Environmental factors such as early exposure to lead or to alcohol before birth
- Brain injury
Some people believe that refined sugar causes ADHD or makes it worse. However, the research does not support this theory. And more research is needed to confirm a possible link between ADHD and food additives such as artificial colors.1 It’s also important to know that ADHD is not the result of poor parenting.
Symptoms of ADHD are often severe, frequent, and first occur early, between the ages of three and six. The main symptoms are related to:
- Staying focused and paying attention
- Delaying gratification or controlling impulses
- Being overly active or restless2
Types of ADHD
There are two main types of ADHD. A third type is a combination of the two main types.
Hyperactive-impulsive type of ADHD. Children with this type of ADHD usually receive a diagnosis at a younger age than those with other types. Children with this type of ADHD may:
- Move and fidget constantly (Teens and adults may have only a sense of internal restlessness.)
- Talk nonstop
- Have trouble with quiet activities
- Often act without thinking about the consequences of their actions
- Have trouble taking turns or often disrupt games and conversations
- Have trouble controlling temper outbursts
Inattentive type of ADHD. Children with this type of ADHD have trouble putting the needed attention and effort into their schoolwork. This type is more easily missed at an early age. As responsibility for schoolwork and life management increases, trouble staying organized becomes more apparent. Children with this type of ADHD may:
- Appear to not pay attention to details or to listen when spoken to
- Daydream a lot
- Be slow to process information
- Struggle to follow instructions
- Not sustain attention long enough to learn something new
- Have trouble completing homework
- Misplace things needed to complete tasks
- Become bored easily
- Be poorly organized