Is ADHD a Learning Disability? Understanding the Differences 

Blog - Is ADHD a Learning Disability
Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

As a parent, you may have encountered concerns about your child's behavior or performance in school, leading you to wonder whether they might have ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), a Learning Disability (LD), or perhaps both. 

I have seen so many children with ADHD and learning disability in the past 30 years. I’ll help give light to the question “Is ADHD a learning disability?” to help you understand the distinctions between ADHD and learning disabilities, and provide guidance on recognizing the signs and supporting your child effectively.

Understanding ADHD, Attention Deficit Disorder and Learning Disabilities

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that can significantly impact daily functioning. Inattention may manifest as difficulties sustaining attention, making it challenging to complete tasks that require concentration. Hyperactivity involves excessive movement and restlessness, while impulsivity can lead to hasty decision-making and difficulty inhibiting impulsive behaviors.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is an outdated term that was historically used to describe a subtype of ADHD characterized primarily by inattention, without the hyperactivity component. In current diagnostic classifications, such as the DSM-5, the term ADHD is used to encompass both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive presentations.

Learning disabilities, on the other hand, refer to a diverse group of neurological conditions that affect specific cognitive processes related to acquiring and using academic skills. These conditions can impact the ability to read, write, spell, or perform mathematical calculations. While ADHD is a distinct neurodevelopmental disorder, individuals with ADHD may also experience co-occurring learning disabilities.

ADHD and learning disabilities can sometimes coexist, leading to additional challenges in academic and everyday tasks. Understanding the unique features of each condition is crucial for accurate diagnosis and the development of effective interventions. 

Children with ADHD may face difficulties in executive functioning, such as organizing tasks, managing time, and initiating activities. These challenges can contribute to academic struggles and may be misconstrued as learning disabilities.

NVLD and Language-Based Learning Disabilities 

Learning disabilities are specific difficulties in acquiring and using certain skills, such as reading, writing, listening, speaking, reasoning, or mathematical abilities. Unlike ADHD, which affects attention and behavior, learning disabilities are primarily associated with challenges in particular academic areas. 

A child can have ADHD and reading problems simultaneously, which can complicate their educational experience. ADHD can impact language learning, as individuals with ADHD may experience difficulties in sustaining attention and processing information efficiently. Kids who have ADHD face a greater risk than usual for struggling in school and having LDs (DuPaul & Volpe, 2009).

What are Examples of Learning Disabilities?

Learning disabilities encompass a range of neurodevelopmental disorders that impact specific cognitive processes related to acquiring and using academic skills. Some examples of learning disabilities include:

  • Dyslexia: Affects reading skills, children and teens with dyslexia may have difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition and may struggle with spelling and decoding words. ADHD and dyslexia symptoms can overlap in some individuals, leading to challenges in distinguishing between the two conditions. 
  • Dysgraphia: Dysgraphia is the inability to begin writing. It can result in challenges with handwriting, spelling, and organizing thoughts on paper. ADHD and writing issues often intersect. 
  • Dyscalculia: Impacts mathematical abilities, dyscalculia involves difficulties with understanding and manipulating numbers, as well as performing mathematical operations. ADHD and math learning disabilities are common in kids. 
  • Auditory Processing Disorder (APD): Affects the ability to interpret and make sense of auditory information, individuals with APD may have difficulty understanding spoken language.
  • Visual Processing Disorder: Hinders the interpretation of visual information, individuals with visual processing disorders may struggle with tasks such as reading maps or recognizing shapes and objects.
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD or NLD): Affects non-verbal skills such as spatial awareness, social cues, and visual-motor coordination, NVLD can lead to challenges in social interactions and visual-spatial tasks.
  • Language Processing Disorder: Hinders the ability to attach meaning to sounds, words, and sentences, individuals with language processing disorders may struggle with language comprehension and expression.
  • Executive Functioning Disorder: Involves difficulties in cognitive processes such as planning, organization, initiation of tasks, and working memory, executive functioning disorders can impact overall learning and daily functioning.

Memory Disorders: Conditions affecting memory, such as specific memory deficits or working memory challenges, can impact the ability to retain and recall information.

Is ADHD a Learning Disability

Learning Disability vs ADHD

While both learning disabilities and ADHD involve challenges related to cognitive functions, they manifest in distinct ways and affect different aspects of academic performance. Comparing ADHD vs learning disorder and understanding their differences are crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective intervention strategies.

In a study by Mayes et al. (2000) on 119 kids, ages 8 to 16, who sought help with school, around 70% have ADHD and a learning disability (LD). The study showed that problems with writing were twice as common (65%) as problems with reading, math, or spelling. 

Kids with both ADHD and LD had more severe learning and attention problems compared to those with just LD or ADHD. The research suggests that learning and attention difficulties often go together and are connected in some way.

1. Nature of Challenges

Learning Disabilities: Learning disabilities are characterized by difficulties in acquiring and using specific academic skills despite having average to above-average intelligence. Examples include dyslexia, which affects reading; dysgraphia, which affects writing; and dyscalculia, affecting mathematical abilities.

ADHD: ADHD, on the other hand, is a neurodevelopmental disorder primarily impacting executive functions, including attention, impulse control, and hyperactivity. It influences a broader range of cognitive processes beyond specific academic skills.

2. Scope of Impact

Learning Disabilities: The impact of learning disabilities is typically focused on particular academic domains. For instance, a child with dyslexia may struggle with decoding words and reading comprehension but might excel in other areas.

ADHD: ADHD affects a broader spectrum of cognitive functions, extending beyond academic tasks. Challenges in sustaining attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity can impact various aspects of life, including social interactions and daily activities.

3. Diagnosis and Assessment

Learning Disabilities: Diagnosis often involves specific assessments tailored to the suspected learning disability. Psychometric tests, academic assessments, and observations help assess LD symptoms as well as identify areas of difficulty and strengths.

ADHD: Diagnosis relies on criteria outlined in diagnostic manuals such as the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Clinical interviews, behavioral observations, and rating scales are commonly used to assess symptoms related to attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

4. Intervention Approaches

Learning Disabilities: Interventions for learning disabilities often include targeted strategies to address the specific challenges in reading, writing, or math. Specialized instruction, assistive technologies, and individualized support plans are common components.

ADHD: Interventions for ADHD focus on developing executive functioning skills. Behavioral interventions, psychoeducation, and, in my case, natural mental health solutions to ADHD like magnesium supplements in lieu of medications,  may be recommended to address attention and impulse control challenges.

5. Long-Term Outlook

Learning Disabilities: With appropriate support and intervention, individuals with learning disabilities can develop compensatory strategies and achieve academic success. Early identification and intervention are critical for improving outcomes.

ADHD: ADHD is a chronic condition, but its impact can be managed effectively with a combination of behavioral interventions, accommodations, and, in some cases, medication. Ongoing support is often necessary to address challenges across various life domains.

Strategies to Support LD and ADHD

Once ADHD and LD diagnoses are established, tailored strategies can be implemented to support your child. ADHD and learning difficulties are often intertwined, as the attention and executive function challenges associated with ADHD can contribute to struggles in various academic areas.

For ADHD, interventions may include behavioral therapy and classroom accommodations. As for learning disabilities, students may require specialized educational techniques, such as individualized instruction, assistive technology, or modified assignments. Collaborating with teachers, school professionals, and healthcare providers will help create a supportive environment for your child's success.

While ADHD is not a learning disability, the two conditions can coexist, complicating a child's educational journey. ADHD and educational interventions go hand in hand, requiring a tailored approach to address the specific challenges individuals with ADHD may encounter in academic settings. Understanding the differences and recognizing the signs early on is key to providing effective support. 

If your child has ADHD or learning disability issues, seek professional assessments and implement targeted strategies. You can help your child navigate these challenges and unlock their full potential in both academic and personal spheres. Remember, every child is unique, and a personalized approach is essential for their growth and development.

Is ADHD a learning disorder?

ADHD is not classified as a learning disorder, but a neurodevelopmental disorder. While ADHD can certainly impact learning, it differs from learning disorders in terms of its primary characteristics and the areas of cognitive functioning it affects.

How does ADHD affect learning?

ADHD can inhibit learning by causing difficulties in sustaining attention, leading to missed details and forgetfulness. Impulsivity and hyperactivity can disrupt the learning environment, while challenges in organization, time management, and task initiation hinder the completion of assignments.

What are some learning disabilities?

Learning disabilities encompass various neurodevelopmental disorders, including dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia, each affecting specific academic skills such as reading, writing, and mathematics. Auditory and visual processing disorders can impact the interpretation of auditory or visual information, while non-verbal learning disabilities and executive functioning disorders may affect social skills and organizational abilities, respectively.

Is ADHD a disability or mental illness?

ADHD is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder rather than a mental illness. It’s characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that can significantly impact daily functioning. While ADHD affects mental processes, it is distinct from mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders

Can you get an IEP for ADHD?

Yes, individuals with ADHD can receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in the educational system. To qualify, the student must undergo an evaluation, and if the results support the need for special education services, an IEP is developed by a team of educators and parents. The IEP outlines specific goals, accommodations, and support services tailored to the student's unique learning needs, and it is periodically reviewed and adjusted as necessary.

How to get an IEP for ADHD? 

To initiate an IEP for a student with ADHD, start by documenting specific challenges and formally request an evaluation for special education services. Following the evaluation, participate in an IEP team meeting with parents, teachers, and special education professionals to collaboratively develop a plan tailored to the student's unique needs. 

How do you compare learning disability versus intellectual disability?

Learning disabilities involve specific challenges in acquiring academic skills despite average or above-average intelligence and are focused on certain domains like reading or math. Intellectual disabilities, on the other hand, encompass limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviors, affecting overall life skills. 

How does ADHD affect learning in adults?

In adults, ADHD can disrupt learning by causing difficulties in sustaining attention, initiating tasks, and managing time effectively. Challenges in organization, impulsivity, and memory may affect work performance and interpersonal relationships. 

Is ADHD a developmental delay?

ADHD and developmental delay are distinct conditions, but individuals with ADHD may experience challenges in certain developmental areas. ADHD is not classified as a developmental delay, as the latter typically refers to a lag in reaching specific developmental milestones within physical, cognitive, social, or emotional domains. On the other hand, ADHD is characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that may extend into adulthood.

ADHD is what type of disability?

In educational settings, ADHD is often recognized as a disability that may qualify individuals for special education services and accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the United States. The specific category within IDEA that encompasses ADHD is “Other Health Impairment” (OHI), acknowledging the impact of ADHD on a person's ability to learn and participate in educational activities.

Is ADHD considered special needs?

Yes, ADHD is considered a special need in the educational context, falling under the category of OHI in the United States. ADHD and special education often intersect, as individuals with ADHD may qualify for special education services and accommodations, often involving the development of an IEP or a 504 Plan

Is ADHD an intellectual disability?

No, ADHD is not an intellectual disability but intellectual disability and ADHD can co-occur, presenting unique challenges for individuals. Children with ADHD often have average or above-average intelligence, and the challenges associated with ADHD are related to difficulties in these specific cognitive functions rather than a general limitation in intellectual abilities.

Is ADHD considered a medical condition?

Yes, ADHD is considered a medical condition. ADHD is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a widely used classification system for mental health conditions, as a legitimate medical diagnosis.

How does ADHD affect reading?

ADHD affects reading by causing difficulties in sustaining attention, managing distractions, and regulating impulsivity. Individuals with adhd and reading issues may struggle with organization, time management, and task initiation, leading to challenges in comprehending and retaining the material. 

Why is ADHD a disability?

ADHD is considered a disability because it significantly impairs specific cognitive functions related to attention, impulse control, and hyperactivity. ADHD can interfere with a person's ability to learn and perform academically, warranting special education services and accommodations.

How to overcome learning disabilities in adults?

Overcoming a learning disability in adults involves self-awareness, acceptance, and seeking professional assessment to identify specific challenges. Tailored learning strategies, including the use of assistive technology and participation in skill-building programs, can address individual needs. 

How does adhd affect students in the classroom?

ADHD affects students in the classroom by causing difficulties in sustaining attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, leading to missed instructions, incomplete assignments, and disruptive behaviors. Organizational challenges may result in poor time management, procrastination, and incomplete tasks, while impaired social skills can impact relationships with peers. 

What is the difference between ADD and dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that primarily affects reading skills, causing difficulties in accurate word recognition, decoding, and spelling. While ADD has a broader impact on attention and executive functioning, dyslexia specifically influences the domain of reading, making accurate diagnosis and targeted interventions crucial for individuals with these conditions.

Does ADHD make it hard to read?

Yes, ADHD can make reading challenging, as ADHD and reading difficulties often coexist. Kids with ADHD may struggle to maintain focus while reading, leading to learning deficits, interruptions and decreased comprehension. 

Can ADHD affect studying?

Yes, ADHD can significantly affect studying by causing difficulties in sustaining attention, organization, task initiation, and time management. Impulsive behaviors, restlessness, and challenges in reading and comprehension may further hinder the effectiveness of study sessions.

Why is math hard for ADHD kids?

Math can be challenging for individuals with ADHD due to difficulties in working memory, attention, impulsivity, and organization. The executive functioning deficits associated with ADHD may impact the ability to systematically approach and solve mathematical problems, leading to errors and challenges in time management.

Are ADHD slow learners?

ADHD does not inherently make individuals slow learners in terms of intelligence. Many people with ADHD have average or above-average intelligence. However, the challenges associated with ADHD can affect the pace of learning in certain contexts.


DuPaul, G. J., & Volpe, R. J. (2009). ADHD and learning disabilities: Research findings and clinical implications. Current Attention Disorders Reports, 1(4), 152–155.

Mayes, S. D., Calhoun, S. L., & Crowell, E. W. (2000). Learning Disabilities and ADHD. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33(5), 417–424.

Dr. Roseann is a mental health expert in Learning Disabilities who frequently is in the media:

  • Money  The Best Laptop, Headphones and Other Remote Learning Gadgets for Your Student's At-Home Workstation
  • CBS (Video) Learning From Home During Quarantine
  • CBS (Video) Student Learning Resources Quarantine 

Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.

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Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Licensed Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of media outlets including The Mel Robbins Show, CBS, NBC, PIX11 NYC, Today, FORBES, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider, Women’s Day, Healthline, CNET, Parade Magazine and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.

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She coined the terms, “Re-entry panic syndrome” and “eco-anxiety” and is a frequent contributor to media on mental health. 

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge has three decades of experience in working with children, teens and their families with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, concussion, dyslexia and learning disability, anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), depression and mood disorder, Lyme Disease, and PANS/PANDAS using science-backed natural mental health solutions such as supplements, magnesium, nutrition, QEEG Brain maps, neurofeedback, PEMF, psychotherapy and other non-medication approaches. 

She is the author of three bestselling books, It’s Gonna Be OK!: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child's Mental Health, The Teletherapy Toolkit, and Brain Under Attack. Dr. Roseann is known for offering a message of hope through science-endorsed methods that promote a calm brain. 

Her trademarked BrainBehaviorResetⓇ Program and It’s Gonna be OK!Ⓡ Podcast has been a cornerstone for thousands of parents facing mental health, behavioral or neurodevelopmental challenges.

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health, Neurotastic™Brain Formulas and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Mental Health Professional (CIMHP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF).

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