Is ADHD a Learning Disability?
Children and adults face more challenges in their educational journey today. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children, affecting around 2% of the population. As we become more aware of mental health problems, we need to look at how it affects daily learning. Many wonder if ADHD is a learning disability, but it requires more research. Let’s unpack why this condition affects students’ learning and how to better support them.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder and more commonly considered a mental health problem. The condition affects people differently and is difficult to diagnose. Research shows that the age of onset is usually around 7 years old; affecting 80% of boys compared to girls.
Generally, most people with ADHD exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity (impulsive behaviour) or lack of attention. This can be broken down into two categories of behaviour:
- Attention Deficit: This means they get distracted easily, switch between tasks constantly and are very forgetful. For instance, they might start doing a task and not finish it.
- Hyperactivity: This is where children are restless, talking excessively, fidgeting or interrupting conversations. They might come across as rude or disruptive.
What is ADHD like for children?
Melissa (19) shared her experience of a school friend who has ADHD. She said it was “overwhelming and exhausting to witness”. At just 12 years old, her friend struggled with basic tasks in lessons. Teachers would get frustrated and struggle with how best to support her learning development.
One example is when the teacher would show a picture on the board; her friend would pick up irrelevant information like the colour of the person’s hair. “She would then forget what the task was, and her thoughts would monkey-jump to wanting to dye her hair”.
Melissa thinks ADHD is a learning disability because her friend found it impossible to study or focus. She recalls her friend asking constant questions, without waiting for answers. Learning by asking questions and from mistakes is a key part of progress. So if children with ADHD can’t meet this demand, it definitely makes things tricky.
It’s hard to explain what ADHD is like for those who don’t experience it themselves. In many ways, the ability to sort through thoughts, tasks and information is more scattered for someone with ADHD. This video clearly demonstrates what it’s like and how information is processed — it’s a lot to take in.
What is ADHD like for adults?
Jameela Jamil recently shared her personal experience and what ADHD is like in adults. In her podcast she reveals how it affects her concentration. She explains that reading is virtually impossible; she might get stuck on a word and it will trigger something else in her brain.
“I’d sit down at my desk, put on a candle and get excited, like: oh I've got myself some pens. I’m gonna do my homework. I’m gonna get some paper. I need some water. And then I’m out.”
Similarly, Celeste Barber admitted that she had never read a book until she was 16! This was because she found it impossible to focus. When she tried to do homework, she would feel “ready” but it would take her hours to get into the zone.
How ADHD affects grades and academic progress
Studies show that ADHD causes a lot of problems for academic progress. Due to the lack of understanding, students can be expelled from school or more likely to drop-out. This is due to disruptive behaviour or not meeting academic standards — a catch-22.
School and university grades on average are lower, so students may fail to meet their targets. However, this is not because they are incapable, they just require additional assistance. In most cases, medication is available for children and adults with ADHD.
Neurodevelopmental disorders are manageable. With the right intervention, people with ADHD can be very intelligent. Medication helps ADHD students keep on track and improve their academic progress. So they can achieve the same scores as their peers!
Teaching students with ADHD
Now imagine someone with ADHD in the context of school or university. You can easily see that learning becomes a more difficult task than for the average student. It requires a lot more energy from the individual, and patience from both teachers and other classmates.
One study found that teachers had attached a negative bias to the label “ADHD”. This means that there’s a stigma against students with neurodevelopmental disorders. They may need special learning requirements, but they are not hopeless. Hence why those with ADHD may need professional assistance to help them achieve their grades.
Top Tips for Teachers
- Teachers should create an environment which motivates all students to learn. This goes for all ages and levels, regardless of their challenges.
- Allow extra time for students in exams or tests.
- Give feedback to students and parents regularly.
- Give instructions for tasks one at a time.
- Teach the most difficult topics that require more attention early in the day.
Long story short
So, is ADHD a learning disability? Technically: no. However, the disorder definitely affects students’ learning capability. This means they might need more 1:1 assistance from a specialised private tutor who can support them.
Sadly, schools and universities do not have the resources to allocate to each individual. With one teacher per 30 pupils at school, and one professor for 200 university students, they are stretched for time. This is why hiring a private tutor (online or in-person) can give you an academic advantage.
We are featured in Twinkl’s Friendship blog, which aims to give tips towards improving relationship-building across children with SEND. Feel free to look at the other inclusive resources available on their site.
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
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