Understanding the Difference between Childhood ADHD and a Learning Disability

Parenting a child with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be challenging. Understanding the difference between childhood ADHD and a learning disability can help you prepare and create ways for your child to succeed. ADHD can cause learning difficulties, but it is distinct from a learning disability.

While it is possible to have ADHD alone or a learning disability without ADHD, they can co-occur. According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, 30-50% of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability, and both conditions can intertwine to make learning very challenging.

What Causes ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that makes it hard for a child to focus, pay attention, sit still, and control impulsive behavior. Most children are diagnosed with ADHD at an early age, and symptoms can last through adulthood. ADHD affects approximately three to five percent of children in the U.S. When children have ADHD, they can fall behind academically due to inadequate attention skills and inability to focus. ADHD can affect school or work performance and interfere with socialization among friends.

The cause and risk factors for developing ADHD are currently unknown but can be linked to genetics. Many children who have ADHD also struggle with other disorders, such as anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder, or Tourette’s syndrome.

What Are the Differences Between ADHD and a Learning Disability?

Children who have ADHD or a learning disability can struggle with confidence, self-esteem, self-image, and rejection from peers. ADHD can lead to aggressive behavior, angry outbursts, and interrupting others, leading to rejection by peer groups and friends. There are three symptoms commonly linked to ADHD: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity or acting without thinking.

According to the Kennedy Krieger Institute, researchers believe that some people with ADHD do not have enough neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that help control a person’s behavior. Some parts of the brain that control behavior were smaller in kids with ADHD than in children without ADHD. A diagnosis for ADHD is based on criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Symptoms need to significantly impair a child’s performance at school and at home to meet the criteria.

Learning disabilities can occur in children with exceptional intelligence and interfere with one or more learning areas. A child who struggles with a learning disorder can have difficulty with a specific set of skills, despite trying hard to achieve them, making a child frustrated and affecting self-esteem, confidence, and school performance.

Learning disabilities continue into adolescence and adulthood, and although there is no cure for learning disabilities, they can be managed successfully. Children with learning disabilities can get extra help or even qualify for special education in school. Some examples of learning disabilities include:

  • Dyslexia: Reversing letters or numbers
  • Dyscalculia: Difficulty with math
  • Dysgraphia: Problems with handwriting motor skills
  • Non-verbal learning disabilities: Poor coordination and inability to understand facial expressions
  • Reading comprehension deficit: Problems understanding what they read

Learning disabilities can also affect executive functioning, such as organization, strategizing, decision-making, and time management. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a part of U.S. legislation that ensures all children with disabilities receive free appropriate public education to meet their specific needs and prepares them for advanced education, employment, and independent living.

Tips For Parents of Children With ADHD

Parenting a child with ADHD or a learning disability is challenging and can make parents feel helpless, hopeless, and guilty for their child’s behavior. Often parents feel increased stress, anxiety, and frustration as they come to grips with their child’s condition. Parents sometimes blame themselves for their child’s behavior and wonder if they could have prevented it. Here are some helpful tips for parents of children who struggle with ADHD symptoms:

  • Learn about ADHD. Understanding ADHD and your child’s symptoms can help you discover ways to help your child.
  • Communicate with teachers and educational professionals. Discuss your child’s success and struggles in school and at home.
  • Keep your child on the recommended dose of medication. Do not stop giving your child their medication without consulting the prescribing medical professional.
  • Praise your child’s efforts, no matter how small they seem; this can help boost your child’s confidence.
  • Set clear and concise expectations. When your child knows what is expected of them, they can better understand acceptable behavior.
  • Talk to your child’s therapist about the best ways to discipline your child. Each child’s situation is unique, and what works for one child might not work for everyone.
  • Acknowledge positive behaviors. Compliment your child on their acceptable behavior.
  • Set aside time to spend together on fun activities. Quality time spent with your child can reduce stress for you and your child.

There is no cure for ADHD, but it is treatable with medication, psychotherapy, and behavioral therapy. Natural treatment for ADHD is also available and can be tailored to each person’s own unique needs.

Getting Help For Your Child

Medication is sometimes used to increase the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Stimulant medications that are commonly used in ADHD treatment include amphetamines and methylphenidates. Behavioral therapy is also used in treating children with ADHD and can be used in conjunction with medication or without it. Behavioral therapy can improve a child’s self-control, self-esteem, and behavior.

At Achieve Concierge, our team of clinicians can perform in-depth assessments and develop a treatment plan for your child’s unique needs. Each child responds differently to treatment. If you are a parent of a child who struggles with ADHD, do not hesitate to get help. While there is no cure, treatment is available.

ADHD and learning disabilities share common traits but are treated differently. ADHD can cause disruptions in school performance, interruptions with relationships, and negatively affect life at home. Most children benefit from medication and behavioral therapy. Our expert medical clinicians at Achieve Concierge are dedicated to patient care and support and can provide the best strategy for treating your child. We offer individualized support to help your child cope with symptoms of ADHD so they can be successful in school, develop and maintain friendships, and control impulsive and disruptive behaviors at home. We offer same-day appointments in person, as well as telemedicine appointments. We want to help you and your child by determining the best course of action to treat their ADHD symptoms. To find out more information about our services, call Achieve Concierge today at (619) 393-5871.

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