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Is ADHD a learning disability? I’ve been told “no, it’s not.”

by Pam Wright

I’m always a little surprised when we get these questions. So I decided to post on this one. JF writes –

“I receive your newsletter and I’m not sure if you can help me. My daughter was recently been diagnosed with ADHD. I’ve been told that this is not a learning disability although she struggles tremendously in school (in fact she is in jeopardy of failing). Her diagnosis is so recent that she hasn’t started on any medication as of yet. She is extremely unorganized and has absolutely no time management skills.

What rights do we have if we request a meeting with her school? Does the school have to give her special considerations when taking quizzes/tests? What about other assignments?

Any suggestions you have are greatly appreciated.”

I don’t know who told you that ADHD is not a learning disability. It often is, and kids who have ADHD often have learning disabilities that affect other areas – math, writing skills, etc.

Seventeen years ago, in 1991, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Office of Civil Rights published a Joint Policy Memorandum on ADD/ADHD to ensure that all school officials were aware of this. The Memorandum stated that children with ADD/ADHD may be eligible for special education services under several existing categories (including LD, OHI, ED); circumstances under which schools must provide services and supports under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.


The Memorandum begins with this statement:

“There is a growing awareness in the education community that attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) can result in significant learning problems for children with those conditions … ”

In 1997, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was reauthorized. The law specifically stated that children with ADD/ADHD may be eligible for special education services under three categories – specific learning disability, other health impairment or emotional disturbance.

If you read some of the articles on our ADD/ADHD page, I think you will have a clearer sense of these issues and what you need to do to help your daughter.

I have ADHD, Pete has ADHD, and so do our (grown) children. Our kids were challenging to raise (and so were we) but they can do fine if adults in their lives accept and help them, and don’t give up on them. The way many public schools are structured can make life very hard for kids with ADD/ADHD.


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119 Comments on "Is ADHD a learning disability? I’ve been told “no, it’s not.”"


You have mis-interpreted the law. In addition, legislation doesn’t dictate the definition of disorders. ADHD is not a learning disability. It is not classified as such in the DSM. Please correct your mis-information here.


I am young and have ADD. It is so hard to be here. No one I live with knows what I have to go through everyday. I often get called lazy for it. I am sick and tired of being told that I am lazy when I have no control over it. I cannot help that I forget things easily, and it annoys me that NO one is willing to stick their neck out for me. My mother is disabled and she has to put up with me. I know she hates that I have this disorder, but I am trying so hard. No one here understands me. I currently have to write a research paper. My topic: “Should children with ADD/ADHD, who attend high school, receive different treatment than children with no mental handicaps?” I think they should. They should receive small rewards for doing the things others think are ‘small’ like turning an assignment in on time and taking all the notes in class. Agree?


Keep your focus on doing your best. Don’t give up. You will be an overcomer! Prayers child.


I was diagnosed ADHD as a 16yr old boy. My case was used to show an example used to make ADHD a recognized disability! My Mom had contacted an advocate from C.H.A.D.D. to help, & they did.
I was put on Disability till I was 19, but pride made me quit disability n try life on my own 2 feet… I failed miserably.
I’m trying to find where they used my case as an example to help show PROOF I AM ADHD. I need to get back onto disability but having trouble with getting record’s from 20yrs ago… Can anyone help? My case was used to make ADD/ADHD a disability in 1991, I was living in NV.


ADHD is NOT the same as a Learning Disability. They are separate but often co-existing disorders and both can have very significant impacts on learning. Just because the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (reauthorized in 1997) specifically states that children with ADD/ADHD may be eligible for special education services under three categories – specific learning disability, other health impairment or emotional disturbance does not mean the law was implying these three things are the same thing. The are often comorbid (co-exist) and have overlapping symptoms.

The law does not state that ADHD is a Learning Disability. Furthermore, educational categories (such as OHI, SLD, and ED) are not diagnostic categories, they are educational categories. There’s a big difference.


My 14 year old son has ADHD,SLD,and Dyslexia and I am the same way. I struggle all the time with understanding stuff, but thanks to a wonderful man that helps me understand things better. He breaks it down. So as for our son, little by little, we work through it all.


I am a 58 yr old nursing stud who was diagnosed with ADD as a child. I began nursing school in 2011, I self-disclosed my disability. I was allowed extra time on test only.
In this program, I was denied basic rights to an equal education. accommodations were virtually impossible. Intimidation, subtle discriminatory actions and comments were normal for me to encounter. I was made to file a grade appeal for an F – I received in a clinical class. I appealed asking for an (I) Incomplete because the instructor told me two days before the semester ended that I was “in danger of failing”! No mid-term grade was given. When the instructor, the Asst. Director of Nursing and I met. I was told by the Asst. Director – that I would be given the opportunity to learn differently and do better. I took that to mean remediation. It did not.


The National Center for Learning Disabilities ( states, “Intellectual disability (once referred to as mental retardation), autism, deafness, blindness, behavioral disorders, and ADD or ADHD are not learning disabilities; however, these conditions are frequently confused with LD”.
Learning Disability Fast Facts/What is LD?, page 1


I have a question that hopefully you can answer or give some advice. My daughter is 7 yrs old and was diagnosed at 6yrs old with Moderate bilateral sensorineuaral hearing loss she wears hearing aides. We are here at a hospital in our state to have tested in regards to her lack of “focus” and attention in the classroom. She did not receive her hearing aides until she was entering into 1st grade. She is on a IEP and is pulled out of the classroom for 1hr 3x a week working with her hearing impaired teacher. We requested for extra resourse pullout time since she made very slight progress throughout the year. My question is should we consider her being in a private school instead of the public/mainstream class she is in?And are there schools that are offered that are not so expensive?We feel like there are not many options for us.



Worry less about the classification and more about the function. Rewrite the PLOP with additional details from your experiences with your son and how they interfere with his educational progress (in your role as an IEP team member, your “report” is as good as theirs). Use that data to then develop measurable goals and objectives, and use the data in the school’s files to support the need for changes in the assistance you (and he) thinks he needs, what works/worked and what hasn’t. The classification does not define the program (officially) – your child’s needs determines what the school should be providing and these services should be measurable and objective.

Ask them how they have succeeded with other children similar to your son and how they measured that success. Ask them the questions – let them provide the answers.

Sharon L.

Paul, When I got my son in an OHI IEP for ADHD the school had the policy at the board office of what they needed & the forms to fill out. It may be on the state education web site as well. We took the forms the school gave us & had our doctor fill it out diagnosing him with ADHD. Once we had that we scheduled a meeting & came up with an OHI IEP. The school gave us a hard time regarding educational goals but the state told us that an OHI IEP can have educational goals as well as behavioral goals on it. We eventually did get all of the goals that our son needed to be successful but it was difficult & we really had to perservere.


Trying to locate actual case law or any law on the books as to who is responsible for diagnosing an OHI classification on my son’s IEP. A previous district arbitrarily changed his classification to ED and now that we are trying to get it corrected, they are saying that they are not responsible for changing it and when I brought up to them OHI as one of the disabilities, they said that they do not do the medical evaluation to determine this either. I have a great advocate, but with a new CSE meeting on 7/24/13, I want to have my own material to present on this point. Any advice on this would be greatly appreciated.


My 42 yr. Old son has been diagnosed w/ADHD. He is currently in nursing school to become an RN. He is struggling with some of the classes and instructors who do not work with him or seem to understand his ADD requirements. He’s asked for assistance and they seem reluctant to give same. Is the school required to provide assistance? WHAT LAW STATES THEY MUST PROVIDE. IS THIS CONDITION UNDER ADA?


ADHD is NOT a learning disability! Often, but NOT always, LDs coexists with ADHD. ADHD is believed to be caused by a deficiency in the secretion of dopamine in the brain. It is believed that the brain of a person with ADHD functions like a tired brain. Much like how the brain of a normal person functions when that person has gone too long without sleep. People with ADHD may have racing thoughts which can make them seem distant, they may be impulsive making careless decisions, they are usually very unstructured, they may be able to hyper-focus on certain tasks, but are easily bored and their focus usually wanders about, children with ADHD may have intense physical hyperactivity, but in adults with ADHD this has usually transformed to restlessness such as tapping with fingers, tapping with feet, rocking on the chair etc.


My 10 year has ADHD, he also has an IQ of 118. He does poorly in school, he hates to read and write, even on medication. He absorbs alot when being read to and does well on visual things such as maps, and projects. He is athletic, a good artist, does well with music, he is a master with his hands ( building things, extreme legos, ect). He is a delightful child most of the time, most of the time he is very well behaved and has good manners. He displays this away from home more than at home. Is there anything that I can do to make him want to read and write more. His spelling is horrible, often jumbling up words when he does write, but can usually spell fairly well orally. He does much better with oral questions than visual. When tested we were told he did not have dyslexia, but I think he does. He will probably have to repeat 4th grade.


I wish I wouldnt have to give my 10 yr old son the meds cause I know all meds have side effects congrats to you and your parents


If a student’s academic and/or social progress is not sufficient and the student is behind grade level because that progress is hindered by a severe anxiety disorder- can the child qualify for services in Other Health Impairment— or emotional disturbance? The student needs instruction in organization and academic skills, like math.


My daughter has ADP,SD, Anxiety disorder and speech and language disorders and they keep telling me she can not get accomd on FCAT and they have no non-verbal testing avaib.
They will only write !EP for speech and then tell me they can not do evaluations because she does not talk and it is to much stress for her because of the anxiety. Do we have to go through the MTSS or RiT process or can we get accommodations without this??
Also my daughter is in a Virtual School not reg school. I am about to get an adovocate for this because they dont want to deal with this.

Sharon L.

SHari, AS far as i know there is no such thing as “cutting out” IEP’s. IEP’s are there for a reason & specific needs. If the school has met all of the needs/goals & there are no more than maybe they should do this but not just based on money issues. I know money issues can be a concern but they should not take it out on the special needs children. That could be viewed as discrimination. All children have a right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as well as yours.


I know that all to well. The school system has failed my son miserabley. He has still not graduated highschool and is still taking classes on line thru continential accadamy thru that public school. We have been grappling about school work since forever. He seems to like the online school and does his work to suit his schedule and abilities. Alot of times he has to find the motivation to continue with his studies so he can graduate and go to automotive college or technical trade school. But thats been an up hill battle.So my guess is he will be in high school till he is 21. I don’t know what else to do, he is 19 and says he can do what ever he wants cuz he’s an adult. So I am going to allow natural consequences get a hold of him.


My son Has adhd he is in the 6th grade he struggles with math he has processing issues he is diagnoised with anxiety disorder. He has writing issues. and he is do for his reevaluation for his iep they are cutting iep’s in his building my concern is they will cut his.


Just to clarify, ADHD is not classified as a specific learning disability, it is classified under other health impaired, but it can cause a significant impairment in the ability to learn and function. ADHD is a neurobiological brain difference. It’s quite complex. In addition, ADHD often is accompanied by other learning disabilities or anxiety and depression. The dual diagnosis can make learning very challenging. People who don’t understand the true impact and issues that can lurk under the surface often dismiss and invalidate these kids experiences. It’s really sad. Some of these kids have great intelligence and creativity, but they have so much trouble functioning they can’t show what they know.

Sharon L.

Hopefully they will be done with the assessments soon. You can request a DRAFT copy before the meeting to discuss with a professional so you know what you want to do. Yes it would be nice if the school could help in some way until the tests are done by they are not legally obligated to do so. I don’t think morals play into this anymore from what I have seen. Once you get the results you can agree or disagree. If you disagree you may request an outside evaluation at the school’s expense. Yes it means it will take more time but will be worth it in the end if you don’t think the school is doing the right thing for you. We have done this many times and the outside evaluation has helped our children in many cases. Normally the outside evaluation is better and has more suggestions than the school’s evaluation.


My nine year old son has adhd/bipolar. I have started with the school with the IEP process, right now he is going to be assessed with evaluations and tests. but at least once to twice a week he is being sent home because he is suffering from headaches, nausea, and throwing up. He is having a headache 3x a week. He was a A & B student now he is failing in reading,math and writing. How can I get a legal absence for this when it is the stress of school that might be causing this? Should I make the school have a neurologist test him? Shouldnt the school be helping him now, not after the school assessments? He will fail either way, absences or failing grades. need help here.



First, this is not medical advice. I am a mom with a middle school kid who was suspected during his early years by well meaning teachers that he had ADHD, etc. I was at my wits end. The assessment resulted in the doctor questioning the “so called” expertise levels of the teachers, school psychologists, etc. But, I did take note of the teachers’ observations and focused on activities outside of school to further develop his talents, refocus his energy and motivate him. For him, it was sports and theater. Yes, he has a LD. It does not limit him but it does shape him in many ways. I am glad that I went to a great doctor who guided us, understood the nature of boys and resources in the community that helped him develop into a mature young man.



My son is 7 years old. He has ADHD and ADD but however he is not struggling academically. His issues are more behavior oriented. Is this common with most kids and do you think this is a disability?


help, my 4 1/2 old grandson (adhd) was suspended from his school bus for 3 days because of a matron who could not handle him. What can I do. I have very little money and will have to take him there, come home, pick him up and go home again.

Is this fair. They know that he is adhd,


my 4 year old never stops moving he even move in his sleep. He often falls out of bed and once his feet hit the floor he is gone, he constantly talks. His doctor says it isn’t ADHD because he is extremely bright and that nothing can be done until he is school. I limit his sugar very rarely gets sweets, is there anything that I can do to help him before Kindergarten??????


I have a son who was diagnosed with ADHD/PDD since he was 5yrs old (now 9 yrs old). He’s had problems in school with the academic part since kinder. He is well behaved in school. Since we live in a town close to the Mexican border he was enrolled in a bilingual program. He was retained in first grade because of his lack of knowledge, he does not read nor does he comprehend the lecture. This year he was promoted to third grade to an all english class. Now he is very frustrated and is way behind in his lecture. He was having issues with the bilingual class and now it’s worst. Now the principal has told my wife that he should be transfered to another school within the district where there are special classes for children with special needs. I feel that they are giving up on my child. What else can I do to help him?


No, ADHD is not a learning disability. ADHD doesn’t affect the learning part, it affects the execution. In fact those with ADHD are incredibily intelligent people who ENJOY learning but tend to get bored so easily because their brains run so fast. They just learn differently and have to work harder that those without ADHD. Although people say that those with ADHD struggle with doing well in school, keeping a job or staying in college, it’s not because they can’t learn. People with ADHD believe it or not are natural learners.. Support and using the energy to your advantage is key. I am an adult ADHD finished an Associate’s degree in education and I have not taken meds of any kind. I just work my butt off and enjoy life and I owe it to the support of my parents, raising me with structure and being proud of all my accomplishments.


Hi, I am 21 years old and I have ADHD and a Learning Disorder. I unfortunately was not diagnosed until I was 18, the legal age to do so without parental consent. All parents who find their child having problems and are diagnosed with this LD should not worry, because with patience and early intervention it can help your child thrive in and outside of school. I struggled the entire time in grade school, with tons of tutors (especially for math and reading), and little to no patience from teachers and my parents. I could have done well with special ed in grade school, but I went to a Private School so it was too expensive to have extra help. Now I self advocate, and advocate for others. I am in college, and plan to be a Special Ed Teacher to help those like me and more severe who need more people to advocate for them.


I’m interested in finding out what kind of attorney handles these NCLB/AYP/ADD/ADHD, cases. My grandchild needs help (tutoring) but his school continues to let things slide. We have found that a LOT of parents get free tutoring, but for some reason we don’t qualify. He takes meds for ADD. It seems we are on a hamster wheel, round and round without getting anyplace. Any thought of how to get this tutoring.


Thank you for this information. We are having such trouble with my son’s school. This started in kindergarten and he is now in second grade and I am also being told that ADHD is not a learning disability so he does not qualify for help in the resource room. My son is ADHD combined type with memory deficit. He also has vision issues that require him to wear bifocals since kindergarten. We just had a meeting yesterday and it was so upsetting. I have a lot of reading to do with the links you provided. Thank you again for posting this!


My daughter was diagnosed with adhd after her school suggested that we consult a psychologist about ADHD due to her disorganization, inattention and hyperactivity and going from an A student in elementary school to failing middle school, the school completed a Conners’ which we brought to the counselor who stated that she met the criteria for ADHD. This was her first year in the middle school with changing classes and having different teachers. The school set up a CSE meeting and offered all types of services. I declined them all except counseling and a check and connect program where she met with a teacher in the morning and the last period of the day to help her organize and we worked with a counselor to teach her ways to stay organized she is now in 10th grade honors programs. It was a lot of work but worth it.


I totally have to agree with what is said in this article.


I’m an ADD kid. I was diagnosed in 1991 when it was all still new and scary. To date Im still disorganized, still all over the place but I reigned it in well enough to be a software engineer for a major financial company.

As an ADD adult and one of the first through the “Special school system” I have a peice of advice. Stop making such a big deal out of it. We’re rebellious, we feel constricted if anyone trys to define us or make us into one of the normal kids.

We will never march to that drum no matter how hard you push or what drugs you shove down our throats. Just let us be, We figure it out eventually. I did. Now Im sitting on top of the world and I did it my way, No drugs, HS drop out, happy, in a healthy relationship, and making more money than that so called child study team.

Were special, were brilliant, were beautiful

d hale

we have been told my grandson has adhd and dysgraphia. Is this a website where I can get help to understand questions i have about his disabilities thank you. grandee in texas


I have been reading about ADHD and Aspergers Syndrome. My 6 yr old is having school problems including suspensions last year and this year. The pediatrician started him on medication for ADHD. His therapist of only 2 sessions said she won’t work with him until he is medicated. His previous therapist had no problem working with him. We only changed therapists because the first one took a teaching position.

My son gets a write up every day and at least 2x a week I get a referral. Last Friday, he did not take several tests and had to be removed from class again. In less than a month, he missed 3 days of education because he was suspended. The principal has discussed issues with the uncle, and the uncle passes information to the father. So I can not trust confidentiality with the principle. Can he be ESE


My nephew is in denial about his ADHD but the school is working with my sister. What has not been addressed is that older students with ADHD have to have an internal motivation. My nephew is in the 11th grade. At this point, my sister is focusing (not on the meds which he refuses to take) but motivating him to stay in sports (which help a lot) and to graduate. For a lot of parents, it becomes a bit difficult to navigate when a child is older as they do have their own “voices” and their own “rights.” My sister made a smart move by dropping the medication discussion and focusing on his primary needs. One cannot make a 17 year old take medicine but one can guide him, support him in his sports and insure that he graduates. That is all she can do.


hey! i am very upset that i have to keep waiting around for my diploma. they didn’t let me know that i had a learning disability
until i got older. i have adhd now and a math disorder.
i don’t understand i had a reading problem in elementary school and they wrote down things letting people know i had this probelm, but never got treated for it until now. i am 23 yrs oldi have my own online business, but i am still waiting for my psychologist to see if i can get a letter of recommendation
if that doesn’t help. is it true that i can go to court to have
an appeal? cause they have been holding onto my diploma cause i failed my math exam and passed all my classes. i swear the education system in louisiana sucks.


What abt Adults w/ ADD who never received testing for IEP or obtained a 504? What if you were diagnosed in your early 20s after elem and HS? How are your rights protected? I am on the verge of being terminated from my school not bc of a low GPA but bc of my ICR simply from withdrawing from so many classes. This is an expensive condition. A year ago my Community College did not have ADD specific services for students. I was told ADD is NOT a learning disability but I’ve read and thought otherwise. I was tested by my school to find I have mathematics disorder but I suspect they did not fully test me. How can I be tested for LDs to ensure I’ve been tested for everything. I am 29 yrs old. I see now that the CC offers ADD Coaching for its students. Are times changing? Thank you in advance for your feedback!