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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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118 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?


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.