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

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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.

Link: http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/code_regs/OSEP_Memorandum_ADD_1991.html

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.

http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/add.index.htm

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.

-Pam

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

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My son is ADD & is in 5th grade. He was diagnosed in late fall last year (4th grade) & after trying medication, improved so much that they took him off his behavior plan & it was discussed he didn’t need a 504 plan at that time because he was doing so well.
This year is a different story. The (new) vice principal is taking the lead in trying to bring together the social worker, his teacher and us. Unfortunately she doesn’t seem to be very experienced with ADD kids. Our biggest issue is homework & given schedules we want him to complete this in their after school program. The adults in the program will not “make” him do his homework so he plays instead. By the time he gets home his meds have worn off. We’ve asked for extra support to help him get homework done @ school & they say it’s his responsibility.
Can a 504 plan include homework?

Are there DVD’s or Videos available to assist in enlightening teachers who have difficulty accepting that children with ADHD need special accommodations in the classroom?

A parent was told by a teacher a few years ago that there was a video that helped her understand children with ADHD. It has been awhile and the parent has no contact with the teacher at this time.

Hope you can lead me to a resource.

Thanks, BB

I have a 17 yr old daughter who has Social Anxiety Disorder. She has just been kicked out of her school because the school said in the IEP meeting that they don’t have enough staff to handle Amber when she has a panic attack or melt down. Isn’t that against the Civil Rights laws? I’m so angry! She was in the hospital for treatment and they didn’t even mark her excused. They refused to give her make up work saying she would “have plenty of time to make it up”. I’m angry! HELP!

Hi my name is Shannon,

I have 5 boys with different disorders and my oldest had ADHD and ODD and he does have help and supports at school but when it comes to learning material that suits him they can’t seem to find much for him for at least not for his grade and I am constantly online trying to find new stuff for him but it’s not easy.

Do you know anywhere I can try websites and such for ADHD learning and ODD learning and or advice at not at a lot of cost as I don’t have much money?

Any advice would be helpful as well

Thanks Shannon

dr russell barkley has very good info on ADD http://www.russellbarkley.org/adhd-facts.htm
i attended a lecture of his given by the learning disability people of alberta. dr barkely has a lifetime of research and work under his belt. at this stage he wishes to educate as many people as possible. i was familiar with his writing however seeing this passionate, endearing man in person was very moving. he tells of his twin brother who had ADD, and warns parents of adult children with ADD to be very cautious with them having driver’s license : Road Rage.
the brain of an individual with ADD is formed differently ie., their motor skills are advanced, while executive function is delayed.
take about a third off the age of a child with ADD, for that will give you a benchmark for the age you are more likely dealing with. its persistant + lifelong

inattentive symptoms :
poor persistence toward goals or tasks (cant attend to boring activities)
highly distractable
poor task reengagement if distracted

*attention to the future is the main issue. ADD prevents persistence

*no perceptual distortion. issue is distraction reaction. poor inhibition and impulsiveness

*trouble remembering what to do > working memory is one of five executive functions. working memory is holding goal in your mind, and steps to follow ie., goal and plan, end and sequence

*poor emotional self-control

cant calm self down and create more rational socially appropriate emotional responses when upset. we see emotions more, and once provoked, they remain more raw and unmoderated. medical science has known about the emotional piece for about 150 yrs., but the emotional piece was lost in the 1970s.

My 13 year old son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was about 6 years old. He was held back in first grade and has since struggled in school. Every year is a different struggle — not wanting to take his medications or difficulty making friends and getting along with children his age. He is constantly in trouble at home but the sweetest kid in his school classroom. I am so frustrated with him and need all the information and help I can get..

Hello, I am writing this because my son have been diagnosed with ADHD/ADD, I applied for some type of assistance and they denied me because they stated his condition are not life long. My son is failing in school because he is not focused and his attention span is very short. The Doctor reviewed my son, he immediately diagnosed him as having a major learning disability. My questions to you all, What steps do I take to help my son get the needed help and find the resources available?

I was just responding to one of your questions, I have ADHD and i’m 18. As a child I was diagnosed with ADD and as time went on I was diagnosed with ADHD. I’m extremely unorganized, however I am working on it along with taking notes for tests, exams and quizes. I’m on concerta and it enables me to focus better. I went to my counselor and talked to her about getting extended time on certain tasks such as projects tests and homework. She said yes as long as I got a not from my doctor. If the school denies you that request record the time and date etc (try and bring a relative, friend or spouse with you so you have a witness to the answer) and you can always bring it up to the school board (:

IS ADHD A LEARNING DISABILITY

Eydia My son has ADHD and no learning disability. We were able to get him on an OHI (other health impaired) IEP. We had to have our physician fill out a form that the school had for him to qualify. Once we were able to get him on the IEP we requested a behavior assessment by the school which helped everyone to understand his “triggers” and to come up with a positive behavior plan for him. We also came up with some modifications that helped him settle down after recess and other times where his ADHD got him in trouble. This worked very well for us.

Eydia–
Does your school or educational cooperative have a behavior specialist? I am a speech pathologist in a public school, and our schools share a behavior specialist who observes the children in the classroom. She then makes recommendations for the parents and teachers—things to implement to help students function and get their work done. She is 99.9% of the time opposed to medication. She has been very helpful in getting our teachers to understand ADD and ADHD.

My son is in the 2nd grade and since he was in kinder he was diagnosed with ADHD. Since last year we started having lots of problems with the school staff and his grades. He use to love to go to school. Now he is at the point that at his early age he doesn’t want to go or stay in school. I have tried everthing i can to see what other help he can get in school but everyone in school tell me there is nothing more they can do. His grades are so bad that he might fail this year. Honestly I don’t know what else to do. He is going to terapy and taking medication but i’m still having a hard time with him at school and the staff seem to have giving up on him. I feel my son is being targeted because the staff doesn’t understand his disability and they see it as him just having a bad attitude and always trying to get away with anything.Need help.

I have an 11 year old that has been diagnosed with ADHD since he was 6 yeard old. I live in Hillsbouorgh County Florida and my son has been through a lot with the public school he was in . I was lied to about his progress. He is behind by about 2 years . I put him in a private Special ED school for this school year and this school isn’t any better than the public school. Any information about these issues would help. Thank You Laura

Of note, just like ADHD, SLD is NOT a form of “retardation”–better term intellectual disability.

I’ve been raising my 14y/o g’son with impulsive ADHD & Aspergers since age 2. He is now in H.school & continues to have diff, esp. with being able to write on topics teachers chose. I have contacted his appointed case manager, the special ed supervisor, & TN Voices for Child. for any guidence in how to help him. Do you have any ideas?

You need to figure out how your child’s disability adversely affects his educational performance. Some good books to read: Chris Dendy, Teens With ADD and ADHD and anything written by Rick Lavoie. Often ADHD does go hand in hand with some type of SLD but not always. Also if you do not have a copy of the Wright’s book, “Special Education Law” that would be your first step, then see Other Health Impairment. The greatest thing about the Wright’s book is the index in the back, it will take you to every place in the regulations where a particular term is used.

I am sory but your information i wrong. I was diagnosed with ADHD, however I stil manage to get straight As. Also my IQ test results are above average. So when you say ADHD affects learning, your wrong. ADHD is a DISORDER not RETARDATION.

ADHD itself is not a learning disability. It is a health impairment, which is why students with ADHD usually fall under OHI in elgibility. Often students with ADHD HAVE a specific learning disability (SLD) but ADHD itself is not one. SLD is usually categorized in the area of reading, writing or math.

My sons school has been giving me the run around. He has ADHD and they said it wasn’t a learning disability. I went beyond the school and had him evaluated by a psychologist. The psychologist stated in her report that he tested average in most skills but due to his ADHD that his school should provide a IEP and provide extra help for him. I took this to the school and told him I wanted something done. They did write something up and helped him last year. This year is a different story. He has struggled all year and now they said he wasn’t even given a IEP and that it didn’t matter what the psychologist’s report said. They told me I needed to have given them something in writing although I already had within the same school district and they told me I didn’t need to. What if the school tries to say he still doesn’t need help?

My child has ADHD but she is in a private school. Are private schools obligated to make accommodations for children with ADHD and if so to what extend?

My daughter has recently been diagnosed as having ADHD and ODD. She is only six years old but seems very bright. The schools testing of course shows that she is of average intelligence. I have asked that she have an IEP because she has not been able to get higher than a 60 in spelling all year. She isn’t able to read yet either but the IEP team said that she only needs a 504 because she isn’t educationally affected. She also suffers from anxiety problems that prevent her from her from finishing her class work. She is inattentive and nervous. Her teacher said she was in danger of failing and actually sent notice to the principal on the matter. The school from the moment I asked for an IEP has done nothing but tell me the reasons they think she doesn’t need one despite the fact that she struggles. I don’t know how to get her more help

my son is 5 yrs old. He has been kicked out of school more than he has been enrolled. He has been diagnosed with ADHD and on several different med.’s we haven’t found the right one yet. Ofcourse he has failed his first year in school. His kindergarden teacher is at wits end. I’ve sat through 3 or 4 IEP meetings, the last one ended up with me crying and screaming because they called my son a monster. My son deserves a education as well as the next child. Now the latest thing now is he has acted up on the school bus and now is being kicked off the rest of the school year. I would appreciate any advice what so ever. We live in Washington county maryland.

Kelli: If your son has already been on several different meds, you are probably seeing a psychiatrist. Most psychiatrists prescribe meds but do not do therapy.

If your 5 year old is already in so much trouble, you need to work with a therapist who specializes in treating children with ADHD. You may also need family therapy. If parents are trained to deal with a child’s behavior problems, they can help to turn things around. Meds are part of treatment, not the complete treatment plan.

The school probably doesn’t have a clue about how to help your boy. The sooner you get things turned around, the more likely this story will have a happy ending. In the meantime, please read “Taming Lions and Tigers,” an article by Pete about raising children with ADHD:
http://www.wrightslaw.com/advoc/ltrs/discipline.Bobbie.htm

Is Failing the measure that IDEAFAPEIEP/504 requires to maintain a student with ADHD, gifted, superior, above average abilities by evidenced assessment for IDEAFAPEIEP/504 with avergage ability in writing ability that is intially matching critria for IDEAFAPEIEP/504, and resulting from the use of writing when the ability to put on paper what they clearly do know ?
For the ADHD learner, who persistantly shows this charactoristic are IDEAFAPEIEP services corectly dropped by a school district without further assessment testing supported by getting “good grades” in a selection of courses that prevent that student: IEP services including: assitive techology assessments; OT assessments that avoid the issue of putting in writing what the student does know when orally presenting;
is routeenely withheld opertunities in full reg ed,honors and AP?

My son has the same problem. I found that changing his diet, eliminating foods with dyes especially red#40, and caffeine as well as extending bed time has helped. It takes alot of work, but you can be successful without medication. My child is successful in school without any extra services.

Medication is a personal decision to be made between a parent and the child’s Doctor. Every individual is different. I will say that there is no solid research or support from experts in the field of ADHD that states kids with ADHD can be improved through diet alone. The dietary outcomes are no different than the general population. Please refer to CHADD: the national organization that deseminates current and validated research regarding ADHD.

Jenny:

That is up to the specific school district. I know that in our school district we, as school psychologists, do not diagnose a student with ADHD or ADD. The pediatrician is much better equipped to accurately diagnose. School psychologist’s can then take that diagnosis and evaluate the student for special education services if the child has a need. Some children with ADD or ADHD are able to use their own coping skills to be successful without additional supports. So the school psychologist’s role is to find out if the student does, or does not need the additional supports that special education offers. Also a school does not legally have to pay for a service or in this case a diagnostic evaluation from a doctor unless the school suggests that it be done. I hope this helps.

If a parent disagrees with a school evaluation, by law, the parent may request an evaluation at public expense. They are entitled to one per year. The school may not restrict where the parents take the child, but the parents may need to follow certain rules regarding the qualifications of the provider. Always put the request in writing and work it out before the outside evaluation is done. Keep in mind, schools only have to consider independent evaluations and don’t have to take any or all recommendations. However, if the provider is highly qualified or there is a pattern of difficulty over years, the school would be remiss not to utilize the valuable information that is provided to them.

As a School Psychology Intern I can tell you that under educational law, there is a difference between ADHD and ADD and a Specific Learning Disability. This may be where the confusion is. ADHD/ADD is usually under the category of Health Impaired when getting services and a Learning Disability is under the category of Specific Learning Disability which is served differently and categorized differently. While ADHD/ADD (which also are not the same thing) can negatively affect a students ability to learn and services can be received for this, they are not called a Learning Disability. When completing an evaluation on a student there are differences between a student with a Learning Disability and a student with ADHD or ADD.

ADHD DIAGNOSIS

Is it true that a school district cannot provide an evaluation of a student who is suspected of having ADHD or ADD because it requires a diagnosis by a medical doctor not a school psychologist?

Even if this is true, shouldn’t that evaluation be provided by the school free of charge to the parent?

Here’s a few thoughts to consider:
1. A letter by an MD will usually carry more weight.
2. I started with our pediatrician who then referred us to a psychologist. The MD and psychologist should be collaborating with each other. Both wrote letters on my son’s behalf.
3. Even if a school psychologist could make a diagnosis-I would still have an independent highly qualified doctor document the diagnosis.
A. The school has a conflict of interest.
B. A psychologist can not prescribe ADHD medication. Only a licensed medical doctor can do that.
4. Schools can evaluate your child for the potential need for special education. A parent or school member can make a request (always in writing).
Hope that helps.

TX Parent, I work for Partners Resource Network, the TX Parent Training & Information Center. You can go to our website @ http://www.partnerstx.org and find the regional coordinator that works with your area. If you contact them, they can provide you with information and help in addition to the good resources on this website and blog.

I have a 13 year old son diagnosed with ADHD and LD. I will say he has shut down in school and is pretty much a 7th grade drop out. We changed schools at the end of January (he was assaulted by a behavioral specialist at the old school). It has been HELL for us since the transfer. He goes to a new school, upper middle class to wealthy families and a staff who has not dealt much with special ed children(there are very few special ed children in this school). My son has been suspended or placed in ISS 39 days since the end of JAnuary. He has also been placed in two AP classes (these are advanced classes) due to his behavior. I argued this but the said the teacher teaches the same as the regular class (I know way better than that) the homework and class work is just different. Well, due to my son being out of class so much, he is failing 2 classes (one of those the AP class) and will have to attend summer school. That is what a child who hates school and struggles through it needs. I need some advice on what to do? Has anyone out there gone through this and survived? I feel like a failure as a parent and I want to fight like mad for my son and then I feel like I should not bail him out….. he needs to learn how to cope with his disability. I will take any advice out there!

Is adhd classified as a disabillity in canadian schools.
(Vancouver BC)I have had nothing but problems with our school
since my son was diagnosed with adhd with behavioral
problems.They tell me that having adhd alone is not a disabillity issue.There was no IEP in place(although they said one was)
another lie,and the counsellor for the school district and vice principal of our secondary school say that it is not reconized.
They made life hell and is now out of school.I would like some input please.
Pissed off mom

Unless your state uses a much broader definition of OHI, this is not likely. The federal definition says it “means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, … due to chronic or acute health problems such as (then it lists a number of medical conditions).”
Written expression falls under LD & processing issues could also fall under LD. Unfortunately, schools are focusing on so many issues that handwriting & fine motor skills are areas that receive limited attention. A program called “Handwriting without Tears” is a program that OT’s often use and recommend for teachers to use. In my experience, it can be helpful for many students. However, frequently regular ed teachers say that they do not have time to use it.

My question is regarding whether Visual Processing Disorders which affect fine motor control and impact writing can qualify a student under the OHI category. We just got an OT evaluation on my son which shows him performing at Below Average or Poor on almost all categories in the Visual Processing area. His writing is very bad, but they have not given a formal writing evaluation. His academics are relatively solid except for math reasoning. There is also anecdotal reporting on focus and behavior, but no formal testing on those issues either. He had a speech delay and has been in SpEd since age 3, but now at his Triennial his speech is not testing badly enough to continue his eligibility in that category, despite lingering articulation issues. I am trying to develop a strategy to get him identified as eligible in another category and wonder if the motor and visual processing issues can be an eligible health impairment.

Chuck: Thanks for your insightful comments. You are right about the need to identify all the child’s issues. I worked with kids in mental health settings for decades and I don’t think I ever saw a child with “pure ADHD.” i.e., without any learning disabilities.

It usually takes a skilled evaluator who has expertise in ADHD/LD issues and/or a neuro-psychologist to identify these problems. if JF’s daughter has not had a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation by an expert in the private sector, I would advise that she get this done soon. ~ Pam

As mentioned a person can have more than one disability, so all areas need to be evaluated and all needs identified. However, by itself ADHD does not fall under LD, so the school may have been right in their comment about JF’s daughter. What they should have told him, is that ADHD is specifically mentioned in the federal definition of Other Health Impairment (OHI). The child could also be served under Section 504, if that was appropriate.
So in my experience, if a student has ADHD & is seved by special education, the school will identify them as OHI and perhaps with other disabilities, if appropriate & if they do a complete evaluation. As stated elsewhere on the website, the key is that the IEP identifies all needs and addresses them appropriately.

Mary: Thanks for sharing your success story – because that’s what it is. You wrote “It takes a lot of time and effort” but it’s worthwhile.

Your story reminds me of Pete’s story. The school told his parents he was “borderline mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed” and they needed to lower their expectations for him. His mother got a comprehensive evaluation on him and learned that he has dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD. The school didn’t provide anything (this was before the special education law) so she found a tutor for him. The tutor was Diana Hanbury King, one of the first experts in Orton-Gillingham reading methods. After two years of one-on-one tutoring every day and a summer program, Pete was reading above grade level. He reads faster than me!

The message? Don’t give up on your child. Find out what the problems are and seek help.

My son was diagnosed with ADHD. As he is 18 now he is more aware of how that makes him feel and what he can do about it. School was impossible for him but I found through this website the services and school that would meet his needs. It takes alot of time and effort but it pays off. The schools do not make it easy and hope that you give up. They spend a lot of time complaining and blaming the child and offer little in solutions. Today he has a high school diploma and is ready to start community college. We found through the the maze of road blocks a mental health provider that stopped the road blocks and opened the doors for us but it took a lot of time and effort. The school will finally realize you are not going away and your child is important!

This doesn’t make sense. You need to learn more about this “policy” ASAP. in fact, you need to get a copy of the policy ASAP.

Write a short letter to the head of special education department and describe what you were told – that your son has a disability and an IEP, that you were told that he is not allowed to have a GPA over 2.0. Ask for a written copy of this policy.

I don’t know where you live, or the circumstances that caused your child to be identified as having a disability due to ADD/ADHD, or why is is placed in a “modified” classroom. I don’t know what the implications will be for him later.

How is his class “modified”? Does this mean he is not learning the same material as other 11th graders? Does this mean that he may not graduate with a regular high school diploma? If the school has a policy that children with disabilities cannot make a GPA over 2.0, regardless of how well they do, this certainly sounds like discrimination.

You need more information before you can decide what to do. Request a copy of this “policy” – it may not exist.

My son is in 11th grade, has had an I.E.P since the 6th grade. The I.E.P is for ADD, we currently have him in modified class and it seems to be working out fine. My concern however, his Intervention Specialist told him a few day’s ago that a child in these type of classes cannot make any higher than a 2.0 grade point average in the state. She has also stated to me that she had talked to him and he does not feel that he needs an I.E.P any longer. I get the feeling that she is trying to get him away from the I.E.P and put him in the main stream of things. We have not lived here long, so I am not sure about the laws however, I do find it hard to believe that he can only reach a 2.0 grade point averege.

Yes, you do. Your daughter CAN learn to be more organized but it won’t come naturally. She will require help to learn systems that work for her. Many people with ADHD have no sense of time at all. I worked as a therapist so I learned to pay attention to time (next patient is waiting … ) My husband still has no sense of time so I try to keep him on track.

There are so many websites with good information. ADDitude Magazine has many good articles:

http://www.additudemag.com/

Your daughter may struggle emotionally dealing with the symptoms and with feeling different. If you see this happening, consider counseling by a mental health professional who has expertise in working with people with ADD.

-Pam

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the information!

I have my work cut out for me tonight reading over all of this.

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