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Learning disabilities and ADHD

Girl with a stack of books.

Learning disabilities affect how you understand, remember, and respond to new information. They can cause problems in several areas, including speaking, reading, writing, and doing math.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not a learning disability, but it definitely can affect a person’s ability to learn. And if you have ADHD, there’s a pretty good chance that you may also have a learning disability.

Experts think a combination of factors causes learning disabilities and ADHD, including your genes and the environment around you. For example, lead in drinking water sometimes found in old homes can play a role.

Whatever the causes, having a learning disability or ADHD doesn’t mean you can’t do really well in life. In fact, lots of famous people with learning issues or ADHD — from cartoonist Walt Disney to clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger — went on to fantastic success. Keep reading to learn more about living with learning disabilities and ADHD.

Learning disabilities arrow top

Having a learning disability does not mean that you are slow or dumb. It means that your brain is "wired" a bit differently, so that you learn differently from most other kids.

Below are some common types of learning disabilities:

Learning disabilityWhat it means
Dyslexia
(say: diss-LEK-see-uh)

Dyslexia makes it hard for people to understand and use language. As a result, they may have problems reading, writing, and maybe even speaking. It is the most common type of learning disability. People with dyslexia may:

  • Have problems telling the difference between different sounds, such as "b" and "p"
  • Mix up the letters in a word (for instance, reading the word "now" as "won" or "left" as "felt")
  • See words spaced wrong, so the phrase "The boy went outside" might look like "Th eboyw entouts ide"
Dyscalculia
(say: diss-kal-KYOO-lee-uh)
Dyscalculia makes it hard for people to understand math. They may also have problems telling time and using money.
Dysgraphia
(say: diss-GRAF-ee-uh)

Dysgraphia makes it hard for people to write. People with dysgraphia may:

  • Have poor handwriting
  • Have trouble putting their thoughts on paper
  • Leave sentences unfinished or leave out words

Auditory Processing Disorder

Also called:

  • APD
  • Central auditory processing disorder (CAPD)
  • Auditory perception problem
  • Auditory comprehension deficit
  • Central auditory dysfunction
  • Central deafness
  • Word deafness

People with APD often do not hear little differences between sounds in words, even though the sounds themselves are loud and clear. For example, the request "Tell me how a chair and a couch are alike" may sound like "Tell me how a cow and a hair are alike."

These kinds of problems are more likely to happen when a person with APD is in a noisy room or when he or she is listening to a lot of information.

Visual Processing Disorders

Also called: 

  • Visual perceptual processing disorders

Visual processing disorders affect how the brain thinks about the things that the eye sees. You can have a visual processing disorder and still have perfect eyesight!

Symptoms of a visual processing disorder include problems with:

  • Getting information from pictures, charts, graphs, maps, etc.
  • Putting information from different places together into one document
  • Finding information on a printed page, such as finding a telephone number in a phonebook
  • Remembering directions to a place

There’s no cure for a learning disability, and you may have to deal with it your whole life. But you can learn some great ways to tackle any challenges your disability may bring.

If you haven’t been diagnosed with a learning disability and think you have one, tell your teacher, parents, or guardian. They can start you on the path to the kinds of support you need. You may see a school psychologist or a learning specialist, who can give you tests to figure out what kind of disability you have. Then you may get help from teachers specially trained to guide your learning in ways that work best for you.

One way kids with learning disabilities get help at school is through an Individual Education Program (IEP) — a plan written just for you and your learning needs.

You can learn lots of ways to improve your learning skills, including memory tips from LD Online.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) arrow top

ADHD is a medical condition that affects a person’s ability to pay attention, sit still, and follow directions. If you have ADHD, you may often lose stuff, lose concentration, and just plain lose control — none of which is much fun! But there are lots of tools and treatments for ADHD that can help you build a great future. Some extremely successful people have ADHD, including Ty Pennington, host of the TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Even Albert Einstein is thought to have had it! Some kids also find that their symptoms get better as they get older.

Symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Being easily distracted
  • Acting without thinking things through first
  • Daydreaming a lot
  • Having trouble finishing tasks like homework
  • Feeling restless or fidgety
  • Being very active
  • Having trouble staying organized

Of course, everybody has these issues sometimes. If you have ADHD, though, you likely have them for longer and in more significant ways. And they probably cause some serious problems for you at school, at home, and with your friends.

A diagnosis of ADHD is made by a health care professional trained to recognize it. You could start with a visit to a pediatrician, who might recommend a specialist like a psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist. There’s no one test for ADHD, so diagnosis can involve talking with you, checking your school records, and doing a physical exam to rule out other possible causes for your symptoms.

Treatment for ADHD can be medication, some kind of therapy, or both.

Medications for ADHD include stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall. It may seem strange to treat being hyperactive with something that stimulates you, but these medicines have the opposite effect on kids with ADHD.

If you take medication for ADHD, learn its possible side effects and tell your parents or doctor if you get any. Also, if you know you have a heart condition, tell your doctor, since some ADHD medications can be a problem if you do.

Therapy for ADHD often is a kind called behavioral therapy. This type of treatment helps you work on how you behave. You might learn to give yourself praise or rewards for achieving a goal, like staying cool when you feel angry. Behavioral therapy also can provide the kinds of tips that help manage ADHD. For example, you might develop a system for staying organized, like putting your stuff in the same place every day or posting a list of chores.

Therapy also can be a great chance for you to talk about things that are upsetting you. A therapist can help you find healthy ways to handle your feelings. Sometimes just talking helps!

Schools provide services for kids with ADHD, so your parents should ask what’s available to you. The school will do an evaluation and may offer help like seating you where you’ll be less distracted. If you qualify, you will receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which is designed just for you.

A lot more boys in your school may have a diagnosis of ADHD than girls. But that doesn’t mean ADHD is a guy thing. Some girls have it but just don’t get diagnosed. Experts think girls more often have ADHD symptoms that a teacher might miss, like getting distracted. Boys with ADHD, on the other hand, more often are hyperactive, which is a lot harder to miss. If you think you have ADHD and no one has noticed, speak up to get the help you need.

Lots of things about having ADHD can be challenging — especially added on top of the usual stress a teen faces. But there are so many things you can do to feel better. Find ways to use your skills, relax, and connect with other people. You definitely have what it takes to learn how to deal with ADHD. The fact that you’re reading about it now means you’ve got the strength to put in the effort it takes to succeed!

 

Content last reviewed February 16, 2011
Page last updated October 31, 2013

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