"Perhaps ADHD Wasn't the Only Problem."

The signs and symptoms of learning disabilities are too often mistaken for ADHD in children who struggle to read, focus, and sit still. Here's one family's story and advice for getting to the root of your child's challenges at school.

Helping Your Child with ADHD and LD, Part 2

ADHD and learning disability

The term "learning disability," or LD, covers a lot of territory. There is no neat, concise definition. Of all the complex things in the universe, the most complex is the human brain. People learn in unique and idiosyncratic ways.

People with LD are generally of average or above-average intelligence, but they process certain types of information differently from everyone else. When these differences cause significant impairment in the ability to read, write, speak, spell, do math, or build social skills, we call that impairment a learning disability.

Learning disabilities affect one in every seven people, according to the National Institutes of Health. Research studies show that, depending on how learning disorders are defined, 25% to 50% of children with ADHD also have one or more co-existing learning disabilities. Children with both ADHD and LD are at greater risk for academic problems, anxiety and depression, and difficulty with social and family relationships.

Like Christie, children with ADHD and LD suffer chronic frustration that takes a devastating toll on confidence and self-esteem. Their emotional problems are as debilitating as the learning and academic struggles. Like Christie, many of these children function well in the preschool years. When they start school, however, they are likely to experience emotional stress, feelings of insecurity, anxiety associated with expectation of failure, and, sometimes, depression. The emotional problems are likely to become worse over time, as the child falls behind peers in knowledge and achievement.

The difficulties with social skills and relationships that are commonly associated with ADHD may be compounded by a learning disability. Children with both ADHD and LD may have more difficulty reading social cues (such as body language), expressing themselves verbally, and learning from their mistakes.

Warning signs and early intervention

Learning disabilities should be identified and treated as early as possible, preferably before the fourth grade. In a study by the NIH on problems with language and reading, it was found that 67% of students identified as at risk for reading difficulties could achieve average or above average reading ability when they received help early.

It is essential for parents to recognize the warning signs that may be suggestive of learning disability. In the preschool years, the symptoms may involve delays in talking, slow vocabulary growth, and problems in learning the alphabet, numbers, and basic facts, such as the days of the week. There may be trouble interacting with peers, and low ability to follow directions or routines. In the early grades, common symptoms are errors in reading and spelling, transposing numbers, confusing arithmetic signs, inability to plan, poor coordination, and a proclivity to accidents.

What parents can do

If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, ADHD, or both, take action. Get the help your child needs. Become familiar with the services available for children with ADHD and LD, and the legal rights and resources for children with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

When Christie's academic problems continued even after her AD/HD was treated, her parents requested a thorough educational evaluation. The testing uncovered a learning disability and provided a clearer picture of her academic struggles. Finally, her parents and teachers developed an individual educational plan (IEP) that gave Christie the help she needed.

Christie is one of the fortunate children whose ADHD and LD were diagnosed and treated at an early age. She works with a remedial reading specialist at school and is showing significant improvement. Homework is still a struggle at times, but Christie knows that, with help from others and a little more effort on her part, she can do well in school. She no longer feels helpless, misunderstood, and inadequate, and that in itself makes a huge difference in her mood and motivation.

Along with the educational interventions, Christie works with a therapist to undo the emotional damage and rebuild her shattered confidence. She enjoys a healthy level of achievement, and the nightly homework battle is an infrequent occurrence rather than the norm. Even better, the enthusiastic and fun-loving Christie is running around the house again.

This article appears in the Winter issue of ADDitude.
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Does your child have both ADHD and another learning disability? Share experiences with other parents in the Learning Disabilities and ADHD support group on ADDConnect.

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TAGS: Comorbid Conditions with ADD, ADHD Accommodations, 504s, IEPs, ADHD Medication and Children, Diagnosing Children with ADHD

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