Parenting ADHD Children with Learning Disabilities

Expert strategies for parenting children with both ADHD and learning disabilities like dyslexia.

Twice the Challenge: AD/HD and LD ADDitude Magazine

25% to 50% of children with ADHD also have one or more co-existing learning disabilities.

As a pre-schooler, Christie was the most affectionate, enthusiastic, and happy child among her large circle of friends. She was popular with her peers and adored by most of the adults in her life. She was clearly a bright, creative girl, with a ton of ability and a personality to match. She was the biggest source of joy in her parents' life.

Christie's parents began to notice signs of learning difficulties shortly after she started first grade. She struggled with reading and learning new facts in school. Her teacher described her distractibility, restlessness, and difficulty following directions. After speaking with Christie's parents and teacher, her pediatrician diagnosed her as having attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) and prescribed a stimulant medication.

The medication reduced Christie's distractibility and restlessness. Unfortunately, the learning problems continued. She still had difficulty reading and struggled with spelling words. Perhaps ADHD was impairing her concentration and memory; it was difficult to tell. Christie took an inordinate amount of time to complete her homework, but her parents knew this was not uncommon for a child with ADHD.

By second grade, study time was a nightly battle to get Christie started on homework and to keep her on task. The quality of her work was inconsistent. Her parents and teachers knew she was bright and capable of much better work. But the more they pushed her, the more frustrated and reluctant she became to apply herself to schoolwork.

"Christie, you're not even trying!" her father admonished her at the homework table. "I AM trying!" she yelled, with hurt and bewilderment in her voice. The argument that followed ended with the homework scattered on the floor and Christie running to her room. Why did her parents think she was lazy? Why did they keep picking on her? And, finally, she asked herself, what is wrong with me? Maybe she was stupid after all, as her younger brother delighted in telling her.

By third grade, Christie was falling behind her classmates in reading, spelling, and a number of subjects. Her mother spent hours working on homework with her, which often left both of them frustrated and angry. Her parents also began to see changes in her personality. Their enthusiastic, affectionate, happy child was becoming withdrawn. The once carefree, fun-loving Christie now seemed tense and stressed.

As Christie's struggle continued, her frustration and confusion grew. She lost confidence in her academic abilities and, not surprisingly, her enthusiasm for school. She became angry and oppositional at home, particularly toward her mother. She argued and fought with her brother constantly. He, in turn, resented Christie because she was getting so much attention from their parents. Christie didn't want the attention - she was sick of it! She withdrew from the family and spent more time in her room. Christie looked and acted like a child who never had any fun. She became the biggest source of worry and concern in her parents' life.

Something had to give. Christie's parents requested a meeting at school with her teacher and principal. That meeting led to a decision to have her tested by the school psychologist. Perhaps ADHD wasn't the only problem.

The results of the tests showed their new concerns were legitimate. In addition to ADHD, Christie was diagnosed with Developmental Reading Disorder, better known as dyslexia. It is one of the most common learning disabilities, her parents were told, and treating the ADHD did not address the learning problems.


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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