Learning Disability and ADHD Strategies

Brief Definition of Learning Disabilities

Northwestern University uses the following definition of learning disability:

Learning Disability is a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and the use of listening, spelling, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical skills. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction and may occur across the life span. Problems in self-regulatory behaviors, social perceptions, and social interaction may exist with learning disabilities but do not by themselves constitute a learning disability. Although learning disabilities may occur concomitantly with other disabilities,...they are not the result of those conditions or influences.

-National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities

Brief Definition of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD)

AD/HD is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. For someone to be diagnosed with AD/HD,

  • Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms that cause impairment must have been present before age 12, although many individuals are diagnosed after the symptoms have been present for a number of years, especially in the case of individuals with the Predominantly inattentive presentation
  • Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms must be present in at least two settings (e.g., at home and at school or work, with friends or relatives, etc.
  • There must be clear evidence of interference with or reduced quality of social, academic, or occupational functioning
  • The symptoms do not exclusively occur during the course of schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder and are not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g., mood disorder, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, or personality disorder, substance intoxication or withdrawal).

-Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5

Considerations When Working with Students with Learning Disabilities or AD/HD

Learning disability (LD) and AD/HD are not disorders that a student outgrows; they are lifelong disorders that should not be confused with lower intelligence although they do have a significant impact on learning. LD and AD/HD can often cause inconsistent academic performance and may only require accommodation in specific classes, or they may have a more global effect on academics.