View Full Version : ADHD - "learning disability" or not? Why?


mrh235
07-14-16, 06:57 PM
[MODERATOR NOTE: This discussion was split off from an earlier thread (http://www.addforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=178702)so as to give both discussions the attention they deserve.]

ADHD =/= Learning Disability.. like, you can have ADHD, but not experience symptoms strong enough to negatively impact your ability to focus and learn. You can have a disorder without it being a disability.. but if its bad enough, then its disabling. Obviously there are many people with ADHD who have it bad enough that it does qualify as a LD. You and Myself included.

However.. ADHD is classically defined as a Behavioral/Developmental Disorder (unless this has changed and i dont know anymore - which wouldnt surprise me). Developmental disorders by definition are disorders that cause individuals living with them many difficulties in certain areas of life, especially in "language, mobility, learning, self-help, and independent living".

iDTour


Thank you your explanation helps a lot. I also read online that ADHD is more global (happens in more settings and is omnipresent) than learning disabilities, but if that is a reason why it isn't considered a learning disability, that's a very poor reason to deny individuals accommodations. I saw that the IDEA updated their criteria for accommodations to be more inclusive for ADHD individuals but I remember when I was first diagnosed it wasn't as inclusive and it still is harder to get accommodations for ADHD in school than for learning disabilities

Impromptu_DTour
07-14-16, 08:03 PM
Thank you your explanation helps a lot. I also read online that ADHD is more global (happens in more settings and is omnipresent) than learning disabilities, but if that is a reason why it isn't considered a learning disability, that's a very poor reason to deny individuals accommodations. I saw that the IDEA updated their criteria for accommodations to be more inclusive for ADHD individuals but I remember when I was first diagnosed it wasn't as inclusive and it still is harder to get accommodations for ADHD in school than for learning disabilities

It shouldnt be harder to get accommodations. See the water is quite murky to be honest.. this is going to sound whack, and probably jerk some knees.. so i'll just start with "as i perceive it" because im too lazy to go grab studies and journals.

ADHD and "Learning Disability" are not (exactly) synonymous. "Learning Disability" best describes specifically the set of varying circumstances and symptoms which inhibit an individuals ability to read, memorize, recall.. ergo learn. However there are specific Learning Disabilities (of course) like Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Language Processing, Non-Verbal Learning, Visual Motor, Visual Perceptive and Auditory Processing (i have this in part, not uncommon for persons with ADHD and Autism too i believe).

ADHD CAN be a Learning Disability.. but it only presents itself as one in between 30 to 50% of people with ADHD (which in hindsight .. might actually be where this 33% misunderstanding from the OP is coming from).

But ADHD describes symptoms (which may or may not be considered "disabling" depending on the severity) and difficulties that are broader than that, but are not exclusive to Learning, but management and self regulation and life skill developments... as well as symptoms which may (or may not) affect learning.

So.. you can be ADHD, and not have a Learning Disability. Its going to depend on the individual, their symptoms, their strategies, and honestly their health and well-being too. Much of my life my ADHD did not present itself as an LD.. and i never had a problem with it.. however when i transitioned into my engineering program, i got diagnosed with BP2 (i had a second episodic break) as well as ADHD, and then all bets were off. My Executive Function, and all that crap was shot, and im still trying to redevelop strategies and new systems of self regulation to get that under control before Fall term.. which.. honestly is not working.

So honestly, its because of the combination of ADHD, and BP2, and my management skills and coping mechanisms which are contributing to my "Learning Disability". However describing SPECIFICALLY where that all is being called from.. I can do... but not under any "official" model of Psychiatry or Neurology. Really its a collaborative effort that im getting screwed over by right now.

As far as schools are concerned.. im pretty certain all that the Disabilities Department is aloud to ask is for you to describe HOW it manifests as an LD for you, and then provide accommodations for those struggles. They dont have the authority to tell you if you are or are not disabled, thats the Health Services department (which they may or may not have permission to talk to about your case, depending on your authorizations and/or their policy).

Many schools (especially today), stay far away from discriminating persons who have Documented Disorders with official Diagnoses, and pretty much hear "I have ADHD", ask for documentation, and then tell you what accommodations they provide FOR students with ADHD.

Its not the school's job to discern if you do or do not have a Learning Disability. But it is their legal obligation to accommodate students who have documented disorders which contribute to an environment which defines a disability for learning.. and HIPPA blocks them from doing anything more than requesting information and providing services.

Hope that helps some,

iDTour

namazu
07-14-16, 10:39 PM
TL;DR: ADHD can definitely make learning and school difficult, but different regulations sometimes have definitions of "specific learning disabilities" that don't necessarily encompass ADHD-related impairments.

It gets extra confusing, too, because the regulations that apply during K-12 education differ, in part, from the regulations that apply to higher education (in the United States). IDEA (http://idea.ed.gov/) applies only to children/adolescents from birth through grade 12 (or age 21), and covers provision of special education / remedial services, while Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act applies throughout life and is more about general accommodations/access. And then there's the Americans with Disabilities Act. Here's a handy comparison chart. (http://dredf.org/advocacy/comparison.html)

ADHD alone is not generally considered a "specific learning disability" under the restrictive definitions of the IDEA. As you've both noted, ADHD's impact tends to be considered more "global" in some ways than LDs, which are defined by impairments in specific academic skills. While ADHD can certainly affect learning, its effects are not usually limited to academic difficulties.

...Now, I believe that some of that distinction is a historical artifact, from when ADHD was considered primarily a "behavior" disorder and its cognitive effects were not appreciated as much. Views of both ADHD and LD are changing, in that the underlying processing problems that tend to lead to LDs are now seen as having impacts beyond strictly academic skills, and the associations of ADHD with specific learning-related skills/processes (like reading comprehension and memory functions) are being looked into more.

General criteria for identification of LDs, according to IDEA, are here (http://idea.ed.gov/explore/view/p/%2Croot%2Cdynamic%2CTopicalBrief%2C23%2C); however, different states and even individual districts implement these guidelines somewhat differently. In the US, schools are mandated to identify students with LDs and other disabilities in the 13 categories outlined by IDEA.

Though IDEA doesn't recognize ADHD as a specific learning disability, it is now explicitly mentioned as an example of an "Other Health Impairment" covered under the statute. Some students with ADHD may have coexisting specific LDs and/or ASD and/or other diagnoses that may also allow them to qualify for individual education plans (IEPs) and special education services, if the ADHD alone doesn't sufficiently "adversely affect educational performance".

K-12 students who are technically ineligible for an IEP under IDEA, but who nonetheless have disabilities like ADHD that require accommodation, may still qualify under a 504 Plan. <--- This was my experience in school...considered ineligible for IEP, but eligible for a 504 Plan. (Improptu_DTour, I hear you on the "self-management skills"! I may have been the only kid in the history of the world who desperately wished I could get help in the "resource room"! I had generally good reading and writing skills, but zero time management and organizational skills, and could have used remedial help with that.)

Section 504 also applies to accommodations in higher education -- regardless of specific diagnosis/diagnoses, as long as there's some type of disability limiting one or more life activities. IDEA doesn't extend to higher education.

There are some general guidelines for establishing eligibility for disability accommodations, promoted by national higher ed organizations, that are followed to varying degrees by different educational institutions. In general, colleges and universities tend to (at least officially) require documentation of "recent" psychoeducational testing (even if no LD is present). This is somewhat controversial because it presents a barrier to accommodations, especially for students who can't afford the expensive (and for ADHD, not-strictly-necessary) testing. A few years ago, I heard from a university disability services coordinator who'd been involved in discussions about these guidelines that some places were moving away from the recent testing requirement, but I don't think this is yet reflected in formal guidance. In my experience, though, some universities are flexible about providing accommodations if there is sufficient other documentation of the disability/disabilities and the impact in higher educational settings.

mrh235
07-14-16, 11:35 PM
TL;DR: ADHD can definitely make learning and school difficult, but different regulations sometimes have definitions of "specific learning disabilities" that don't necessarily encompass ADHD-related impairments.

It gets extra confusing, too, because the regulations that apply during K-12 education differ, in part, from the regulations that apply to higher education (in the United States). IDEA (http://idea.ed.gov/) applies only to children/adolescents from birth through grade 12 (or age 21), and covers provision of special education / remedial services, while Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act applies throughout life and is more about general accommodations/access. And then there's the Americans with Disabilities Act. Here's a handy comparison chart. (http://dredf.org/advocacy/comparison.html)

ADHD alone is not generally considered a "specific learning disability" under the restrictive definitions of the IDEA. As you've both noted, ADHD's impact tends to be considered more "global" in some ways than LDs, which are defined by impairments in specific academic skills. While ADHD can certainly affect learning, its effects are not usually limited to academic difficulties.

...Now, I believe that some of that distinction is a historical artifact, from when ADHD was considered primarily a "behavior" disorder and its cognitive effects were not appreciated as much. Views of both ADHD and LD are changing, in that the underlying processing problems that tend to lead to LDs are now seen as having impacts beyond strictly academic skills, and the associations of ADHD with specific learning-related skills/processes (like reading comprehension and memory functions) are being looked into more.

General criteria for identification of LDs, according to IDEA, are here (http://idea.ed.gov/explore/view/p/%2Croot%2Cdynamic%2CTopicalBrief%2C23%2C); however, different states and even individual districts implement these guidelines somewhat differently. In the US, schools are mandated to identify students with LDs and other disabilities in the 13 categories outlined by IDEA.

Though IDEA doesn't recognize ADHD as a specific learning disability, it is now explicitly mentioned as an example of an "Other Health Impairment" covered under the statute. Some students with ADHD may have coexisting specific LDs and/or ASD and/or other diagnoses that may also allow them to qualify for individual education plans (IEPs) and special education services, if the ADHD alone doesn't sufficiently "adversely affect educational performance".

K-12 students who are technically ineligible for an IEP under IDEA, but who nonetheless have disabilities like ADHD that require accommodation, may still qualify under a 504 Plan. <--- This was my experience in school...considered ineligible for IEP, but eligible for a 504 Plan. (Improptu_DTour, I hear you on the "self-management skills"! I may have been the only kid in the history of the world who desperately wished I could get help in the "resource room"! I had generally good reading and writing skills, but zero time management and organizational skills, and could have used remedial help with that.)

Section 504 also applies to accommodations in higher education -- regardless of specific diagnosis/diagnoses, as long as there's some type of disability limiting one or more life activities. IDEA doesn't extend to higher education.

There are some general guidelines for establishing eligibility for disability accommodations, promoted by national higher ed organizations, that are followed to varying degrees by different educational institutions. In general, colleges and universities tend to (at least officially) require documentation of "recent" psychoeducational testing (even if no LD is present). This is somewhat controversial because it presents a barrier to accommodations, especially for students who can't afford the expensive (and for ADHD, not-strictly-necessary) testing. A few years ago, I heard from a university disability services coordinator who'd been involved in discussions about these guidelines that some places were moving away from the recent testing requirement, but I don't think this is yet reflected in formal guidance. In my experience, though, some universities are flexible about providing accommodations if there is sufficient other documentation of the disability/disabilities and the impact in higher educational settings.

Thank you so much for your post and all the information. Also I'm really grateful you made my posts into thread about this because it's a really frustrating, albeit interesting situation to learn more about, and it really deserves its own discussion. Personally if my ADHD wasn't recognized I'd probably have been diagnosed with several different learning disabilities (dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyspraxia), but they were all due to my adhd, so ADHD can definitely appear as a learning disability and act as one.

I'm glad universities are moving away gradually from the psychoeducational testing even if it's a few because neuropsychs are seriously expensive and paying ~$3000 and the huge amount of time they take to get the same information that you/your doctor and the school already know is just so unnecessary and draining. I wish Medical schools would do the same. I had extra time/accomodations in a class and luckily the professors were understanding, observed me, and understood exactly why I needed it. Extra time isn't even abusable anyway imo, if you need it, you need it, if you don't it won't be helpful.

Cyllya
07-19-16, 04:15 AM
There's a widespread idea that ADHD really only matters in a school context, and I think that idea hurts us as a group, so I tend to cringe when I see anyone assert or suggest that ADHD is a "learning disability"... but now that I think about it, it's not like actual learning disabilities e.g. dyslexia suddenly disappear when you're not in school. So I don't entirely understand the distinction.

In my case, I did pretty well in school, but I crashed and burned once I was "in the real world." (I haaaaaate school because it was supposed to be some kind of magic button to prevent this exact problem. I'm pretty sure that if my parents had called me a homeschooler but just let me loaf around playing video games and such for 13 years straight, I wouldn't have ended up with any fewer life skills.)

mrh235
07-19-16, 08:49 PM
There's a widespread idea that ADHD really only matters in a school context, and I think that idea hurts us as a group, so I tend to cringe when I see anyone assert or suggest that ADHD is a "learning disability"... but now that I think about it, it's not like actual learning disabilities e.g. dyslexia suddenly disappear when you're not in school. So I don't entirely understand the distinction.

In my case, I did pretty well in school, but I crashed and burned once I was "in the real world." (I haaaaaate school because it was supposed to be some kind of magic button to prevent this exact problem. I'm pretty sure that if my parents had called me a homeschooler but just let me loaf around playing video games and such for 13 years straight, I wouldn't have ended up with any fewer life skills.)

Yes, I HATE HATE HATE THAT ASSESSMENT. There's cases of numerous doctors even refusing to prescribe meds because a patient with ADHD is out of school. I'd definitely give them a piece of my mind of that happened to me. For me my impairment was consistent across every environment even video games. ADHD also doesn't go away when you stop being in school. School and work environments are perfect parallels for presence of ADHD.

Caco3girl
07-20-16, 10:31 AM
Okay, here is my opinion. ADHD can be a learning disability but it isn't always. There is no medicine that can fix or improve a learning disability, therefore, ADHD is not a learning disability because medication can affect it.

I am dyslexic, dyslexia is conceptual, our brains don't work like the general population therefore the standardized tests sometimes don't make sense to us, that is why it is a disability...because we have to blend into a society and we phsycially can't compete.

There is a great book called the dyslexic advantage, and I would agree, my dyslexia is an advantage in my work. People often talk about thinking outside the box, as my boss says "Your box isn't even on the same continent as the rest of us"...which makes me valuable.

Society has become a bit of a one mold fits all situation. You line up 100 people and present a common task/problem and you may get maybe 3 different variations on how to solve the problem....you line up 100 dyslexic people and you will likely get more than 50 different ways to solve the problem....we just don't think like the rest of the population. Books and tests are designed to have students intuit a certain level in their learning, not everything is spelled out. Dyslexic people don't get it and need totally different learning methods to even attempt to conform. That is why it is a LD and ADHD is not always.

sarahsweets
07-20-16, 01:11 PM
Adhd can be disabling. If someone has adhd and a learning disability- I would say that adhd would play a large role in how well someone copes with the disability, how impairing it is and if there are other issues, how those play into the mix.

I believe now that I had/have dysgraphia. Ive done awful in math my entire life and I was going to school with the mindset that I never tried hard enough.
I have adhd and bipolar II, GAD and PTSD. I qualify for disability benefits.

Caco3girl
07-20-16, 02:43 PM
Adhd can be disabling. If someone has adhd and a learning disability- I would say that adhd would play a large role in how well someone copes with the disability, how impairing it is and if there are other issues, how those play into the mix.

I believe now that I had/have dysgraphia. Ive done awful in math my entire life and I was going to school with the mindset that I never tried hard enough.
I have adhd and bipolar II, GAD and PTSD. I qualify for disability benefits.

Going to have to agree to disagree on that one....it doesn't matter how well I focus, how many times someone tells me, how quiet the location is I can not tell time on a face clock unless it has the 12, 3, 6, and 9 numbers...okay it can have the 3 or the 6 but it has to have one of those.

I am an avid reader, I can read as fast as I can talk....but I spell at grade level 3.9....doesn't matter how many times I see the word properly spelled, it isn't going to stick for longer than an hour or so. Made spelling tests grueling in school. My college actually said "If you can't spell in English we can't expect you to spell in Spanish, you will take computer code classes to fill your foreign language requirement".