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Learning Disabilities and ADHD:

What Parents Need to Know

Approximately 10% of American school-age children suffer from a learning disability (LD) and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control. About 4% of children have both. But for many kids, these disorders go undetected, despite their ongoing struggles with schoolwork and behavior issues that often accompany the conditions.

Often, parents do not suspect learning disabilities because many people associate LDs with low IQ. However, LDs affect children of all intelligence levels and have nothing to do with IQ. In fact, it is not uncommon for a child with a learning disability to excel in one or multiple subjects, while struggling in another. Also, kids with LDs or ADHD may do well under certain conditions, yet, in other situations, they have great difficulty. Depending on the LD and severity of it, a child might struggle in all areas.

Forms of Learning Disabilities

There are multiple forms of LDs. Some pose input problems, which means a child struggles with either sound or visual input. What happens is the information is not processed correctly or gets stored incorrectly in the brain. This can pose problems with the retrieval of information as well as short- or long-term memory.

An LD can also cause output problems. This can sometimes be seen in motor skills such as handwriting difficulties. Another common problem is verbal output. This is usually evident in kids that have trouble organizing their thoughts either in writing or orally. Punctuation, grammar and spelling may also suffer as a result.

Dyscalculia is a math learning disability. Kids with dyscalculia may have difficulty learning to tell time, counting money or counting in general, learning math facts, calculating, understanding measurement, or performing mental math.

Dyslexia is a reading disability, although the symptoms are not exclusive to reading. Children with this disorder may have difficulty with spelling, vocabulary or comprehension. They may read slowly, have trouble learning left from right or have organizational problems with both written and spoken language.

Dysgraphia is a writing disability. Poor handwriting and often an awkward style of holding a pencil or even contorting the body while writing are hallmarks. A child may also have trouble drawing lines. With dysgraphia, kids can often better express their understanding of the material through speech than in writing.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a problem with input. It is not a hearing problem. Instead, the brain has difficulty processing sounds. As a result, kids with APD can be distracted by loud noise or struggle to follow conversations. This can be especially problematic when there are a lot of background noises, which makes it difficult to distinguish sounds.

Visual Processing Disorders (VPD) are also a problem with input. However, VPD is not a vision problem. It is actually a problem with the brain processing what the eyes see. It can result in a child bumping into things or being unable to distinguish the shapes they see. It can also pose difficulty in identifying letters or numbers or result in problems with visual sequencing, among other symptoms.

Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD) is similar to Asperger syndrome and shows up as difficulties with social skills. Academic problems are sometimes present as well but often do not show up until kids reach higher grade levels. Those with NLD may be afraid of new situations, struggle to make friends, lack common sense and experience social withdrawal. Academic problems can include reading comprehension and working out math story problems.

ADHD is marked by attention problems and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. Girls often have only attention issues, while boys are more commonly impulsive or hyperactive. Symptoms can include difficulty staying on task or paying attention. Yet, they often hyperfocus on stimulating activity. Children with ADHD may fidget or have trouble staying seated, interrupt and act without thinking.

The symptoms listed for each of the LDs are not exhaustive. Learn more by visiting the website of the Learning Disabilities Association of America at

If you Suspect Your Child has an LD or ADHD

The first step is to talk with your child's teacher and find out what the teacher has observed. Then speak to the school principal. Public schools are required by law to provide an assessment. This should include an IQ test, assessments of math, reading and writing, and testing of processing skills. If your child is in a private school that does not offer this service, you can request it through your public school district.

Once your child has received a diagnosis, your school psychologist should be able to recommend and help you set up services or accommodations for your child. Depending on the specific learning disability, your child may qualify for special education services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or accommodations through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Keep in mind, you are your child's best advocate. So read books and articles on your child's LD and learn how you and your school can help. Talk to your child's teacher about additional ways the teacher can assist your child. Most teachers are eager to help. Although, depending on the student-teacher ratio and the school's resources, it is sometimes challenging for teachers to do as much as they would like. There are likely other kids in their classrooms with special needs as well. If you feel your child is not getting the help needed, talk to the school administrator.

Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer who owns an online bookshop, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera and more at