Is ADHD a Learning Disability?

By Bob Cunningham, EdM

Question: I’m confused. I’ve heard some people say ADHD is a learning disability and some people say it isn’t. Which is it?


ADHD isn’t a learning disability. But it can affect learning. Schools know this and have developed different kinds of classroom supports to help children who struggle with attention.

Special education law covers 13 kinds of conditions. Learning disabilities is one of the 13 groups. Another group is called “Other Health Impaired.” This is the group that covers ADHD.

This means that children with ADHD may be able to get an Individualized Education Program (IEP). But here’s where things can get confusing. To qualify for an IEP, a child’s ADHD has to significantly affect her learning or school performance.

So what’s the difference between ADHD and learning differences? A learning disability makes it hard to acquire specific skills such as reading or math. ADHD impacts more global skills like paying attention and controlling impulses. (It’s tough to do well in any subject if you can’t focus on the lessons, homework or tests.)

Here’s another reason some people are confused about ADHD and learning disabilities: It’s common for kids to have both. Some studies suggest that nearly half of children who have ADHD also have a learning difference.

The important thing to keep in mind is that schools have many ways to help struggling students learn more effectively. This is true for kids who have ADHD, learning differences or both. Learning more about your child’s rights can help you set the stage for success in school and in life.