Learning disorders and disabilities are frequently misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) in children because they share some of the same symptoms such as being easily distracted, displaying impulsive and/or disruptive behavior, and difficulty focusing on school work. A disruptive child who has frequent outbursts or appears to be oppositional may actually have an undiagnosed learning disorder that makes it difficult to master certain skills.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) says common symptoms that may indicate a learning disability are:

  • Difficulty with reading and/or writing
  • Problems with math skills
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Problems paying attention
  • Trouble following directions
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty with concepts related to time
  • Problems staying organized

Other symptoms that may indicate a learning disability or disorder may include:

  • Difficulty following directions
  • Inconsistent school performance
  • Trouble understanding words or basic concepts
  • Poor handwriting
  • Problems with hand/eye coordination
  • Socially awkward or responds inappropriately

ADHD compromises all of a child’s cognitive functions, whereas a learning disorder generally only affects one or two areas such as reading or math. It’s not unusual for ADHD and learning disorders to co-occur. In fact, 20-30 percent of people diagnosed with ADHD also have a learning disorder. Naturally, this does present some challenges for the child, parents and teachers; however, once the true nature of the disorders have been identified steps can be taken that may include therapy, medication, and/or special education services.

Although ADHD is not considered a learning disability, it can be identified as a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In doing so, your child can receive special education services and accommodations to help them meet their educational goals.

It’s not easy to identify learning disorders, which is why a professional evaluation by a qualified mental health specialist is important. Some of the more common disorders are:


Dyslexia is commonly known as a reading disorder because people have trouble connecting letters with words and sounds. In addition, a dyslexic child generally has difficulty with writing, spelling, and sometimes speaking. Remembering numbers in sequence such as a house or phone number can be tricky. A younger child may have trouble learning new songs or rhymes, while an older child will have difficulty learning a foreign language.


Dyspraxia creates problems with fine and gross motor skills such as hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity, and maintaining balance. This can make it difficult for a child to properly hold a pencil or color within the lines. Children with dyspraxia often have trouble mastering physical activities such as riding a bike, and generally do not excel in sports. An interesting bit of trivia is that Daniel Radcliffe (star of the Harry Potter movies) has dyspraxia and admits that he still has trouble to this day with tying his shoelaces.


Children with dysgraphia have trouble with the physical act of writing that sometimes involves unusual contortions of their bodies. Their handwriting is typically hard to read and often words are misspelled or omitted. In addition to struggling with writing, children with this disorder often labor over copying or organizing their thoughts on paper.


Dyscalculia is basically a math-based learning disorder that creates problems with memorizing or organizing numbers in sequence. Often children will also have difficulty learning how to tell time or using money.

In addition, a child could be affected by an auditory or visual processing disorder. An auditory processing disorder impacts how a child hears sounds or words, and creates problems with reading and writing. A visual processing disorder makes it hard for a child to understand visual information such as pictures, shapes, or symbols. In turn, this can affect their reading and math comprehension, as well as fine and gross motor skills.

Additional ADHD symptoms that sometimes share similarities with learning disabilities and other types of disorders are discussed in “Misdiagnosing ADHD in Children.” We hope this information was helpful. If you would like information regarding Dr. Daniel’s services, please feel free to contact us for more information.


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