What is the difference between learning disabilities and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder?

A beginning of a school year is an opportunity to learn about learning disabilities and attention and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). What is similar and what is different between these two disorders?

What is similar?

These are two school-age disorders that interfere with academic achievement.

What is different?

ADHD is about the difficulty in concentrating on assignments. Not necessarily scholastic assignments. The difficulty in concentrating appears when performing chores and organizing tasks. The children try to concentrate on a specific task but are easily distracted. Children with ADHD are able to focus on a task for short periods of time; thus when facing a prolonged task they need several breaks. During prolonged assignments, it seems like the child is forgetful but it stems from difficulty maintaining attention. In class, once you lose the trail you trail off… Small interruptions during class lead to inability to sustain attention and thus it is difficult to remember what was taught… Of course, there are children for whom a couple of minutes of attention are sufficient to grasp the lesson. However, when the academic level rises intelligence may be insufficient resulting in falling behind in a school.

A learning disorder is usually about a specific academic skill like reading or math. This disorder stems from the fact that the brain area in charge of this ability is not wired correctly. So other brain areas are recruited for the task. These circuits are less efficient than the original area. Children with reading difficulty termed dyslexia, read slower than peers, and with more mistakes. Math difficulty is termed dyscalculia and is characterized by difficulty to understand the arithmetic. In math, it is very important to differentiate between inattention and dyscalculia. In ADHD the child confuses plus and minus or misses a number. In dyscalculia, the child does not comprehend the essence of the arithmetic and thus is unable to do the computation. Dysgraphia is about writing difficulties. It is defined by illegible handwriting and spelling mistakes. The kids write slowly and their handwriting is not well organized.

Note that there is an overlap between developmental disorders. About a third of children with ADHD also have learning disorders.

How is the diagnosis made?

A learning disorder is diagnosed by didactic evaluation

ADHD is diagnosed by a neurologist psychiatrist or a certified psychologist

Why is the diagnosis important?

We are speaking about different neurological disorders with different treatments. While learning disorders are treated by specific academic tools ADHD is usually treated by medication.