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Educators & Students with Learning Disabilities: AD/HD

Useful for elementary and secondary administrators, librarians, classroom teachers, and parents and students with Learning Disabilities

Related Disorder: ADD/ADHD


Students with Learning Disabilities often also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a related disorder.  It is estimated that between 3 and 5 percent of children have ADHD, or appropriately 2 million children in the United States. This means that in a classroom of 25 to 30 children, it is likely that at least one will have ADHD.

LD Online explains why ADHD/ADD is not considered a "learning disability" itself.

  • ADHD/ADD can be treated with medication, whereas the student with learning disabilities cannot be "cured" or changed--but they can be taught modifications and strategies to better manage with their disability.
    • Medication will not help minimize the impact of LD.
  • ADHD makes the individuals less available for learning because of the activity level, inattention, and/or impulsivity. LDs make the individual unable to learn in the normal way, requiring intervention strategies to learn "how to learn."
    • Special education services will not help minimize the impact of ADHD. 

Each requires proper recognition and specific treatments.  Unfortunately, many students with LDs also will have ADHD as a related disorder, and both have to be treated.                                                                                                                                                   From LD Online

Dr Edward Hollowell

 Dr Edward Hallowell on ADHD

Dr. Edward Hallowell, an expert on ADHD is in the forefront in refusing to call the condition a disability--but rather a trait. From his website: "As I like to describe it, having ADD is like having a powerful race care for a brain, but with bicycle brakes. Treating ADD is like strengthening your brakes--so you start to win races in your life."

image - video
Dr. Edward Hallowell

A student with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) has "developmentally inappropriate degrees of inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity" appearing in most situations and to varying degrees. It is more pronounced when in situations of required attention--listening to a teacher, at meetings, when doing required assignments or chores." Some people, however, show signs of the disorder in only one setting, such as at home or at school. Signs of the disorder may be minimal or absent when a person is receiving frequent reinforcement or very strict control, or is in a novel situation, or a one-to-one situation.

ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is the distractibility without the hyperactivity.

Signs of Attention Deficit Students

Signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder Students

Common Symptoms, simply, from Hallowell, ADD/ADHD Overview:

  • Easily distractible
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Low tolerance for boredom
  • Impulsiveness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Restlessness

These students find it hard to concentrate. They are paying very close attention to something other than the task at hand and miss important information.They "take breaks" in their mind--they gaze, listen to certain sounds, think about things entirely unrelated to the current situationThey feel tired or bored at school. They often have minds that move too fast--they make careless errors. Sometimes they move their bodies too much and fidget and wiggle--this is the hyperactive addition. They are often impulsive and say whatever comes to mind, regardless of the relevance, so their conversations can be inappropriate. The want new situations or activities all the time, and they really want it. They are often very smart in other ways, and think "outside the box" because their minds are making connections in different ways

from Levine, All kinds of minds, 233-35

ADD/ADHD Resources

ADD/ADHD Resources

Dr. Mel Levine, in A mind at a time (2002), specifically addresses educators about students with attention difficulty:

A lack of attention control may masquerade as laziness, a negative attitude, or just plain bad behavior. Yet these are struggling and confused students who want very much to succeed, to please themselves and win the respect of the adults in their lives. They need our sympathy and support at the same time that they need us to hold them accountable for working on their attention controls. When they sense that we're on their side and not accusing them of being bad or lazy, they often rise to the occasion and show steady improvement. Teachers [and librarians], therefore, need to form strong alliances with these children rather than adversarial relationships. (89)

Misunderstood Minds

From Misunderstood Minds, watch this video to where Dr. Mel Levine talks with two students exhibiting signs of attention disorders and offers possible explanations for their behavior and difficulty concentrating.

View It
Attention Video "Too much attention?"
Try the following visual and auditory activities that simulate what a child with an attention problem might experience during a classroom reading assignment:
 Try It
Visual Activity "Reading with Distractions"
Try It
Auditory Activity "Listening to Directions"

ADHD Accommodations

ADHD Accommodations


  • Allow a child to change work sites frequently while completing homework or studying
  • Assign tasks involving movement such as passing out papers, running errands, watering plants
  • Use music as a tool for transitioning, song = task
  • Vary tone of voice: loud, soft, whisper
  • Stage assignments and divide work into smaller chunks with frequent breaks
  • Teach students to verbalize a plan before solving problems or undertaking a task
  • Permit a child to do something with hands while engaged in sustained listening: stress ball, worry stone, paper folding, clay
  • Use inconspicuous methods such as a physical cue to signal a child when she or he tunes out
  • Provide opportunities for student to show divergent, creative, imaginary thinking and get peer recognition for originality
  • Employ multi-sensory strategies when directions are given and lessons presented

Excerpted from the LDA of California and UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute “Q.U.I.L.T.S.” Calendar 2001-2002