ADHD vs Specific Learning Disabilities What Parents Need to Know
Parents of children recently diagnosed with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often find themselves perplexed about their children’s unexpected behaviour. As a result, they have hard time figuring out their children’s appropriate needs. Often these “invisible difficulties” do not become obvious until a child reaches school age. And even then, difficulties may be subtle and hard to recognize. Hence, it is imperative for parents to understand what ADHD and SLD are and how to distinguish between the both.
The neurological areas affected in individuals with SLD and ADHD vary in important ways. For example, to read effectively, people use three primary sections of their brains--inferior frontal gyrus, posterior temporoparietal area; and the occipitotemporal region-- which help in recognizing and understanding spoken and written language, and producing speech. Individuals diagnosed with SLD, show signs of the brain activities diminishing in the temporoparietal and occipital regions of the brain. This accounts for difficulties with word recognition, spelling, reading pace, etc.
By comparing neurologically, studies have shown that individuals with ADHD show variations in the sizes of four regions of the brain — frontal lobes, corpus callosum, cerebellar vermis, and basal ganglia— as compared with the brains of those who do not have ADHD. These neurological structures are involved in planning, paying attention, and thinking.
Neural circuitry required for working with numbers, writing, and reading is compromised in individuals diagnosed with SLD. On the other hand, decision-making and reward pathways in the brains are affected in individuals diagnosed with ADHD.
Significance of classification
Because symptoms of ADHD and SLD may seem similar or overlap, it is important to be careful in correctly identifying and understanding both disorders. If Specific Learning Disability is incorrectly defined as ADHD, children with SLD may only receive support with the child’s social skills, whereas its impact can extend to a child’s reading, writing, or math instruction.
Symptoms to look out for:
As soon as you suspect your child may have a learning difficulty, you can get proper guidance and help. The following lists some behaviors to watch out for.
When in preschool, look for:
Difficulties with following a routine, memory, and multiple instructions.
Uneven motor development and poor motor coordination, such as delays in learning to use utensils, walk, etc.
Communication difficulties, such as difficulty with speech, slow language development, trouble communicating thoughts or understanding what is being said.
Delays in engaging with other children, and socialization.
When in early elementary school, look for:
Difficulties with calculations, rapid letter recognition, and remembering facts.
Difficulty in recognizing and understanding phonemes (units of sound) and sounding out words.
Lack of understanding oral instructions, and expressing oneself.
Signs that show that the child is losing or forgetting things, or finishing work but forgetting to turn it in.
Problems with basic spellings and grammar; and with organizing information, materials (e.g. Notebooks, papers, etc.).
In later elementary school, look for:
Trouble with organizing personal materials and thoughts for written work.
Difficulty in understanding and learning new concepts. Later finds it hard it hard to successfully apply them.
Difficulty with interpreting simple language and retaining what was read.
In middle school, look for:
Difficulty in mastery of more advanced math concepts, and organizing and writing papers.
Increased difficulty while planning, organizing, or developing learning strategies.
In high school, look for:
Extended difficulties with maths, reading assignments, or papers.
Increased issues with organization, as more and more independent work is expected.
Whatever the age of your child, one of the most important and appropriate things to do is understand your child’s development and overall areas of need, and support them throughout their lives. Every child’s special needs are the result of a unique set of underlying causes and require appropriately tailored intervention plans. Contact a reputable center for a comprehensive assessment and evaluation for your child.