ADHD & learning disabilities: Implications for diagnosis

Dr Shelley Hyman

Attention Deficit/hyperactivity disorder share many symptoms with Learning Disorder. In fact, up to 70% of children with ADHD also have LD (Barkley, 1994). This can be an important issue when it comes to diagnosing children with ADHD because they may have symptoms that look like ADHD but actually only have a learning disorder, or vice versa.

Mayes, Calhoun and Crowell (2000) looked at this problem by carrying out a study on children aged 8-16 years who had both ADHD and LD, only ADHD or only LD and compared their performance on a number of tasks such as mathematics, reading that measures attention and learning.

Mayes and colleagues found that children with both LD and ADHD had more severe learning issues than children who had LD only and more attentional problems than children who had ADHD only.

Also, children with ADHD also had some learning difficulty and those with LD had some attention problems. This is a clear indication of the symptoms that co-exist in both disorders which may make diagnosis of a single disorder much more difficult.

These results suggest that “learning and attention problems are on a continuum…and usually coexist.” This means that pediatricians must take extra care when diagnosing children in order to make the most accurate diagnosis.

This is to ensure they get the most effective and appropriate treatment for their disorder and to prevent them from becoming worse in the future.

Alanna Wong


  • Mayes, S. D., Calhoun, S. L., & Crowell, E. W. (2000). Learning disabilities and ADHD: overlapping spectrum disorders. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33(5), 417-424.
Dr Shelley Hyman

About Dr Shelley Hyman

Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist. BSc (psychol) Hons, MClinNeuropsych, PhD (Med) MAPS CCN. Founder and director of the centre that was founded in 2006.

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