ADHD as Learning Difficulty
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurological difference that primarily affects a person’s behaviour, leading to restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and impulsive actions. While ADHD is not classified as a learning difficulty, it can significantly impact the learning process. Approximately 50% of individuals with ADHD also experience a learning disability, such as dyslexia. The overlapping symptoms can lead to misdiagnoses or a delayed diagnosis of learning difficulties.
Students with ADHD may face challenges with retaining information, thinking clearly, and expressing themselves in writing, which can be very stressful. With person-centred strategies, students can learn proactive methods for learning. In adults, hyperactivity may decrease, but challenges related to impulsivity and restlessness may persist. Treatment for ADHD includes medications, social skills training, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Recognising and diagnosing ADHD at an early age helps provide tools and strategies for a more fulfilling future.
Challenges and Characteristics Associated with ADHD
ADHD is characterised by two primary categories of behavioural challenges: inattentiveness and hyperactivity (or impulsiveness). While many individuals with ADHD exhibit symptoms of both types, this is not always the case.
In children and teenagers, the symptoms of ADHD are typically well-defined and become apparent before age 6. They include a combination of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness or may be limited to just one of these behaviours. Additionally, adults with ADHD may face challenges with focusing, prioritising tasks, and impulse control, leading to missed deadlines, forgotten appointments, or difficulties in social situations.
However, ADHD can be managed effectively through proactive support, where individuals can also discover their strengths.
Hyperactivity is a common symptom of ADHD and is characterised by various behaviours, including excessive movement and difficulty concentrating. These behaviours can manifest as:
- Difficulties sitting still, especially in calm or quiet environments
- Constant fidgeting
- Challenges with concentrating
- Excessive physical restlessness
- Talking excessively
- Impulsive actions
- High energy levels
- Inner restlessness
- Frequent mood swings
In children, these symptoms of ADHD can impact academic achievement and social interactions, and proactive support is essential. However, it’s important to note that as individuals with ADHD grow older, hyperactivity symptoms may become more subtle and internal, and not all adults with ADHD exhibit hyperactivity.
Inattention can cause difficulties in sustaining focus and maintaining organisational skills. Individuals with ADHD may exhibit a short attention span, making them easily distracted and prone to mistakes, particularly in school or work settings.
Common symptoms of inattentiveness include:
- Difficulty paying attention to details
- Challenges with instructions
- Challenges with staying focused in conversations
- Misplacing important items
- Constantly shifting activities
- Struggling with time management
Additionally, hyperfocus is a coping mechanism that involves becoming absorbed in stimulating and rewarding tasks. When hyperfocus is directed towards productive activities, it can be an asset. However, it can also lead to challenges with time management, responsibilities, and social interactions.
Individuals with ADHD can be impulsive in behaviours, comments, and responses. They often act before thinking and may react without considering the potential consequences. This impulsiveness can manifest with other symptoms such as:
- Frequent interruptions of others
- Blurting out inappropriate comments without forethought
- Rushing through tasks without reading instructions
- Lack of self-control
Impulsive behaviour often reflects difficulty with exercising patience. It sometimes leads to potentially risky situations, but with proactive support, individuals can learn healthy coping mechanisms and improve their overall well-being.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can significantly affect executive functioning, a set of cognitive processes that regulate and manage skills such as organising and planning. People with ADHD often face a higher risk of accidents and injuries due to their challenges in executive functioning.
To mitigate risks, establishing clear rules, expectations, and consequences can help reinforce safe behaviours. Additionally, supporting individuals with ADHD in developing coping strategies and executive function skills can improve their ability to navigate daily life effectively.
In school, ADHD presents its own challenges, including challenges with meeting deadlines, focusing during lectures and exams, and difficulties in regulating emotions. Fortunately, support services are available for students with ADHD and can provide counselling and accommodations such as extended time during tests.
In the workplace, adults with ADHD may face frequent job changes, difficulty completing time-sensitive tasks, forgetfulness, and conflicts with colleagues. Despite these challenges, many adults with ADHD have successful careers and employ proactive coping mechanisms. Career counsellors or support teams can assist individuals in identifying strengths, developing strategies, and reaching their career goals.
Social and Interpersonal Difficulties
People with ADHD often experience social and interpersonal difficulties affecting their emotional well-being and relationships.
Social and interpersonal difficulties may include:
- Feeling easily stressed
- Low self-esteem
- Difficulty staying motivated
- Hypersensitivity to criticism
These emotional difficulties can make managing feelings like anger and frustration challenging, which can lead to explosive tempers and insecurity. However, with early intervention, open communication, and support from family, educators, and healthcare providers, individuals with ADHD can develop effective strategies for building and maintaining healthy relationships.
Co-Occurring Conditions and Difficulties
People with ADHD often experience co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety disorders. Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is another potential co-occurring condition characterised by disruptive behaviours, and one of the most common co-occurring conditions is depression, which can intensify the emotional symptoms associated with ADHD. Other conditions that may co-occur with adult ADHD include bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Healthcare providers must screen individuals with ADHD for other co-occurring conditions to ensure comprehensive and tailored treatment approaches.
While anxiety and ADHD can co-occur, it’s crucial to recognise that ADHD is not an anxiety disorder. Sometimes, anxiety may exist independently of ADHD, while in other cases, it can result from coping with the challenges of ADHD. ADHD and anxiety disorder show common signs, such as difficulty socialising, fidgeting, inattentiveness, and difficulty completing tasks on time.
However, ADHD is a form of neurodivergence and is characterised by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity patterns. In contrast, anxiety disorders are mental health challenges linked to persistent feelings of worry and nervousness. Tailored treatment plans, including a combination of educational, behavioural, and therapeutic approaches, are essential to address the unique needs of individuals with ADHD and anxiety, ensuring a better quality of life.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
ODD is usually diagnosed at a young age, with children consistently exhibiting oppositional and defiant behaviours that significantly disrupt their relationships at home, school, or with peers. These behaviours typically emerge before age eight but can persist into adolescence. Children with ODD may display defiance, argue with adults, deliberately annoy others, and blame others for their mistakes.
Research shows that 40% of children with ADHD also have ODD. The connection between ADHD and ODD is complex, and some studies suggest that ODD may be a consequence of the challenges faced by individuals with ADHD. The frustration arising from societal expectations that may not align with the capabilities of those with ADHD, such as sitting still or paying attention for extended periods, could contribute to the development of oppositional and defiant behaviours. Understanding and addressing the challenges associated with ADHD may be crucial in managing and preventing the development of ODD in individuals.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
ADHD and obsessive-compulsive disorder are distinct and have unique characteristics. ADHD is characterised by difficulty focusing, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, while OCD involves obsessive thoughts, repetitive rituals and compulsions. Both ADHD and OCD can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, and effective treatment may include medications, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and behaviour management.
ADHD is considered an externalising disorder, influencing outward behaviours such as impulsivity and risk-taking. However, OCD is an internalising disorder, with individuals responding to anxiety by turning inward and exhibiting obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. The co-occurrence of ADHD and OCD is more common than generally thought, with research indicating a prevalence of around 30%. The two disorders can interact, and OCD may reduce hyperactivity in some individuals with ADHD. Differentiating between the two disorders requires carefully assessing impulsivity, risk-taking, and the nature and function of rituals.
Bipolar disorder and ADHD are increasingly diagnosed together, particularly in children and teenagers. Bipolar disorder involves episodes of depression and mania, characterised as extreme mood swings. Life events often trigger mood swings in ADHD and are not extreme, while bipolar mood swings occur without apparent triggers and take days or weeks to transition between states. It’s vital to differentiate between the two, as their treatment approaches, such as medication, differ.
When both ADHD and bipolar disorder are present, it’s essential to prioritise the treatment of bipolar disorder first, as treating ADHD might worsen bipolar symptoms. However, talking to a medical professional who can provide personalised advice and tailored treatment is essential. With an accurate diagnosis and coordinated treatment, individuals with comorbid ADHD and bipolar disorder can experience improved mood stability and overall functioning.
ADHD and depression can also co-occur. Children and adults with ADHD may exhibit symptoms of depression, such as feeling persistently sad or hopeless, losing interest in enjoyable activities, and feelings of worthlessness. ADHD can contribute to the development of depression when individuals face challenges managing their ADHD symptoms, leading to difficulties in various areas of life, such as school, work, and relationships. Changes in eating and sleeping habits can also be signs of depression, but it’s essential to consider whether these changes might be side effects of ADHD medication.
Early evaluation by a healthcare provider is crucial to determine a depression or ADHD diagnosis, and a mental health professional can develop a personalised treatment plan, which may include therapy, family involvement, and medication.
Additional Learning Difficulties
Many individuals with ADHD also experience learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.
Research shows that 50% of people with ADHD have a learning difficulty, emphasising the importance of addressing ADHD and co-occurring learning difficulties to facilitate effective learning and development.
Below is a list of common learning difficulties that co-occur with ADHD.
- Dyslexia involves difficulty with reading, spelling, and writing. Children with dyslexia may face challenges with decoding words, recognising words and comprehending written text.
- Dyscalculia is characterised by difficulties in learning and understanding arithmetic concepts. Children with dyscalculia may struggle with basic math skills, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
- Dysgraphia pertains to difficulties in writing, particularly in spelling and conveying thoughts on paper. Children with this learning difficulty may have poor handwriting and find it challenging to express their ideas in writing.
- Dyspraxia is associated with motor difficulties and clumsiness. Children with dyspraxia may have trouble with coordination, fine motor skills, and physical tasks.
Get Support from Nurseline Community Services
Our dedicated team understands that ADHD can impact various aspects of life, from motivation and productivity to focus and everyday tasks and responsibilities. Through our proactive support, we tailor our services to meet individual needs and goals, helping people improve their quality of life.
Using an outcome-based approach, we focus on helping you achieve positive results. Our team will work with you to develop strategies, structures, and skills that empower you to navigate daily activities and responsibilities more effectively.
It’s never too late to seek a proper diagnosis and treatment for ADHD. We encourage you to take the first step toward positive change by seeking help. Take control of your ADHD and discover how Nurseline Community Services can assist you in living your life to the fullest and achieving your goals.
Nurseline Community Services is regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), delivers care across the UK, and has offices in Bristol, Gloucester, and Birmingham.
Contact us today to start your journey toward effective ADHD management.