How Does ADHD Affect Learning?

how does adhd affect learning

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, you’re probably concerned about how this condition will impact them. You wonder how ADHD affects learning in kids who have it. 

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. This means it involves changes and differences in the ways the brain develops and functions. ADHD is not classified as a learning disability. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t affect learning. Because the brain is intimately involved in learning, ADHD does affect learning in children. It influences the learning process in various ways. 

ADHD is a condition that impacts nearly 10% of children aged 3-17 years. ADHD is twice as common in boys than it is in girls. The average age at diagnosis is 6 years. 

While not a learning disability, itself, ADHD does commonly co-occur with learning disabilities. It’s estimated that 20-60% of kids with ADHD also have a learning disability. In addition to ADHD, these children may face challenges with spelling, reading, and math skills. 

Because ADHD is such a prevalent issue, researchers have devoted a lot of time and effort to learning more about it. This has led to improvements in our abilities to recognize and treat ADHD in children when it occurs. It also may be a factor in increased reported rates of ADHD. The prevalence of ADHD diagnosis in children increased by 42% between 2003 and 2011. 

This article will explore how ADHD affects learning in children. It will also offer parents strategies to help children with ADHD face challenges and reach their fullest potential. 

ADHD Impact on Learning

Let’s explore some of the ways ADHD impacts the learning process in children. 

Attention and Focus

The primary symptoms of ADHD are difficulties with attention and focus. Kids with ADHD often have less age-appropriate attention skills than their same-aged peers. They find it difficult to sustain their attention on an activity or task. 

Learning depends on the ability to sustain our attention on a subject, problem, or activity. ADHD learning is impacted by this difficulty with focus. Because kids with ADHD struggle to concentrate, they may miss key concepts. They may also miss directions and steps of educational activities and assignments. 

Some kids with ADHD may experience hyperfocus. This occurs when a child becomes intensely focused on an activity or experience they enjoy, to the exclusion of anything else. A child with ADHD may be hyperfocused on playing soccer, but only be able to focus for a few minutes on completing their school work. 

Hyperfocus can be a good trait, however, if children with ADHD learn how to manage it. For example, a child who’s intensely interested in science could gain self-confidence by excelling in this subject. 

Task Completion and Follow-Through 

As a result of issues with focus, children with ADHD often have difficulty with task completion and follow-through. They may begin a task, only to abandon it halfway through to explore something else. 

School tasks are generally expected to be completed sequentially, rather than simultaneously. ADHD learners may struggle with this skill and may leave a trail of incomplete assignments in their wake as a result. 

Children with ADHD often have difficulty with organizing tasks and prioritizing information. This can impact learning by affecting how they order what’s important in assignments and information. It can also impact their ability to identify important concepts. 

Academic Achievement

Kids with ADHD are at increased risk for issues that negatively impact their school performance. When compared to their same-aged peers, children with ADHD are at risk for lower scores in reading and math. ADHD can also impact students’ grade point averages. 

ADHD learners may have to repeat grades or be placed in special education classes, as a result of their challenges with learning. 

These issues can impact a child both in school and later in life. Struggling academically can also negatively affect a child’s self-esteem and self-concept. This can further exacerbate learning issues and a child’s motivation to learn. 

Impulsivity and Self-Control 

Impulsivity is another hallmark of ADHD in children. In the classroom setting, this can manifest as talking out of turn and inability to sit still. It can also mean talking when the class is meant to be silent. 

Teachers may face challenges when teaching students with ADHD as they can be disruptive in the classroom setting. These issues are not their fault, but a result of the differences in their brains. Thankfully, most educators have learned strategies to support children with ADHD in the classroom. 

Impulsive behaviors can also extend to peer relationships. Kids with ADHD may struggle to follow social norms and behaviors. For example, they may unintentionally play too rough with friends. They may talk too loud or talk over their friends. This can cause strife and tension and may cause conflicts. It can lead to children with ADHD feeling left out. 

ADHD impacts the brain’s frontal lobe. This part of the brain is responsible for our executive functions. These skills include the ability to plan, make decisions, and organize information. They also include inhibition and judgment skills. This is a major reason kids with ADHD struggle with self-control. 

Inconsistent Performance and Working Memory 

Issues with self-control and concentration may make kids with ADHD academically inconsistent. If they’re having a good day and there are few distractions in their environment, they may be able to complete an activity quickly and with few errors. But if there are lots of distractions or they’re feeling unfocused, this will negatively affect their performance. 

In addition, research shows learners with ADHD also experience issues with working memory skills. Working memory is key in remembering what we hear and read. It’s vital in recalling information, instructions, and sequences. 

Inconsistent working memory skills can affect kids with ADHD in reading, science, and math. They may struggle to remember what they read. They may forget instructions when experimenting in science class. They may forget math equations or a series of numbers they’re trying to compute. 


Kids with ADHD often experience hyperactivity. This creates a constant desire for movement and stimulation. It often manifests in fidgeting, wiggling, and difficulty staying still. Kids with ADHD have difficulty controlling their desire to move. This can affect their ability to participate in the classroom setting and learn along with their peers. 

Hyperactivity can especially impact ADHD learners during tests, shared story time, and presentations. Schools expect children to sit still for long periods from a young age. This is difficult for kids with ADHD, who seek out stimulation through constant movement. 

Their need to fidget and move may also be distracting to other students and can impact the classroom environment as a whole. It may cause friction with other students who don’t understand an ADHD child’s unique needs.

Because children with ADHD are impulsive, they often can’t control their hyperactive tendencies. This can affect their ability to participate and learn in the classroom setting. They may struggle to conform to classroom behavioral expectations. 

How Does ADHD Affect Learning in the Classroom

To build upon the points we outline above, let’s further explore how ADHD can affect learning in the classroom setting. 

It’s easy to see how the common symptoms of ADHD can impact a child’s school learning. 

Kids with ADHD may struggle to focus on class lessons. This can impact their ability to learn and retain important information. They may fail to hear or recognize instructions for activities and tasks. They may become distracted by their surroundings or thoughts, instead of attending to their lessons. 

Their impulsivity may cause them to speak out when it’s not appropriate, or talk over their peers or teachers. They may bump into others or objects in their classroom due to reduced self-monitoring. Their hyperactivity may cause them to fidget constantly in class. They likely have a very hard time sitting still in class. 

ADHD learners also face challenges with time management and organization skills. This can affect their ability to complete assignments on time. It can also impact their ability to organize information presented in verbal and written forms. This can create issues with completing assignments in school. 

Kids with ADHD may also struggle with making daily transitions due to issues with shifting their focus. Transitions are a key part of school structure, so this can affect their ability to navigate throughout the school day.

Because of these issues, being in a structured classroom environment can be very challenging for a child with ADHD. 

Learning Strategies for Students with ADHD

Kids with ADHD benefit from the use of strategies to support their learning. These strategies can help them overcome their barriers to learning and support their performance in school. With training in their use, kids with ADHD can maximize their educational potential. 

While strategies for ADHD learning are highly individualized, there are some common themes. Your child’s educational team can help you select the best supports and strategies for them. This team may include a speech and occupational therapist, educational psychologist, and teachers. 

Strategies used to support children with ADHD learning may include:

  • Allowing and training in the use of talk-to-text software to assist with note-taking and organization
  • Use of visual, color-coded planners to support organizations skills
  • Use of picture schedules to support planning and transition-making
  • Use of visual cues to ensure sustained attention
  • Multimodal presentation of school tasks (visual, verbal, written)

How Parents and Teachers Can Help Students with ADHD in Learning 

Teachers and parents can collaborate with educational professionals to support learners with ADHD. Collaboration is an important component of offering ADHD students what they need to succeed. 

Parents provide educators with important information about a child’s history and preferences. You understand your child better than anyone and can offer their therapy team insight into their individuality. This can help with treatment planning and the selection of personalized materials and strategies. 

Teachers of ADHD learners can support their performance in class by offering accommodations like:

  • Checking in regularly with ADHD students
  • Breaking down assignments into smaller, more manageable steps
  • Giving clear, simple instructions for assignments
  • Assisting with organizational supports (like providing folders or a basket) 
  • Providing outlines and keywords for assignments 
  • Adjusting how work is accepted (both in timelines and how a student is allowed to respond) 
  • Reducing classroom distractions for ADHD learners
  • Ensuring they are seated within the teacher’s sightline and away from potential distractions 
  • Offering and allowing fidget toys to provide movement stimulation without distracting the rest of the class 
  • Providing verbal support and feedback to encourage them 

Parents of ADHD learners can support them by: 

  • Providing consistency in carryover of school strategies and expectations at home 
  • Setting and sticking to a schedule to support their ability to plan and make transitions
  • Breaking down chores and home tasks into clear steps
  • Offering support and encouragement with homework assignments 
  • Supporting their emotional regulation by recognizing when they’re overstimulated and promoting calm 
  • Giving positive reinforcement and feedback to support their self-esteem
  • Playing an active role in your child’s treatment team and communicating with their teacher 

By working together with your child’s teachers and therapists, you can promote their best learning experience. You can also ensure their strategies are carried over from school to home.

ADHD and Learning FAQs

It’s important to learn the answers to common questions about ADHD. The more you understand about this condition, the better you can advocate for your child with ADHD and their unique learning needs.  

How is ADHD diagnosed?

If your child shows potential symptoms of ADHD, getting a differential diagnosis is important. This will help rule out any other possible causes and ensure their access to specialized educational plans and services. 

ADHD is typically diagnosed by a mental health specialist or brain specialist. These professionals are trained to assess and determine the presence of ADHD in children and adolescents. Those who can assess and diagnose ADHD include neurologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. 

ADHD is diagnosed with clinical assessments. Typically, a range of evaluation tools are used to determine the presence of ADHD. A professional will select and perform standardized tests with them. They’ll also observe their behavior and get a thorough history of their medical and family history. This will help them learn when and how symptoms began to appear and determine if the symptoms are likely due to ADHD. 

Does ADHD affect learning in adults?

Many adults with ADHD have gone undiagnosed. That’s because they grew up before our ability to identify and treat ADHD improved dramatically in the past decade or so. 

Adults with ADHD often experience impulsivity and difficulty concentrating. This can negatively impact their relationships, work, and ability to learn. Adults with ADHD may struggle to organize and prioritize their daily tasks. This can affect their ability to learn new skills and their performance at work. 

If they went undiagnosed as children, they may not have the tools and strategies to understand and cope with their symptoms. 

If an adult suspects they may have ADHD, there are professionals who can offer help and support with symptom management and treatment. Speaking to your healthcare provider is the best first step in addressing this issue and getting the assistance needed. 

About how many children with ADHD also have learning disabilities?

While ADHD and learning disabilities are distinct conditions, they do co-occur. Children with ADHD are at increased risk for learning disabilities. 

Research shows that anywhere between 20 and 60% of kids with ADHD also have a specific learning disability. These can affect their skills in math, reading, writing, and spelling skills. 

Scientists believe this may be due to commonalities in the ways ADHD and learning disabilities develop. They suggest they may share similar underlying processes. It’s not yet understood what these exact processes are, or why they often occur together. 

Are there different types of ADHD? 

There are three main types of ADHD. ADHD types are separated based on their biggest overt symptoms. 

The three primary types of ADHD are:

  • Impulsive/Hyperactive Type: this type is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors. It does not involve attention issues. It’s the least common type of ADHD, accounting for less than 10% of cases. 
  • Inattentive Type: Distractibility and difficulty concentrating are the hallmarks of this type. Kids with this type don‘t exhibit hyperactivity. This type accounts for around 30% of total cases. 
  • Combined Type: this is the most common type of ADHD. It involves a mixture of hyperactivity, inattention, and distractibility. This type accounts for over 60% of ADHD cases. 

Do children outgrow ADHD?

This is a pervasive myth about ADHD that researchers have recently begun to unpack and debunk. Because ADHD involves changes in the way the brain is structured and functions, it’s not a condition most grow out of. 

Research shows that a small percentage of children with ADHD may present as fully recovered by the time they reach young adulthood. 

Most people with ADHD experience symptom fluctuations over time. ADHD symptoms can be impacted by therapy, medication, and the use of strategies. ADHD can become exaggerated in times of stress.  People can learn to manage their ADHD symptoms with training and support. This can help them control their symptoms and reduce ADHD’s impact on their life. 

How is ADHD treated?

Treatment for ADHD is individualized and based on each unique child, their symptoms, and needs. 

Common treatments for ADHD include medications and behavioral interventions. The focus of ADHD treatment is symptom management and compensation. 

Your child’s treatment plan will be developed in collaboration with you. It will also involve your child’s therapists, and their healthcare providers. Educational specialists such as educational psychologists or psychiatrists may also be involved. 

Treatment for ADHD typically involves a combination of approaches. These include: medication, therapy, and family education and training. Your child will likely have an educational plan created to lay out their educational goals and needs and the plan for achieving them.  

Your child will likely work with a speech pathologist and/or occupational therapist. These professionals can help them learn and practice strategies to overcome their ADHD symptoms. They can also work with you and your child’s teacher to develop accommodations to help them learn. This can help reduce and eliminate any barriers in their educational experience. 

Does my child with ADHD need medication?

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, almost 70% of children diagnosed with ADHD take medication. Medication is used to address and manage ADHD symptoms. 

Deciding if medication is right for your child is a personal choice. Discuss your options with your child’s healthcare provider. You can also confer with their teacher, therapists, and school psychologist to get their input and insight. 

Medications are often effective at reducing ADHD’s most overt symptoms. It may take some trial and error to find the medications and dosages that work best for your child. 

Medication interventions for your child with ADHD are typically one part of a larger treatment plan. Your child will also likely receive therapy services and learning support services. Parents are also involved in the treatment process and receive training from therapists to offer support. 

Medications are typically prescribed for children with ADHD who are over six years of age. Younger children may experience more side effects from medications. Treatment for younger children focuses more on parental education and training. 

The FDA has created a list of medications that are approved for ADHD treatment in children as young as six years of age. 

Using Forbrain to Help with ADHD

Forbrain is an auditory stimulation headset. It allows wearers to hear their own voices in real-time at an increased volume. Forbrain has been shown to enhance users’ attention skills. It may promote improved concentration and focus in users with ADHD. 

When children with ADHD can improve their focus, they can learn more easily and effectively. They can also retain more of what they’ve learned in the long term. 

Speech therapists can use Forbrain in treatments for children with ADHD. Forbrain can help support their sustained attention and memory skills. 

Here’s a video that shows a speech therapist using Forbrain for children with ADHD. In it, she explores the many possibilities for using Forbrain to help kids with ADHD learn more efficiently and effectively. 

Final Words

ADHD is usually a lifelong issue. But that doesn’t mean children with ADHD can’t learn, grow, and thrive. With treatment and support, kids with ADHD learn strategies to overcome and accommodate for their ADHD symptoms. Teachers, parents, and healthcare providers can collaborate to help them succeed. 

Children with ADHD benefit from treatments and strategies that are personalized to them. Each child with ADHD is different, and has distinct learning needs and preferences. As a parent, you can help your child’s care team select the best treatments and strategies for them. You can also support them at home. Your child’s therapists can train you in strategies to uphold and further their treatment goals. Your child’s healthcare providers can connect you with the resources and support you need. This can help you feel confident in understanding ADHD and supporting your child. 

Because it takes a village to support a child with ADHD. You can guide their best treatment plan by using your knowledge of your child to select the right approaches for their needs. You can ensure they access the learning experience they deserve, by collaborating with their treatment team. 


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Crystal Bray

Crystal Bray is a speech-language pathologist and healthcare copywriter. She’s passionate about providing individuals and families with the quality health and medical information they need to make informed choices. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina and enjoys traveling, reading, and being outdoors.