Opinion: ADHD is more than a learning disability

This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster.

Most people dismiss attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a learning disability or something that you “get over” after school. In reality, however, ADHD is actually a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means that it causes unusual brain functions that often affect emotions, memory, self-control and learning ability. 

The confusion between a learning disability and a neurodevelopmental disorder affects how people treat and react to people with ADHD, which, with some of the effects, hurts people with ADHD. This is something that I’ve experienced a lot, because people don’t fully grasp how ADHD affects people like me.

Like I said before, ADHD is widely seen as a learning disability. However, it actually isn’t considered a learning disability, though it does affect how students perform in academic settings. The hyperactivity and inattention symptoms are the most known and obvious factors in learning disabilities, which make it a lot harder for students with ADHD to sit still or focus in class. 

On the flip side, people with ADHD can hyperfocus, which is an intense focus on a task or activity, regardless of whatever may be going around them. Most of the time, we hyperfocus because whatever we’re doing is something we enjoy a lot, but other times, it can be completely accidental. It’s unpredictable and not always something we can control. 

While attention difficulties are the more understood parts of ADHD, a lot of people don’t know or understand executive dysfunction and the difficulties with emotional regulation. Executive dysfunction is when executive functions — like focus, memory, planning — don’t work correctly. This means trouble managing time, focus, memory and socialization. 

One way this manifests is difficulty completing tasks unless there’s immediate and severe consequences. It doesn’t matter how much you want to do it, you simply just can’t do it. I’ve gotten stuck so many times with doing basic tasks that I need, and want, to do, but it’s chalked up to laziness because people don’t understand ADHD. It’s easier to just blame the individual than consider that there’s a reason they can’t do something.

People with ADHD experience emotions differently, especially in relation to rejection. Rejection sensitive dysphoria, or RSD, is an extreme emotional response to the perception — not even necessarily the reality — of being rejected. It is also solely connected to ADHD. It’s more difficult for people with ADHD to regulate their emotions in a “normal” manner.

The symptoms associated with ADHD not only affect how you act in an academic setting, but in social and work settings too. Inattention, impulsivity, executive dysfunction and difficulty regulating emotions make it difficult for children with ADHD to establish peer relationships to teach them proper socialization, with 50-70% of children with ADHD being rejected by close friends by the second grade. That rejection makes it harder for adults with ADHD to be able to socialize correctly. Their symptoms make them appear “rude, self-centered, irresponsible, lazy, ill-mannered,” as Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder phrased it

ADHD isn’t just a school issue; it severely affects people’s lives beyond school. The stereotypes about its effects make understanding them harder and warp people’s views about it, which hurts people with ADHD. 

That misunderstanding creates false ideas about why people with ADHD behave differently and affects how other people treat them. People need to be willing to understand that ADHD is not just a problem in school, but in people’s everyday lives.