Initialisms have long existed as a popular form of communication and classification: FBI, TGIF, DNA, ICYMI. In a world prone to shortened speak, condensed phrasing can be both puzzling and ambiguous.
ADHD, LD, and EF are three unique initialisms that help categorize learning differences. Although they may have overlapping symptoms, these terms are not interchangeable.
So, how do we begin to decipher which one accurately defines an individual's needs? Let’s dissect!
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, formerly ADD) is a neurobehavioural disorder affecting brain development and activity, which then alters a child's abilities, like sitting still or following instructions.
Most kids show attention challenges throughout childhood. An individual with ADHD, however, feels an even greater struggle to focus, and will likely display symptoms in three categories: inattention (e.g. distractions and concentration), hyperactivity (e.g. fidgeting and boredom), and impulsivity (e.g. interruptions and risky behaviour).
But struggling with areas such as focus, activity, and self-control doesn't equal an ADHD diagnosis. Instead, consider that the concern level should grow as children do.
According to KidsHealth, "kids learn these skills with help from parents and teachers. But some kids don't get much better at paying attention, settling down, listening, or waiting. When these things continue and begin to cause problems at school, home, and with friends, it may be ADHD."
Theories surrounding the root of ADHD are complicated: genes, environmental toxins (e.g. pesticides), and prenatal substance abuse are likely contributors. It is important to also note what is not at the core: "the popular belief that eating too much sugar causes the condition has not held up in research... and 'poor parenting' is not to blame... but parenting styles and strategies can have an effect on children's self-regulating abilities. Children who are exposed to inconsistent discipline or who suffer from neglect may find it more challenging to rein in their impulses or direct their attention later on" (Psychology Today Canada).
Learning Disabilities (LD)—including Dyslexia and Dysgraphia—stem from how our brains are pre-programmed and is not an indication of intelligence. The brain may struggle with reading, reasoning, or recall, but challenges can be curbed through tools and techniques. Furthermore, many children with LDs often excel in other areas, like music and sports.
At an early age, children may face challenges learning numbers, interacting with others, and be easily distracted. Once in school, common telltale signs include word confusion, reading and spelling mistakes, and a slowness to comprehend new skills. Nearing junior high, children may battle handwriting, fact recall, and avoid reading in front of others.
"Children with learning disabilities must be assured that they are not dumb or lazy. They are intelligent people who have trouble learning because their minds process words or information differently... it important to be honest and optimistic—explain to your child that they struggle with learning, but that they can learn. Focus on your child's talents and strengths" (LD Online).
Executive function (EF) skills are cognitive—or brain-based—skills that affect one's ability to make plans, set goals, regulate emotions, etc.; the prefrontal cortex governs these skills. EFs are neuro-developmental, meaning they develop over time, but not necessarily in a linear fashion.
EFs commonly fall under one of these three skill groups: Working Memory, Cognitive Flexibility, and Inhibitory Control. Skills need to be nurtured prior to entering an academic setting, and children will feel better equipped for school with some control over managing thoughts, actions, and emotions.
EFs are described as delayed, not deficits, and there are likely to be accelerations and regressions; fluctuation is normal.
However your child’s learning journey unfolds, a support team for treatment—which can include doctors, therapists, parents, coaches, and teachers—will help him or her slow down, develop and hone skills, and gain confidence. Early awareness is key: check in with a clinician (even get a second or third opinion) and keep your child's team in the loop.
Being organized and informed can also make a world of difference in your child's progress.
Here are 5 tips to help manage information:
- STAY SORTED
Create a binder to house relevant medical and educational documents, test results, forms, etc.
- HELP LINE
Entrust and designate a family member, neighbour, or close friend to be a supportive resource for you and your child; it takes a village!
- SAVE SAMPLES
Collect examples of schoolwork that highlight strengths and weaknesses; these tangible academic reminders will help remind you of successes and hitches.
- KEEP TRACK
Maintain a running log of communication and correspondence with professionals.
- TAKE NOTES
Scribe memos of your child's educational, social, and emotional highs and lows; keep a journal or phone note to have your personal observations on hand.
Halifax Learning can help individuals with an ADHD or LD brain. To learn more about how our program works, contact us for a free consultation.