How does ADD affect learning?

Check out Lisa Ling‘s frank admissions of her struggles in the classroom.  Sound familiar?

Attention plays a major role in learning since all information coming into and out of a person’s brain is filtered by attention. That is, in order to acquire a new piece of information or a skill, we must first pay attention to it. In order to show that we have mastered the information or skill, we must control our impulses, monitor our behavior, filter distractions, and concentrate for a sustained period of time on the “tests” that occur in the classroom and in the real world.

Poor attention affects both incidental and “school” learning. A person who has a weakness in attention is less able to receive all of the input from the environment–structured or unstructured–that is necessary for learning. For example, he neither sees nor hears all the steps that Mom and Dad show and tell him about cleaning his room; he misses the fact that there are actually road signs that tell where to go; and he fails to get the coach’s instructions about game strategies during practice. At school, he doesn’t listen to the teacher’s instructions; he doesn’t see the assignment written on the blackboard; he doesn’t get the meaning of the stories he reads; and he doesn’t remember the steps in long division.

ADD can also interfere with a person’s ability to demonstrate what he has learned. People with ADD may have messy rooms, dirty dishes, and poor hygiene even though they know how to clean, to do the dishes, and to care for their bodies. In school, people with ADD may fail to complete all the problems or daily worksheets, add instead of subtract on achievement tests, make careless errors on intelligence tests, reverse letters when reading or writing, and forget to capitalize and punctuate in written language tasks.

Apparent difficulties in seeing, hearing, remembering, and understanding often lead to the false conclusion that individuals with ADD have auditory or visual perceptual problems or are just less intelligent. In reality, however, they are simply not alert and not reflecting, focusing, filtering, persisting, or monitoring their behavior and their schoolwork.  Brain power only goes so far.

ADD negatively affects learning. But, it never does so alone. A person’s temperament, intellectual, and learning abilities, and language skills, among other things, interact to influence how attention affects learning. It is important to remember that ADD, as a biologically based individual difference, can occur in anyone–an individual who is gifted, learning disabled, retarded, and one who has average learning ability.

Catch up on previous posts in the Pay Attention series.

Patients of all shapes, ages, and sizes come to The Being Well Center and Dr. Craig Liden for diagnoses and treatment plans they can trust. Can we help you too? Visit The Being Well Center for more information about Dr. Liden’s services.

Our current blog series is excerpted from Dr. Liden’s best-selling book, Pay Attention!: Answers to Common Questions About the Diagnosis and Treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder.

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About cblmd

medical director of the being well center, ADHD expert, speaker, and author

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