ADHD is Not a Learning Disability

ADHD is Not a Learning Disability

5 min read

ADHD is a mental illness.

You may not agree, and I could hardly blame you. It’s not like you ever see attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) classed alongside major depression (MDD), post-traumatic stress (PTSD), generalized anxiety (GAD), bipolar, borderline personality (BPD), or schizophrenia. You know, the real mental illnesses.

Maybe you think that’s because it’s not a mental illness; it’s a learning disability. It’s not, though. Not according to the Learning Disabilities Association of America or the National Institute of Mental Health or the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (p. 21). You can read more about ADHD not being a learning disability here or here or here or here.

I’m not saying mental illness and learning disabilities can’t be related or equally present; I’m just saying they aren’t the same thing. If you want to know more about learning disabilities, you can do so here.

***Full disclosure checkpoint***

I’m not a mental health professional. SuRpRiSe. I’m just a regular old person presenting an argument based on personal research and experience with adult ADHD (or adult ADD). You have the prerogative to deny my claims and dismiss this post. But before you do, I hope you’ll check out some of the sources I’ve linked because you don’t have the prerogative to dismiss science.

What is mental illness?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the term mental illness “refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders – health conditions, involving

  • Significant changes in thinking, emotion and/or behavior
  • Distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.” [1]

The Mayo Clinic describes adult-ADHD as a “mental health disorder that includes a combination of persistent problems such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior…[and] can lead to unstable relationships, poor work or school performance, low self-esteem, and other problems.” [2]

Adult-ADHD is a mental illness.

Trigger warning: I acknowledge that labels and classifications – especially, those pertaining to mental health or mental-not-so-healthy – are useful to some and not so useful to others. If you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD and the idea of it being considered a mental illness is triggering to you, don’t read past this paragraph. I’m not trying to upset you or convince you to think about your condition in a certain way. Obviously, how you do or don’t define yourself and your experience is between you and your doctor, and nothing to do with me.

For those of you still with me, hey.

Adult-ADHD is a mental illness.

So, why is there so much grey area? Why is adult-ADHD so commonly thought of as a learning disability? Why is it so rarely included in groupings of mental illness? Why is it being denied public recognition as one of the big crazies?


I don’t actually know. No one seems to know what to do with adult-ADHD.

Is it a jam, a jelly, a marmalade, or a spread???

Maybe adult-ADHD just floats in its own sphere of existence, neither mental illness nor learning disability, but simply “other health impairment.” A mental enigma.


Adult-ADHD is a mental illness, but for all intents and purposes, isn’t recognized as one. This is a problem because if we don’t acknowledge adult-ADHD to its full extent, then we risk dismissing and downplaying the challenges of those who live with it. You might think ADHD already gets the attention it deserves. Everyone’s heard of it. All the kids have it. All the college kids want it (well, the meds for it). Everyone has trouble focusing sometimes. We’re all a little ADHD, right?


This is exactly why adult-ADHD needs to be acknowledged for the mental illness it is. It’s not just a noisy kid or a scatter-brained adult. It’s a mental illness.

Adult-ADHD comes with learning challenges, but it also comes with emotional and behavioral issues, and in many cases, a nifty cohort of comorbidity. If neglected, these issues can escalate and lead to negative consequences, inability to effectively function in daily life, and exacerbate other health conditions.

Adult-ADHD requires the same amount of care and understanding as any other mental illness. It does not deserve to be treated like bipolar’s third step-cousin once removed. You know, sort of in the family, but not actually related, so you can feel okay about bumping it down to table 6.

No, no, no, no. ADHD is a mental illness as much as major depression, anxiety disorder, and bipolar.

Now, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can speak about my personal experience with adult-ADHD. And it feels a hella lot like something that causes significant changes in thinking, emotion, and/or behavior that can lead to distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.

So, what does adult-ADHD feel like?

It feels like being in a tiny room while a thousand bouncy balls shoot all around you at the speed of bullets. You’re expected to catch them all and organize them by color in ten minutes. Everyone else can do it, so why can’t you?

ADHD is sitting in a classroom while the professor explains that birds fly and fish swim, and some animals fly and swim. Should be fine, except, PLOT TWIST, the professor is speaking in tongues and writing on the board in obsolete Anglo-Saxon hieroglyphs.

ADHD is needing to return an email that requires three sentences at most, what should be a mundane, thoughtless task, but the thought of it creates such overwhelming anxiety that you put it off for days, inducing guilt and further anxiety. In many cases, the email is important, and neglecting it creates further negative consequences such as late payments or missed opportunities, and you end up hating yourself.

ADHD is being late to every appointment because your general absent-mindedness has you so paranoid about forgetting something that you’re too paralyzed to leave the house.

ADHD is having to choose between looking someone in the eye or processing what they’re saying.

ADHD is being unable to get out of bed, make breakfast, or get dressed because you forgot to refill your medication, and now your brain is deficient and improperly utilizing the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine.

ADHD is sitting down at your computer to get an hour’s worth of work done, then remembering you need to wash your hands. You may as well grab those dirty socks and toss them in the laundry on your way back.

And take those coffee mugs to the dishwasher.

Wash your hands again.

Replace the toilet paper.

Add soap to the shopping list.

Grab a drink from the fridge.

Add apples to the shopping list.

All the while, you’re desperate to sit at your desk and start your work, but you can’t because the motor inside you is driving you everywhere but where you need to go. And you’re not in control of the wheel.

Sometimes this is the bit that people struggle to understand about mental illness, the bit they can’t see. That sometimes we’re not in control of the wheel, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

How about we agree right now to stop treating adult-ADHD like the virgin daiquiri of mental illness? It’s packed full of tequila-rum and hangovers like the rest of them. So, let’s start acknowledging it for what it is.

ADHD is just a mental illness standing in front of the world, asking it to love her.

**Note: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is another one that I think deserves some greater respect and understanding. It’s not just light switches, faucets, and meticulously organized desks.

5 Remedies That Will Change The Way You Sleep

5 Remedies That Will Change The Way You Sleep

We’ve all been there.

Tossing and turning through the night. Lying awake in bed as the minutes tick by. Each passing hour, we tell ourselves if I fall asleep now, I can still get 4 hours’ sleep…3 hours…2 hours…

We know sleep is fundamental to our health. It regulates mood, energy levels, and cognitive function. Without it, our health risks increase, and our abilities to concentrate and think creatively suffer. It takes a toll on our mental health, affects our school/job performance, and is just all around the worst. But you knew that – it’s why you’re here. You’re tired. And you know what? You’re not alone. Roughly 1 in 3 Americans aren’t getting enough quality sleep. So what can you do to increase your chances of getting the blissful sleep you need?

Consider the following 5 supplements. All are easily attained, and pure magic when it comes to the zzz’s.

DiScLaImEr: Consider speaking with your doctor before taking any new medications or supplements. If you’re on other medications, do your own research or check with your doctor before introducing new supplements/medications to avoid negative interactions.


Photo by Michael Fischer on

Okay, YES. CBD oil changed my life. When I was finishing my Ph.D., I was so unbelievably stressed and wired and overwhelmed that sleep became a 3-4 hour thing every other night. On top of that, I only managed to get to sleep at all by taking Melatonin + some OTC sleep aid like Unisom or Advil PM, all of which I hate because they’re no good for your health long term and make you groggy and tired the next day (but I figured, not as tired as not sleeping for 6 months). It was terrible, so please don’t try this at home. Let’s just smack a Surgeon General’s Warning on that life.

When a friend suggested CBD oil, I was all for it because I’m a goddess of the earth, so I’m always up for trying new natural remedies. She swore by it, and while I wasn’t convinced it would be enough to get me to sleep without the Unisom, I bought a bottle, and oh. my. gaaad. It was everything.

By taking one dropper an hour before bed, I fall asleep easily without being struck by overwhelming tiredness. I sleep through the night, the quality of sleep is amazing, and I always wake up feeling fresh. I don’t think anything has changed the way I sleep more than CBD oil.

I started out with 250 mg and took anywhere from half a dropper (0.5 mL) to a full dropper (1 mL). After a while, I upped to 500 mg, and that’s been working well. I buy from Sacred Leaf, either the CBD VG Tincture or CBG Oil. They have a variety of flavors, and you can drop it straight into your mouth or mix it into a drink. I’ve also bought from Bluebird Botanicals, which is another quality product and a bit cheaper than Sacred Leaf, but they don’t have all the tasty flavors.

**Update 07/12/2019: I’ve just had the brand cbdMD recommended to me by a local CBD tea line distributor in my area. I’ve done some research and checked reviews, and it’s definitely a quality product in a more affordable price range. I haven’t had a chance to try it myself yet, but I’ll post updates when I do.

The downside

High-quality CBD oil is pricey. You can find cheaper CBD products on Amazon, but they’ll almost certainly be diluted and less effective than the real stuff. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from it. I’ve bought CBD oil on Amazon when money’s been tight, and it still did something. Basically, it was better than nothing.

Note: Before buying any CBD products (especially the ones on sites like Amazon), do your research. Make sure it’s a reputable product. Read the reviews. Do an external Google search about the company or seller. Make sure they list any additional ingredients. Read up on any ingredients you don’t recognize. Don’t get conned into buying a tiny bottle of mint-flavored olive oil for $25. Or worse, something potentially harmful.


5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is the precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, otherwise known as the “happiness hormone.” While there is not enough scientific evidence to support the use of 5-HTP as a treatment for any condition, there have been some indications of its potential benefits in minimizing symptoms of depression & anxiety, migraines, insomnia, and even promoting weight loss. Because serotonin is converted into melatonin, 5-HTP is potentially useful as a sleep aid.

I take 5-HTP for both sleep and mood. If I’m having trouble getting tired or winding down, 5-HTP is my number one. Unlike CBD oil, it’ll hit you with that sleepiness and have you dropping off before you know it.

I buy NOW Foods 5-HTP capsules on Amazon, both in 50 mg and 100 mg. They can also be found at pretty much any health food store. I tend to stick with 50 mg for sleep, and only take 100 mg if I’m extra wired.

The downside

Take 5-HTP too late, and you’ll be sleepy the next day. Also, use it sparingly. Try not to take it too many days in a row because overly-elevated serotonin levels can lead to anxiety, agitation, and restlessness. If you develop any of these symptoms after taking 5-HTP, stop for at least a week. If symptoms persist, this could indicate Serotonin Syndrome (Toxicity), which is incredibly dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Speak to your doctor immediately.


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Magnesium is a natural mineral with a zillion benefits, so don’t be surprised if it pops up on every single post I write about health/mental health/well-being – especially, because 50% of Americans don’t consume the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR).

I take 200 mg of magnesium 3x daily (morning, midday, evening). It won’t induce sleepiness or put you straight to bed, but magnesium is essential for regulating neurotransmitters and melatonin, which will help calm your body and mind. So, if it’s racing thoughts keeping you up at night, magnesium might be just what you need to shut them down.

My go-to brand is Doctor’s Best High Absorption Magnesium, 100% Chelated. My morning dose comes in my multivitamin, which I customize on VitaminLab to include my preferred type (magnesium glycinate) and dosage (200mg).


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L-Theanine is an amino acid found in certain tea leaves and mushrooms. It promotes relaxation without causing drowsiness or a surge in energy, meaning you can take in the morning and/or night.

I use NOW Foods L-Theanine, 200 mg or Doctor’s Best L-Theanine with Suntheanine, 150 mg. I take it in the evening to help shake off the stress of the day. The effects are subtle – so subtle that sometimes I’ll think it’s not doing anything and stop taking it. That’s when I realize how effective it really is at taking the edge off.


Initially, I introduced inositol into my supplement regime after reading about its potential benefits for PCOS and ADHD. When I took my first ever dose, it was around 2 PM as I sat down to get some much-needed work done. Thirty minutes later I was like OH NICE, I can take this to go to sleep at night, and my work was done for the day.

Note: there is scientific evidence to suggest benefits of inositol supplementation for PCOS, but insufficient evidence that it has any effect on ADHD or insomnia. So again, do your own research, speak to your doctor, enroll in a master’s for holistic medicine – whatever you need to do – because all I can tell you on this one is my experience, and *spoiler* my experience isn’t backed by science (though sleep benefits of inositol aren’t disputed by science either). Anyway, my experience is that inositol brought on a noticeable cloud of drowsiness when I took it at 2 PM and has been a reliable sleep-aid for me ever since.

My method is to take two capsules of NOW Foods Choline & Inositol, 500 mg about an hour before I want to sleep. I take the inositol-choline combo because of evidence indicating choline can benefit asthma. If you have no need for choline, there are plenty of inositol-only capsules, including NOW Foods Inositol 500 mg.

The downside

The sleep-inducing effect of inositol isn’t as overt as the 5-HTP, but don’t be fooled. Take it too late, and there is a possibility you’ll feel some slight grogginess the next morning.


If you’re sleepy and you know it, shake your meds. Goodnight.

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