Brain Injury ADHD, LD

Brain Injury ADHD, LD

Sharon Grandinette, M.S.
Brain injury and ADHD are not the same. The cognitive challenges of students with traumatic brain injury (TBI) are often mistaken for an attention deficit (ADHD) or learning disability. This tip card helps educators and parents describe the similarities and differences among students with acquired brain injuries, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and learning disabilities (LD). It explains why these conditions are so often confused and why special education services may be needed for students with brain injuries.
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Full Description

Most educators are more familiar with ADHD and learning disabilities than traumatic brain injury. This tip card describes the causes and methods for diagnosis of traumatic brain injury, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disability. It explains why and how pre-injury factors, patterns of recovery, and special learning and behavioral patterns distinguish these conditions. There is an excellent chart comparing the three diagnoses and needs of the student for easy reference by parents, educators and therapists.

Pages 8
Year 2006


Sharon Grandinette, M.S.

Exceptional Educational Services, established by Sharon Grandinette, M.S., is dedicated to serving children and adolescents with special needs, specifically those with Acquired Brain Injury. She has an extensive background in the field of Special Education in both public and non-public schools as well as in the post-acute brain injury health care field.

Ms Grandinette is an Instructor at California State University Dominguez Hills in the Graduate Special Education Credential Program, is currently president of CAPHI-The California Association for Physical & Health Impairments, is on the Advisory board for We Can, Pediatric Brain Tumor Support Network and is a board member of AACBIS-the American Academy for the Certification of Brain Injury Specialists.


This tip card helps parents, educators, therapists and psychologists...

  • understand unique aspects of a brain injury
  • identify similarities and differences with ADHD and LD

Brain Injury and Special Education

What is a Brain Injury?

  • Traumatic brain injury is...
  • What causes a traumatic brain injury?
  • What about injuries caused by non-traumatic events?
  • How are brain injuries identified?
  • What are the consequences of a traumatic brain injury?

What is ADHD?

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is...
  • What causes ADHD?
  • How is ADHD diagnosed?
  • What are the three types of ADHD?
  • Why can’t these students control themselves?

What is a Learning Disability?

  • A learning disability is...
  • What causes a learning disability?
  • How is a learning disability diagnosed?

Why the Confusion?

  • Special pre-injury factors
  • Special patterns of recovery
  • Special learning and behavioral patterns

Comparison Chart of Brain Injury, ADHD and Learning Disabilities



Sample excerpt. Preview only – please do not copy.

Why the Confusion?

In the early twentieth century, the cluster of symptoms now known as ADHD was thought to be related to brain trauma. Although research has since found otherwise, many still believe this. For years, a learning disability was defined as “minimal brain dysfunction.” There are many overlapping conditions between the three disabilities.

For example, almost 20% of children with learning disabilities also have symptoms of ADHD. A brain injury can result in the development of learning and attention problems that look like ADHD and learning disabilities. There are important differences. Most notable is the sudden onset of a disability in a student following a brain injury. Many children have long-term disabilities after a brain injury. These changes in abilities or deficits may be more severe during the first months or years after the injury.

As the brain recovers, problems with attention, executive functions, higher language skills and behavior may lessen but not totally disappear. Frequently, children with attention difficulties after a brain trauma have what is called a “checkerboard” pattern. This is because some attention skills are slightly affected, while others are very impaired.

Many children with brain injuries process information more slowly and have difficulty with abstract concepts. They may also be easily distracted, seem “hyper” and have “behavioral” problems. These patterns can be easily mistaken as characteristics of ADHD.

A child with a brain injury usually has different patterns of abilities and behaviors than children with ADHD or learning disabilities. Unique characteristics are found in students with brain injury.

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