ADHD and Language in the School System

ADHD and Language

Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may present with learning difficulties and academic problems, specifically with reading and writing. Children presented with language difficulties beyond 5-years-old have a greater risk for deficits with their attention and social skills (Nelson, 2010).

The three risks that may develop without language therapy include:

  1. Difficulties understanding and expressing their thoughts
  2. Having a low IQ along with social skills and attention difficulties may result in global language impairments
  3. May be at risk for a specific expressive language delay (i.e., having trouble with the formation, content, or use of language)

Form, Content, and Use of Language

There are three main areas of language that may impact children with ADHD. Difficulty with the formation, content, or use of language may also present specific challenges in the school environment.

Form​ ​-​ ​adding appropriate endings to words, how to use sounds in language correctly, and how to use words to make a sentence ‘correct’ or to make grammar ‘correct’

Content​ ​-​ ​ the meaning of words, such as: vocabulary and knowledge of words the child has

Use​ ​-​ ​how a child uses language in social interactions

Challenges​ ​with​ ​Form

School-age children with ADHD may experience difficulty in syntax - comprehending the structure of a sentence and sequencing a sentence, such as subjects, verbs, object placements in the sentence (syntax). They may also experience difficulty in morphology, the formation of words and parts of words, and difficulty in phonology, the understanding of speech sounds and patterns (Greathead, n.d.).

Challenges​ ​with​ ​Content

Semantic difficulties in language involve problems with the meaning and organization of words. Problems that may arise in school include difficulties with spoken and written language comprehension, poor vocabulary, word-finding difficulties and difficulties using context clues to aid the comprehension of reading (Greathead, n.d.).

Challenges​ ​with​ ​Use

Communication is necessary for interaction with others, requesting wants and needs, or expressing feelings. This social use of language is called pragmatics. Children with ADHD may break socially accepted communication practices and exhibit behaviors such as excessive talking, speaking too loud, interrupting, or trouble in organizing their thoughts.

How does ADHD affect my child at school?

Children with ADHD may cope with several challenges in their everyday lives; these challenges could stem from both academic responsibilities and emotional regulation. The following topics include common concerns that parents should consider when discussing how ADHD can emotionally and academically impact their child.


A child with ADHD may not be able to make inferences from texts. If a child does not understand emotionality and cause/effect relationships in social situations, he or she cannot use this information to build mental schemas for texts. Teacher-student relationships may also be impacted because teachers may spend more time addressing the child’s behavioral issues then teaching the child academic concepts (Westby & Robinson, 2007). Peer relationships may be affected as well, because a child with ADHD may not be selected for peer work groups, which in turn would hinder child’s opportunity to fully participate in learning groups (Westby & Robinson, 2007).


Along with academic challenges, there are often emotional challenges that children with ADHD may undergo. Different mental issues can consist of stress, embarrassment, depression, and anxiety. Children
with ADHD typically stray away from social gatherings to avoid being bullied by their peers. Their peers may see them as ‘weird’ or a ‘misfit’, although most children with ADHD are compassionate, bright and creative (My Little Villagers, 2015).

Language as it relates to relationships and emotions

The relationships and connections that children with ADHD create with others is important for their language growth and development, because positive interactions with others affects the child’s level of motivation, confidence, and exposure. Emotional health and growth can cause a setback that can either
negatively or positively impact a child’s relationships and potentially cause social isolation.

What does the teacher see?

While it is common for students with ADHD to become easily distracted or get off-task, sometimes these outward signs can be misconstrued for disruptive behavior in an academic setting. Be mindful when
observing a child’s behavior or skill within an academic setting, and avoid jumping to conclusions regarding the motive behind their actions. Below are some examples of observations from a teacher’s perspective,
as well as possible underlying reasons for the child’s behavior or actions, as a result of an ADHD diagnosis.

● Child​ ​starts​ ​assignments,​ ​but​ ​does​ ​not​ ​complete​ ​them

  • Teacher sees that the child with ADHD becoming frustrated by disruptions from other classmates, difficulty participating in a group, and trouble staying on task
  • The underlying reason is that children with ADHD may be easily distracted; therefore, it is easy for them to get off track during an assignment (Morin, 2014).

● Child​ ​is​ ​always​ ​talking

  • Teacher sees that the child interrupts often and irritates other children during quiet time
  • The underlying reason is that children with ADHD may blurt out their thoughts and talk excessively as a result of the impulsivity of the disorder (Morin, 2014).

● Child​ ​does​ ​not​ ​work​ ​well​ ​in​ ​groups

  • Teacher sees that the child is argumentative, may not give others a turn to speak, and may belittle their classmate’s ideas
  • The underlying reason is that children with ADHD may get frustrated when they do not get what they want and may have trouble filtering what they say (Morin, 2014).

● Child​ ​appears​ ​to​ ​“space​ ​out”​ ​during​ ​learning

  • Teacher sees that the child responds with "what" when a teacher presents a question, student may forget teacher's directions, student is not prepared for class or class projects
  • The underlying reason is that children with ADHD have trouble focusing and paying attention (Morin, 2014).

Video​: This video is an interview of two children, one child with ADHD and one child without ADHD, and their thoughts on school. This video was made to spread awareness of children with ADHD and educate people on how children’s lives are affected by ADHD. ADHD​ ​Child​ ​vs.​ ​Non-ADHD​ ​Child​ ​Interview


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.) Preschool Language Disorders. Retrieved from

Greathead, P. (n.d.). Language Disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Retrieved from

Kjelgaard, M. (2017). Three Components of Speech and Language Disorders. Retrieved from

National Institute of Mental Health (2017). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Retrieved from

Nelson, N. (2010). Language and literacy disorders: Infancy through adolescence. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Morin, A. (2014). What teachers see: How ADHD impacts learning in grade school. Retrieved from

My Little Villagers. (2015, October 14). ADHD Child vs. Non-ADHD Child Interview. Retrieved from

Westby, C.& Robinson, L. (2007). Understanding language impairments in children with ADHD [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from