batch004-058Between 10-15% of students in the United States do not learn efficiently.  They learn differently than the majority of students.  If they don’t get medical attention (to treat ADHD for example), academic accommodations (usually through an IEP – Individualized Educational Plan — to provide learning support in the areas the student struggles), and appropriate guidance for their academic or vocational future, these students will find themselves at a serious disadvantage as they leave childhood behind.

About half of these students (at least 5% of American schoolchildren) have specific learning disabilities.  A good definition of a specific learning disability comes from the National Center For Learning Disabilities (NCLD):

Science has not yet provided us with a full understanding of learning disabilities. What is known is that it is a neurological disorder that affects how the brain receives, processes and responds to information. LD is a broad category that includes several different types of problems in areas such as listening, reading, writing, spelling, and math, as well as associated disorders in movement. Processing information in each of these areas depends upon a brain that is wired for speed and efficiency. When the flow of information is misrouted or delayed, or when one area in the brain is not working at full capacity, the result is a breakdown in learning. (Emphasis mine.)


So a specific learning disability is essentially a disorder in the brain’s ability to process incoming information (inputs received with our senses, mostly vision and hearing) into an fast, efficient, and relevant response (output, such as answering a question correctly, or transferring ideas into writing, or solving a math equation, or catching a ball).  A specific learning disability is NOT the same as a physical disability (such as a vision or a hearing impairment, or a motor disability like cerebral palsy, or an intellectual disability — formerly known as mental retardation — or a learning problem due to emotional, environmental, cultural, or economic issues), though some of these kids unfortunately struggle to learn efficiently as well.

NCLD does a nice job in dispelling common myths about children with learning disabilities here, and I would encourage any parent with a child in school to read it.  One common myth I’d like to point out:

Myth #1: Individuals with learning disabilities have low intelligence.

False. There is no correlation between LD and low IQ. In fact, by definition, people with LD have average or above average intelligence.


It may not seems like it because these kids (who later become adults — see Myth # 3) process the information they receive more slowly and sometimes imperfectly, leading to inaccuracies in their responses.  In our impatient world of education and occupation, this is unfortunate:  when people with LD are presented information in ways that bypass the obstructed processing pathways, their understanding and responses are completely appropriate (thus, a normal IQ).  Children and adults with LD represent an enormous number of gifted and talented people whose potential is lost when a diagnosis is not made, or when an educational plan that is individualized is not implemented, or when ignorance within the community about learning disabilities is allowed to go on unchallenged.

Here’s another myth:

Myth #4: The only kind of LD is dyslexia.

False. It’s true that the most common type of LD is dyslexia (reading). However, there are other types of LD, such as dysgraphia (handwriting) and dyscalculia (math).  Moreover, other conditions such as dyspraxia (motor skills) and ADHD often co-occur with LD.


In fact, many of the learning disabilities listed above occur in combination rather than isolation.


Myth #9: People with LD will not find career success.

False. With intervention and support, people with LD can achieve career success and many have done so.


Examples abound of people who have achieved remarkable success in school and in adult life despite their learning differences.  The potential is there for all children with specific learning disabilities if all of us — doctors, teachers, parents — advocate for these children and don’t fall for the final, inexcusable myth:

Myth #10: It’s OK to joke about LD when someone makes a reading, writing or math mistake.

False. People with LD often feel shame and stigma about the difficulties they face.Bullying is also a very real problem in schools. Making a joke about LD may seem harmless, but in reality is deeply hurtful to those with LD. There are plenty of ways to be funny without doing so at another person’s expense.


See more of (and bookmark) the NCLD website here.

(Back pat:  Raymond O’Toole, M.D., Pediatric Alliance, Chartiers/McMurray Division).


(Image:  Stuart Miles/