Learning disabilities: What they are and aren’t

At a glance

  • Learning disabilities aren’t due to kids being lazy or not trying hard enough.

  • There are many different types of learning disabilities.

  • People with learning disabilities can struggle with skills outside of school, too.

Did you know that one in four Americans think learning disabilities () are caused by watching too much TV? (They aren’t.) The National Center for Learning Disabilities recently asked 1,980 adults what they know and think about LD.

Most people agree that LD is a growing concern. Yet many still have mistaken beliefs about what LD is. To help clear this up, here are five facts about learning disabilities.

1. Kids with LD have brained-based problems, not motivational problems.

In 2010, one study asked people what they think about LD. More than half said they believe LD is the result of laziness.

Kids with LD aren’t lazy. Their brains process information in different and less-effective ways. Their brains have trouble focusing and making sense of language, written words, and numbers. Simply trying harder doesn’t help.

Luckily, the developing brain has a quality known as “plasticity.” It’s not clear if brains can be “retrained” to process information more efficiently. But with different kinds of instruction and support, kids can work around their weaknesses and learn in different ways.

2. Kids with LD grow up to be adults with LD.

People don’t “outgrow” LD. However, they have a good chance of success when given the right support. That includes appropriate intervention in school and help transitioning from school to college or vocational training. Community-based support outside of school is helpful, too.

3. Kids with learning disabilities are “just as smart as you and me.”

Not only is this true, but the good news is that 80 percent of Americans know it. Many people with LD have average or above-average intelligence. Many are also very creative and do amazing things in life.

A few examples of famous people with LD include journalist Anderson Cooper, actor/activist/comedian Whoopi Goldberg, actor/writer/director Henry Winkler, and entrepreneur Richard Branson.

4. Not all kids with LD have dyslexia.

Dyslexia (an LD in reading) is the best-known type of LD. But it’s only one of many. There are also forms of LD that affect math skills (dyscalculia) and writing skills (dysgraphia). Other concerns, such as ADHD and social communication issues often co-occur with LD.

5. Kids with learning disabilities struggle with more than just school.

Because the word learning appears in the term, it’s easy to assume that school is the only trouble spot.

The truth is that many kids with LD also struggle with social skills. Some have trouble reading body language. Others find it hard to follow conversations or to control impulsive behavior. LD also affects daily life, such as staying organized, managing money, and reading maps and clocks.

If your child has LD, you’ve probably learned a lot about it. You might also realize that other people don’t know as much about LD as you’d expect. The bottom line? There’s more to LD than meets the eye. Learning disabilities may not be as visible as other health issues, but they’re just as real.

Key takeaways

  • Learning disabilities are brain-based.

  • Learning disabilities affect real-life skills as well as academic skills.

  • People with LD are “just as smart as you and me.”


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