9 Surprising Facts About Learning and Thinking Differences

By Amanda Morin
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At a Glance

  • Not all learning and thinking differences are learning disabilities.

  • ADHD is not a learning disability (LD), but it’s common in kids and adults with LD.

  • There are interventions, but no medical treatments, for learning disabilities.

In a large survey by the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), nearly everyone asked had heard of dyslexia. But only one-third knew about other learning disabilities (LD). And more than half of the people surveyed incorrectly think that wearing glasses can treat certain learning disabilities. Here are nine other facts that might surprise you.

1. There are no medical tests to diagnose LD. Researchers are beginning to learn the role of genetics in learning disabilities. But there’s no blood test or brain scan that can tell you if a person has one.

Identifying LD is a complex process. It should start with having a doctor rule out vision, hearing, or developmental issues that can hide an underlying LD. For school-age kids, families work with teachers and the school to observe and collect information about the child’s learning and performance.

Then qualified professionals will do the testing, verify the information gathered, and learn how the child processes information. Similar tests are used for diagnosing LD in adults.

2. ADHD is not a learning disability. However, ADHD can interfere with learning. And experts estimate that one-third to one-half of individuals with LD also have ADHD.

3. Vision, hearing, or motor impairments are not learning disabilities. That’s not to say these conditions don’t affect learning—they can. And people with LD may also have impairments in some of these areas. This might seem confusing. But the key is to have professionals sort out the primary cause of the symptoms. In some cases, a medical condition (like poor vision or hearing) is the cause. In other cases, it’s LD.

4. Medication doesn’t “cure” ADHD. Medication can be helpful for many people with ADHD. But it isn’t a cure. Medication combined with other therapies is often the most effective treatment for ADHD. Tutoring, coaching and counseling can help people learn practical skills (such as organizing ) and improve their focus and attention. Medication can help them succeed in those efforts.

5. There are no medical treatments for LD. There are, however, other ways to help people with LD. Examples are instructional interventions, assistive technology and accommodations. If you hear about a medical “therapy” to treat LD, be cautious. But keep in mind that some people who have ADHD may benefit from medication that addresses their ADHD symptoms.

6. Learning disabilities and ADHD run in families. A child with ADHD, for example, has about a one in four chance of having a sibling or parent with ADHD. And many siblings of kids with dyslexia have similar issues with reading.

7. LD is not the same as an intellectual disability. More than four out of 10 people surveyed by NCLD think that learning disabilities are correlated with IQ. The truth is that most people with LD have average or above-average intelligence.

8. More boys are identified with LD compared to girls. Only half of all public school students are boys, yet two-thirds of the students receiving special education services for LD are boys. The reasons for this gender gap aren’t clear, but it’s consistent across all racial and ethnic groups.

9. LD isn’t caused by the environment in which kids are raised. Surprisingly, most of the people surveyed believe environment does cause LD—and four in 10 teachers do, too!

These surprising facts are more than just interesting trivia. They’re things to keep in mind as you consider ways to help someone with LD. It can be hard for families to face the reality of these struggles. But the more you learn about them, the better you can support and advocate for your child.

Key Takeaways

  • Most people with LD have average or above-average intelligence

  • Boys tend to be identified with LD more than girls.

  • Learning and thinking differences tend to run in families.

About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD 

is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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