Learning Differences

Finding out that you or a loved one has a learning difference can be difficult to accept, but they are still the same person you know and love – no better, no worse, just different from the norm. Depending on your culture and level of knowledge about disabilities, you might experience a mix of emotions: scared of others finding this information out, relieved to know that there is a reason why “easy” things seem so hard, guilty because you blame yourself, confused, hopeless, or intrigued. So what is a learning disability? Learning differences, also known as learning disabilities, are a diverse group of neurological conditions that affect how individuals receive, process, store, and respond to information. Autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), neurodivergent, dyslexia (trouble with reading and comprehension), dysgraphia (difficulty with writing), dyscalculia (trouble with math and numbers), and dyspraxia (difficulty coordinating motor movements, speech, and language) are all learning differences which can be identified and supported by autism therapy, ADHD therapy . However, learning differences do not “go away” – we can learn to work with them though.”

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If you frequently find yourself thinking or saying:

“You just need to try harder”


Don’t you ever learn?!

You aren’t applying yourself

Stop being so dramatic.

It’s not that hard.

You’re just making this harder on yourself.

What are you, stupid?!

Can’t you do anything right?

 … you might have a child who has learning differences, and believe us, they’re just as frustrated as you are – maybe even more so, because they WANT to do well but are being blocked by something beyond their control. And if any of those sayings sound familiar to you from your own childhood… it’s possible that your child’s learning disability was inherited from you! 

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the definition of lbehavioral healthcareearning differences, their prevalence, their impact on individuals and those around them, the dangers of inaction, and the vital support systems available to help individuals thrive despite these challenges.

Early Warning Signs of Learning Differences

Learning differences refer to a range of conditions that affect a person’s ability to acquire, process, or express information effectively. These conditions can impact skills like reading, writing, mathematics, and more. The Mayo Clinic lists the following warning signs your child might be struggling due to a learning difference: 

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  • Not being able to master skills in reading, spelling, writing or math at or near the expected age and grade levels.
  • Trouble understanding and following instructions.
  • Problems remembering what someone just said.
  • Lacking coordination while walking, playing sports or doing things that use small muscles, such as holding a pencil.
  • Easily losing homework, schoolbooks or other items.
  • Trouble completing homework and assignments on time.
  • Acting out or having defiant, angry or large emotional reactions at school. Or, acting any of these ways while doing academic tasks such as homework or reading.

The Impact of Learning Differences 

Learning differences can affect self-esteem, self-confidence, and overall well-being. They may also lead to frustration and anxiety. Students with learning differences often face academic challenges that can impact their performance and limit their opportunities for success. Transitioning to higher education and the workplace can be particularly challenging. Understanding one’s learning differences and seeking appropriate accommodations is crucial for achieving career goals.

“Can’t we just ignore it and make it go away?”

Failing to identify a learning difference early on can lead to prolonged struggles in school and life. Without appropriate accommodations, individuals with learning differences may miss out on opportunities for success across their lifetimes through promotions, employment, relationships, and wealth acquisition. 

Prevalence and Inequity

Learning differences are more common than you might think. Approximately 1 in 5 individuals have a learning difference. Unfortunately, there is a significant disparity in diagnosis rates and access to support, with underserved and marginalized communities often facing greater challenges in getting the help they need. It’s more likely that children of color, children who don’t speak English, and rural, and poor children will not be assessed due to bias – it’s assumed that bad behavior in these children is willful and not the result of a real psychoeducational barrier, and they are more likely to receive disciplinary action than their white peers. Asians are among the least diagnosed due to the “Model Minority Myth” – a positive yet harmful stereotype as Asians are viewed as being intelligent, good at math, and very diligent workers. This means that Asian children who display characteristics of learning disabilities are often overlooked.

“Can’t we just ignore it and make it go away?”

Stories of Transformation

Before I learned of my child’s dyslexia, I spent years waiting for some magic. I would wake up each morning hoping that my boy had magically transformed into a child who learned like all his classmates. My husband and I would argue daily about whether or not our child had dyslexia. My husband would keep saying, ‘If only he would focus, he could learn.’ But acceptance for him finally came a few years later when he said, ‘I think he has dyslexia. Learning might always be a struggle for him.”

For the longest time I thought I wasn’t capable of learning. But everything changed one morning in 11th grade. In an IEP meeting, the resource director said, “Madison, did you know you’re in the 97th percentile for verbal cognitive ability?” What that actually was I had no idea, but it lit a fire within me. Why? Because it wasn’t just my mom comforting me. This was science. And it gave me confidence and led me to Gonzaga University and to Eye to Eye, where I’m helping kids like me fall in love with the fact that we think differently.”

“My learning differences weren’t formally identified until I was almost 40 years old, and suddenly so many things made sense to me! I was able to stop blaming myself for my limitations and actually start to learn new strategies to help myself succeed. I wish my teachers had paid closer attention to me in school, because I started cheating in math in 7th grade and never stopped because if I didn’t, I would fail – I just did not understand no matter how hard I tried. I think if someone had identified my autism early, I might not have experienced so much depression wondering what was wrong with me.”

“Well those tests ruined my life, they weren’t what I expected and they weren’t what I wanted to believe. I had this stereotype that people with learning disabilities, people with ADHD, adults with ADHD, children with ADHD were stupid and couldn’t be educated […] It was high school, when I entered high school I was scared […] but I learned something […] that I wasn’t the only one. The experience of meeting people with the same kind of problems gave me more confidence and a greater understanding.

Access, Advocacy, Accommodations

Various classroom accommodations and support systems, including autism therapy, are available to individuals with learning differences, though these vary by country. These accommodations level the playing field and help students thrive. Accommodations can include extended time on tests, taking tests in a special quiet environment, sitting close to the whiteboard, taking short breaks to prevent overwhelm, as well as autism therapy and many others that are individual to you or your child.

There are tons of websites about learning differences, including autism therapy. Here are a few of our favorites:

ADDitude Magazine LDOnline Understood.org

Progress and peace are possible when parents and caregivers are empowered with knowledge about their rights and how to advocate for their children’s educational needs. Training and support groups, including those focusing on autism therapy, can be invaluable resources.

Learning differences can present significant challenges, but individuals can achieve their full potential with the right support, including autism therapy. Recognizing the warning signs, seeking timely diagnosis, and accessing appropriate accommodations, including autism therapy, are essential steps in this journey. Through awareness, advocacy, and understanding, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society where everyone has the opportunity to excel.

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