What is Learning Disability

In order to fully understand what a Learning Disability is, it’s helpful to understand the steps of learning.

The learning process can be divided into 5 steps:

  1. Senses. Take in information through the senses
  2. Processing. Figure out what it means
  3. Memory. File it into memory
  4. Later, withdraw it from memory and remember it
  5. Expression. Feed it back to the outside world through some form of expression, such as speech or writing

For someone with a learning disability, there is a breakdown somewhere in these steps, and the individual may need different or additional ways to take in information, file it into memory, or withdraw it from memory.

It is important to know one's strengths and weaknesses because there are ways to compensate for the weaknesses by working with your strengths. Also, if you have been diagnosed as having a learning disability, you are entitled by law to certain academic accommodations to "even the playing field" and enable you to succeed in school.

For example, if you have difficulty picking up information just by listening to a lecture, you can use a digital recorder to record the lectures. Then, when you get home, you can play the tape back and fill in your missing notes.

Or, if you are easily distracted, you can request to take your exams in a quiet room with fewer distractions.

A person with a learning difference has average to above average intelligence and may:

  • be a terrible speller
  • have poor handwriting
  • be highly distractible
  • read slowly or inaccurately
  • make lots of careless errors
  • have trouble memorizing multiplication tables
  • have trouble with math
  • have difficulty putting thoughts onto paper
  • have difficulty retaining information
  • be disorganized

These learning problems are not the result of poor vision, poor hearing, intellectual disability, physical challenges, mental disorders, acquired brain injury, emotional disturbance or lack of motivation. A learning disability often runs in families. It is neurologically based, life long and present since birth.

On the positive side, a person with a learning difference often:

  • is highly creative and found in creative careers, such as art, drama, etc.
  • is a risk-taker
  • is entertaining
  • has a sense of humor
  • is loyal
  • is trusting
  • adds fun and zest to life

Research shows that 1 in 5 children have a learning difference.

Can you name anyone “famous” with a learning difference? Learning differences are invisible. There are many people with learning disabilities who have found success in their fields and have even helped influence our society’s science, technology, athletics, and entertainment fields. For example: 

  • Albert Einstein (developer of the law of relativity) was 4 years old before he learned to talk. He failed his first college entrance examination.
  • Thomas Edison (inventor of the light bulb) had a teacher who told him he was too stupid to learn, so his mother taught him at home.
  • Octavia Spencer (Oscar-winning actress) has dyslexia.
  • Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft Corporation) has ADHD.
  • Michael Jordan (title holding athlete and basketball player) had difficulty in school due to ADHD.
  • Dav Pilky (creator of Captain Underpants) has dyslexia and ADHD. His disabilities caused him to act out in class, and he spent lots of time banished to a desk in the school hallway. It was at this desk where he created Captain Underpants, the character that made him famous.
  • Octavia Estelle Butler (author of Kindred) was the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant and she had dyslexia.
  • Charles Schwab (founder of largest bank and brokerage firm) is dyslexic.
  • Michael Phelps (record breaking Olympic swimmer) has ADHD.
  • Simone Biles (Olympic gymnast) with ADHD has tweeted “Having ADHD, and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of nothing that I’m afraid to let people know”.
  • Sir Richard Branson (business mogul and philanthropist) had difficulty in school due to dyslexia.
  • Will Smith (actor) has ADHD.
  • Adam Levine (musician from Maroon 5) has ADHD.