Learning Difficulties and Learning Disabilities: Everything About The Both

Strategies for students to ask for help
Sad tired frustrated boy sitting at the table with many books and holding help sign. Learning difficulties, education concept.

what is the difference between Learning difficulties and learning disabilities?

When it comes to academic performance, not all students are created equal. Some struggle with subjects like reading or math, while others experience more significant learning challenges that can have a serious impact on their future.

While the struggles of some students are clearly more pronounced than others, it’s important to understand the distinction between learning difficulties and learning disabilities so you can identify potential problems and take the necessary steps to improve your child’s education.

Learning difficulties and learning disabilities are two terms used in education and psychology to describe a student’s inability to learn certain things as easily as others.

Even though these terms are often used interchangeably by people who aren’t well-versed in either area of study, they actually have very distinct meanings that should not be confused with one another.

Here is the difference between Learning difficulties and learning disabilities and other things you need to know about these two phrases

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What is a Learning Difficulty?

Learning difficulties and learning disabilities

A learning difficulty occurs when a student struggles to learn specific skills or concepts. This term is not used to diagnose a specific disorder but rather acts as an umbrella term to encompass various disorders under the “learning” category.

There are many types of learning difficulties, including dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia, among others. A student with dyslexia has trouble reading, for example, while a student with dysgraphia has trouble writing.

Other learning difficulties include difficulties with auditory processing, time management, and executive functioning. The word “disability” is often used interchangeably with the word “difficulty,” but they are definitely not the same thing.

What is Learning Disability

Learning difficulties and learning disabilities

A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects one or more areas of a student’s life, including academics.

Learning disabilities can impact both cognitive (thinking) and physical skills. The term “learning disability” is used to describe a wide range of conditions, from difficulties with reading and writing to problems with hearing.

A learning disability does not mean that a person is “not intelligent” or incapable of learning. It simply means that the person has a harder time with specific tasks.

What causes a learning disability? Many factors may be involved. Genes may play a role. Poor nutrition, toxins in the environment, and certain illnesses may also be responsible.

Finally, a stressful event or trauma, like a car accident or a serious injury, may also cause a learning disability.

Common learning disabilities include ADHD, dyslexia, and OCD. Learning disabilities are thought to be caused by a mix of genetics and environment. They often first appear in childhood and continue throughout a person’s life.

The main features of learning disabilities are difficulty with:

  • Sustained attention
  • Concentration
  • Sustaining focus on one task
  • Distractibility
  • Focus
  • Working memory
  • Sequencing
  • Rapidly shifting between tasks
  • Resolving conflicts between tasks
  • Sorting information based on importance
  • Accuracy
  • Grasping the meaning of what you read
  • Speed
  • Reacting quickly to a change in stimuli
  • Coordination
  • Managing multiple tasks simultaneously
  • Processing speed
  • Paying attention to more than one thing at a time
  • Multitasking


Learning Disability vs. Learning Difficulty

Learning difficulties and learning disabilities

A learning disability is a neurological disorder that can affect one or more areas of a student’s life, including academics. Learning disabilities can range in severity, with some being more serious than others.

While some people are born with learning disabilities, others develop them as a result of an illness or injury. A learning disability often goes undiagnosed until a child begins school when the child’s struggles to keep up with the rest of the class become apparent.

A learning difficulty, on the other hand, is not a diagnosable disorder. It is a term used to describe a student’s struggles in specific areas, such as reading or math.

While many students with learning difficulties do have dyslexia or dyscalculia, they do not automatically have a learning disability.

How to Tell the Difference Between Learning Disabilities and Learning Difficulties?

There is no way to tell the difference between a learning disability and a learning difficulty at the beginning of the school year because neither a learning disability nor a learning difficulty will show up on a child’s report card.

For example, let’s say your child has always hated reading, but he has always been able to get by with minimal effort because the teachers have given him the support he needs.

Now, your child is in middle school and the teachers are expecting more from him. His reading skills are not where they need to be, but they aren’t so bad that he needs to be placed in a special education class.

If your son’s teachers are aware of his reading struggles, they might recommend that he gets extra reading help after school. If his teachers are not aware of his reading struggles, they may think he is just being lazy.

The same can be said for any other subject where he may be struggling.

The Importance of Identification

The biggest difference between learning disabilities and learning difficulties is that learning disabilities must be identified, diagnosed, and treated, whereas learning difficulties do not have to be treated.

Finding out your child has a learning disability can be upsetting, but it also opens up a world of opportunities for your child that would not be available to him otherwise.

If your child has a learning disability but no one knows about it, his education will likely suffer. If your child’s struggles are due to a learning difficulty, they can be overcome with some extra help.

If your child has a learning disability, he needs extra help, but that help must come from a specialist who can address the specific needs your child’s disability presents.

Conclusion On Learning difficulties and learning disabilities

When it comes to academic struggles, there is a big difference between a learning difficulty and a learning disability. A learning difficulty is something that can be overcome with the right help, such as tutoring or extra assistance after school. A learning disability, on the other hand, is neurological and cannot be overcome without proper treatment from a specialized professional.

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