The term “learning disability” is used to describe a condition in which one aspect of a person’s ability to process and produce information is markedly different than other aspects. For example, a student may have a photographic memory and excellent reading comprehension, but their ability to visually process data is slower than their peers. I try to avoid the term “disability” because it connotes some sort of “flaw” in a person. However, the term “learning disability” is an official diagnoses and recognized throughout the education system. In addition, it is important because it has legal implications which greatly affect a student’s civil right to a Free Appropriate Public Education.
Since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), formerly know as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975, a diagnosis of a “learning disability” has helped students receive necessary accommodations which allow them to achieve to their fullest potential. These can include extra time on tests, preferential seating, the use of a calculator, etc. Today, the concept of a learning disability is widely recognized and respected, though there are still many challenges in school systems in which these challenges may not be particularly honored. Or, the opposite can occur, in which a teacher may believe a student is incapable of learning certain subjects and therefore little effort is made to teach them. Or, they can be placed in an overly restrictive environment. Since school systems are beholden to follow federal law, the issues of how to teach and treat students that are labeled is an ongoing struggle.
I have worked with students of nearly every “type” of learning disability. There are 13 official categories of learning differences. They are necessary and helpful in identifying challenges, but like any label used to describe a person, they are general compared to the incredible uniqueness of every individual.
Finally, as most of us understand, having a “learning disability” simply means that a student’s learning abilities differ from the majority. It as nothing to do with being “smart.” These differences add a flair and a depth to students, a special uniqueness that is compelling and rich.
If you have a student, or are a student, that has been labeled or might be labeled, and have questions or need assistance, feel free to contact me.