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Learning Difficulties vs. Learning Disorders

Learning Difficulties vs. Learning Disorders

Parents often confuse learning problems, even worst they may assume because their child is having difficulties, he or she is or will be considered a failure; endless periods of homework completion with seemingly insurmountable difficulties; until they realize the child may need an entirely different way of being taught things or may have anxiety. His brain may simply be developing at a different pace (this is no way means the child is a failure; many studies have proven children whose brain elasticity develops at a slower rate tend to later express high levels of “intelligence”. There are also the cases in which a child may have dyslexia or other type of learning difficulties.

It is modernly estimated about 10% of the western population suffers from dyslexia. Dyslexia is one of the learning disorders characterized by persistent difficulties in learning and by deficiencies in the developmental level of learning–let me reiterate that contrary to what is usually thought, learning disorders also occur in young people with high intellectual capacity. The problem does not have to do with the child’s intellectual faculties but rather a neurological deficit that affects specific regions of the brain: Broca’s zone, associated with learning to read or the parietal region of the brain, associated with learning mathematics. It is important to distinguish between temporary learning difficulties linked to what the child experiences on a daily basis and learning disorders, which consist of a stable disorder with which one must learn to live. As such it is not good to simply jump to conclusions or to be eager to medicate a child at the first sign of distress.

Difference between learning difficulties and disorders: Learning difficulties are usually detected in school when the student does not reach the expected level for his age range. Learning difficulties can manifest themselves in many ways, for example: low motivation to study, little memorization, limited concentration, inability to solve given problems, maladaptive social behavior, restlessness, among others. The most frequent reasons for these difficulties: Problems understanding how a teacher may explain things. Not everyone thinks and learns the same way; however our modern school system over time has embraced a more narrow approached to teaching children; “One size fits all”. To make it worst some subjects have been made even more complicated than they should which only produces anxiety on a child. Hence I often hear parents say “I am a reasonable intelligent person. I did well in school, yet when I pick my child’s book, I can’t make heads or tails out of it; its like they just decided to complicate things for no reason”. Another problem lies within the overuse of phones; children are becoming so addicted to texting or using social media that they no longer pay attention, they are more concerned with how many likes they got than to listen to their teacher; add to this that studies have proven overuse of technology (specially social media) leads to high levels of inability to concentrate and forgetfulness. The third cause is focused on the child’s home: from complicated socio-affective conditions, grief, anxiety problems, financial concern, a less than amicable divorce, domestic violence, etc. By detecting the source of the problem and attending to it, the child’s performance and learning significantly improves.

Learning disorders refer to neurological dysfunctions that interfere with one or more neuropsychological functions and which disturb the brain’s ability to acquire, understand, use, accumulate and retrieve verbal and non-verbal information. Attention problems can affect specific functions such as language, memory, references in time and space, calculation, coordination, motor skills, communication, etc. Only a diagnosis through an in-depth evaluation will allow to detect what type of disorder it is and to determine the treatment to follow. The degree of severity of learning disorders varies. It affects the acquisition and functioning of the following skills:

  • Oral language (receptive and expressive aspect)
  • Written language
  • Reading: word identification and comprehension
  • Writing: spelling and written production
  • Mathematics: calculus, logical reasoning, and problem solving

Learning disorders are not linked to intelligence but to a deficiency related to the processing of information. It occurs due to neurobiological, genetic factors, or an injury which modified the functioning of the brain and modified the learning process. It is important to insist on not confusing learning difficulties and disorders. Difficulties are linked to psychological, technological, family, social or economic factors, while disorders are neurobiological and last a lifetime.

It is important for people with learning disorders to be detected early and evaluated by professionals (neuropsychologists). For the treatment to be effective, it is necessary for the tools used to take into account the characteristics of the individual and must include these measures: Corrective teaching adapted to specific deficiencies, teaching compensatory strategies, the implementation of appropriate support measures, developing the ability to assert the child’s specific needs within his or her environment.

Some of the most common learning disabilities are:

  • Dyslexia: Trouble learning spelling and reading; often confusing words.
  • Dysgraphia: Disorder based on the ability to write. It is characterized by poor organization and coordination of writing which makes it slow and incomprehensible.
  • Dyscalculia: It is characterized by a difficulty in written language in relation to numbers and calculation.
  • Dyspraxia: characterized by the difficulty of coordinating movement, and planning gestures.
  • Dysphasia or aphasia: (recently called a language disorder) is a structural and long-lasting disorder of oral language learning and development

A neuropsychological evaluation allows to identify if there is an alteration in relation to one or more of the following functions: the student does not meet the academic requirements, attention, memory, reasoning, conceptualization, planning, organization, perception, spatial-visual skills, coordination motor skills, communication, reading, writing, spelling, calculation.

How does a neuropsychological evaluation help? The results of the neuropsychological evaluation allow the following:

  • Propose an accurate diagnosis of the learning disorder and identify the associated neuropsychological deficits; that way the child/adolescent and his family have a better understanding the nature of the difficulties and of his limits which can then be respected.
  • Helps identify the environment most conducive to the full fulfillment of the individual.
  • One can ask the teacher to use pedagogical methods which would meet the needs of the young person.
  • Better equip parents who can obtain the help and services required to establish an intervention plan adapted to the needs of the child (neuropsychological, ortho-pedagogical intervention, etc.)
  • Propose different necessary adjustments in order to maximize the learning, performance and well-being of the person.

As I said earlier it is IMPERATIVE not to confuse learning difficulties with learning Disorders; it is also imperative not to be eager to have a child tested at the first sign of “trouble” as often many of their difficulties will correct themselves over time with patience, guidance and nurturing.

Sofia Falcone


Sofia Falcone

Sofia Falcone
I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges and hopes, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves.

Reprinted on crystalwind.ca with permission from Sofia Falcone.

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