Perception is Everything: Seeing Possibility in Learning Disabilities

Mindful Parent

Some of the most ridiculed students in school used to be those singled out for their learning challenges.  These difficulties were considered different, and “different” was not a desired label for a child. I’m certain many students continue to struggle with learning challenges in silence to avoid being noticed, while others use behavior as a distraction, learn to compensate or highlight their strengths by excelling in other areas. Many are lost in the shuffle and do well enough to get by, but never stand out enough to be recognized by teachers as requiring intervention. Either way, the problems remain while these students are hiding, compensating or focusing elsewhere fails to mend the issue.


A recent visit to a private school specializing in educating children with learning disabilities was quite inspiring. Its students were a far cry from the stigmatized, outcast and teased kids I remembered. Students were taught in a manner in which they could learn. They were, treated like scholars and as if they were more than capable of learning, they were prepared for college, and there was no sense of shame or inadequacy, yet every one of them had a learning disability. Now, the cost of this opportunity is not easily accessible for many students in need. Therein lies the frustration. What if all children were afforded a chance at success, despite their learning differences?  What if the perception of the challenge changed?


Part of the reason students are ridiculed by others, and sometimes their own parents, is a lack of understanding. The stigma is perpetuated in this sense. Since learning disabilities are often hereditary, ignoring the problem can impact generations. Children with learning challenges grow into adults with learning challenges.

These students are far from being alone.  The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in the 2013-2014 school year, of the 6.5 million students in the United States receiving special education services, 35 percent had learning disabilities. One in seven children has a specific learning disability.


What is a Learning Disability?

First, understand that learning disabilities are the results of neurological and biological differences in brain structure and function that affect a person’s ability to process, receive, store, retrieve or communicate information.  In some cases, learning disabilities are associated with maternal malnutrition, exposure to alcohol or drug use during pregnancy, low birth weight or prematurity. These disabilities are not caused by poor teachers, lack of parental involvement or diet. In fact, a person can have strong cognitive and reasoning abilities, an average or above average IQ and still have a learning disability.


What are Some Common Learning Disabilities?:

There are several types of learning disabilities. Dyslexia is most common, and is associated with reading difficulty, including trouble with phonetic awareness, understanding speech sounds, difficulty with reading fluency and comprehension, rhyming, spelling, written expression and vocabulary. It is not simply the tendency to reverse letters and numbers.


Dyscalculia is diagnosed when there is significant difficulty counting, remembering math facts, doing math calculations, counting money, using measurement and computing mental math.


Dysgraphia is associated with writing difficulty. It includes trouble gripping the pencil correctly, tiring easily while writing, trouble forming letters, trouble organizing thoughts on paper and difficulty with grammar.


What’s next?

The earlier you intervene, the better. A full psychological educational evaluation is most beneficial for understanding your child’s profile and determining the most appropriate interventions.  Work with your child’s teacher, special education coordinator, psychologist or college disability services office to address your concerns and understand legal rights that provide accommodations for disabilities. Accommodations do not limit children;, they support children and offer opportunities for success. Every child deserves a chance to enjoy learning. Advocate for these children and for necessary improvements in our school systems, legislation and how our children are treated because of their differences.



Shavonda Bean is a licensed psychological associate and owner of Essential Assessment & Behavioral Health. Visit for more information