A learning difficulty (also referred to as a learning disability) can be described as an issue with the brain's ability to process information. Individuals who have a learning difficulty may not learn in the same way or as quickly as their peers, and they might find certain aspects of learning, such as the development of basic skills, to be challenging.
Because learning difficulties cannot be cured, their effects may impact an individual's performance throughout life: academically, in the workplace, and in relationships and daily life. Intervention and support, which may be supplemented by counseling or other mental health care services, can help an individual with a learning difficulty to achieve success.
WHAT ARE LEARNING DIFFICULTIES?
Approximately 4 million children and teenagers have a learning difficulty, and many of them cope with more than one type of difficulty. Learning difficulties, which are neurological challenges, affect the way the brain receives, processes, stores, and analyzes information. Because a learning difficulty often affects an individual's ability to develop reading, writing, and math skills, a learning difficulty is typically recognized and diagnosed while an individual is in school. However, some of those affected by a learning difficulty may not have it discovered or diagnosed until they are in college or after they have joined the workforce. Others never have their condition diagnosed and may continue to experience difficulty processing information as they progress through life.
Learning difficulties indicate an individual's need for alternative learning methods. They are not indicative of intelligence level and are not the same as intellectual difficulties—learning challenges that result from sensory handicaps; developmental delays; or cultural, economic, or environmental disadvantages.
While some learning difficulties are mild, others may have a severe impact on an individual's academic performance. However, behavioral teachings tailored specifically to the type of difficulty can help an individual develop strategies to address and work with a particular challenge, and intervention can be of significant benefit. Simply having a learning difficulty does not mean an individual will be unable to succeed academically or hold an intellectually demanding position.
POSSIBLE CAUSES OF LEARNING DIFFICULTIES
It is not clear what causes learning difficulties, but researchers believe genetic influences, brain development, and environmental effects may all be likely to have some impact on their development.
While learning difficulties often appear in families, researchers are uncertain whether this is due to genetic causes or if this recurrence appears because children typically learn from and model their parents. Brain development before and after birth might also have an impact on the development of learning difficulties, and children who were born prematurely, had a low birth weight, or who sustained a head injury may be more likely to have a learning difficulty. Environmental effects such as toxins and poor nutrition in early childhood are also considered to be potential factors in the development of a learning difficulty.
TYPES OF LEARNING DIFFICULTIES
A learning difficulty might often be termed a "hidden disability." A person challenged by a learning difficulty is generally of average or above average intelligence, and many are able to hide the fact that certain aspects of academic learning give them issue for years, leaving these issues unaddressed until high school or later. The difficulty arises in the gap between the individual's potential for achievement and ability to achieve, which is often hampered by a difficulty in receiving or processing information.
Learning difficulties can be verbal or nonverbal. Verbal learning difficulties affect one's ability to read, write, or otherwise process spoken or written words, while nonverbal learning challenges can make it harder for an individual to process visual information or master abstract concepts like fractions. Some learning difficulties can also make it difficult for an individual to focus: At least 20% of those with learning difficulties have a condition that impacts the ability to focus or concentrate.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual classifies learning difficulties under the diagnosis of "Specific Learning Disorder," differentiating between conditions marked by impairment in reading, mathematics, or written expression. This diagnosis occurs more often in males than in females.
The Learning Disabilities Association of America lists these specific learning difficulties:
An intellectual difficulty, listed in the DSM under intellectual disability, is characterized by significant limitations to intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior with onset before age 18. Generally, an IQ test score below 75 can be said to indicate a limitation to intellectual function. With an intellectual difficulty, adaptive behavior—conceptual, social, and practical skills—may also be limited.
An individual with a learning difficulty usually does not experience these same limitations. Those with learning difficulties may often exhibit above-average intelligence, as determined by an IQ test, and they may have developed strategies on their own to either hide or cope with a learning difficulty
Though neither intellectual nor learning difficulties can be cured, awareness and a variety of supportive techniques can enhance and improve the condition of an individual with either difficulty.