Learning Disabilities and Learning Differently 

Despite learning disabilities impacting 10-20% of individuals in Canada, they are still often misunderstood, misdiagnosed, or missed altogether. This leads to negative learning experiences and outcomes for many learners.  

In this post, we are going to learn more about what learning disabilities are and why LDS uses a strengths-based approach, so, with the proper support, learners can thrive.

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a neurodevelopmental (hardwired) disorder that impacts an individual’s ability to acquire, organize, retain, understand, or use verbal and non-verbal information. It is understood to be an unexplained inability to learn or develop skills or knowledge within a typical educational setting.  

Types of learning disabilities

Learning disabilities can impact an individual’s ability to:  

  • Read (referred to as dyslexia or a specific learning disability in reading)
  • Write (referred to as dysgraphia, written output challenges, or a specific learning disability in writing)  
  • Understanding or performing mathematical operations and concepts (referred to as dyscalculia or a specific learning disability in math)  
  • Process auditory information (auditory processing disorder)  
  • Understand and attach meaning to sounds groups such as words, sentences, and stories (language processing disorder)  
  • Decode nonverbal behaviour or social cues (non-verbal learning disabilities) 
  • Coordinate hand-eye movements and perform fine motor tasks (visual motor deficit) 

A learning disability means that a learner needs a different level of support, instruction, materials, or accommodations to learn and retain information that others seem to ‘grasp’ through typical classroom learning.

Diagnosing a learning disability

A psychologist diagnoses learning disabilities via a psychoeducation assessment (also called a ‘psych-ed’). Diagnosing a learning disability in K-12 determines which additional supports must be available to the learner (such as an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or accommodations for learning).  

Other developmental disorders

Other developmental disorders may co-occur with a learning disability or coincide with each other. These disorders impact the way a student learns, for example, the way a student may receive information, show their learning, be able to attend to learning, or learn in a noisy and busy classroom environment. These impacts can challenge learners in foundational academic areas such as reading, writing and math. Examples of other developmental disorders are:   

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  
  • Giftedness  
  • Executive Functioning Deficits (inefficiencies in the cognitive management systems creating significant challenges with skills such as memory, attention, planning, organization and attention to detail)  
  • Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)  
  • Developmental Language Disorder  
  • Sensory Processing Disorder  

Learning disabilities and developmental disorders are not terms that highlight that learners with these diagnoses also have areas of significant learning strengths.

LDS distinctive

LDS uses the term learning differences to capture learners with learning disabilities and developmental disorders impacting learning. The best support for individuals with learning differences is strengths-based, which focuses on the right support for the learner to overcome challenges and thrive.   

At LDS, we celebrate neurodiversity, a viewpoint that brain-based differences are normal variations within human populations, not something to be ‘fixed.’

We value and support the rich differences, abilities, and strengths that neurodiverse learners bring to their learning. At LDS, we focus on making learning a supportive and neuro-affirming process. Learners grow in their academic and executive function skill development, as well as their confidence and self-esteem. 

– Jennifer Fane, Director of Education

LDS is a community of dedicated professionals that write collaboratively. We recognize the contribution of unnamed team members for their wisdom and input.