It is estimated that about 2% of the UK population have a learning disability. In 2013–14, the number of children and youth ages 3–21 receiving special education services was 6.5 million, or about 13 percent of all public school students.
That may seem like a small number, but in reality, it is difficult to accurately determine a more exact figure because many individuals pass through the education system and much of their working life undiagnosed. They either develop individual strategies to address the challenges that learning disability presents or chalk it up to not being smart. Because Individuals with learning disabilities often have difficulty asking for help with peer-related situations, often lack the social-emotional skills necessary to handle peer pressure, bullying, and reading social cues of others they often suffer in silence.
So, what is the difference between learning disability and learning difficulty? Learning disability describes when an individual finds it harder to learn, understand and communicate. In contrast, learning difficulty refers to specific challenges with learning resulting from medical, emotional or language problems (SEN). Therefore, an individual with specific difficulties such as dyslexia does not necessarily have learning disabilities.
Overall, learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems which interfere with learning basic skills. This inevitably opens the debate regarding intelligence. While there is some data to suggest a relationship between some learning disabilities and lowered IQ, it is not enough to suggest causation. Further, higher level skills such as organising, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention are usually also affected by neurologically based problems.
There are many types of learning disabilities: ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Dyslexia, Dysgraphia. Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, Auditory processing disorder, Visual processing issues, Nonverbal learning disabilities, to name a few. The general use of the expression, “a slow learner,” further complicates matters. “A slow learner” is not a diagnostic category. It is an expression used to describe a student who can learn necessary academic skills but at a rate and depth below the average of his peers.
I have had the privilege of interviewing two young adults, Daniel and Ashley, who have both passed through the education system, including university, and both have learning disabilities. Their frank description of their experiences is both compelling and shocking, reflecting the impact that their learning disability had and continues to have on their lives. School, college, and university students who do not have learning disabilities are renown to frequently complain about how difficult-a-time they have. In this series, we will highlight the challenges that both Ashley and Daniel have had while studying and then transitioning into the adult world of work as they endeavor to fulfill their ambition.