Learning Difficulties

Learning Difficulties

What is a Learning Difficulty?

A Learning Difficulty is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities e.g. household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects their whole live.

The distinction between disabilities and difficulties continues to be a subject for debate and although they are often interchangeable, it is broadly accepted that there is a difference between Learning Disabilities and Learning Difficulties as follows:

Learning Disability – a general term that refers to individuals who find it harder to learn, understand and communicate.

Learning Difficulty – refers to individuals who have specific problems with learning as a result of either medical, emotional or language problems and is often used in educational settings. Children and young people requiring special education needs (SEN) are often described as having a Learning Difficulty. 

According to the British Institute of Learning Difficulties [2004] the majority of people with Learning Disability prefer the term ‘person with a Learning Difficulty’.

A label describes one aspect of a person, but does not capture the whole person.

Causes of Learning Difficulties

The causes include genetic factors, brain injury, brain infections, infections before birth, brain damage at birth or after birth. However, for many who are diagnosed with a general Learning Disability, the cause remains unknown. 

Before Birth:  chromosomal conditions (two most common are Fragile X syndrome and Downs syndrome), abnormalities in an individual’s chromosomes which may lead to a Learning Difficulty, or if certain genes are passed on by a parent, this is called inherited Learning Disability. maternal factors (some infections passed onto unborn baby, diet deficiency or excessive alcohol consumption).

During Birth:  lack of oxygen at birth, or if the baby is born significantly premature and becomes ill shortly after birth.

After Birth: some metabolic disorders (abnormal chemical reactions in the body that disrupts normal processes), some childhood infections (e.g. meningitis, encephalitis), social and environmental   factors (such as poor diet and healthcare), severe head injury (e.g. from a road accident).

Implications of Impairment

People with a Learning Difficulty are amongst the most vulnerable people in society. Some are very affectionate and unaware of other people’s personal space.

Getting a Diagnosis

A Learning Difficulty can be diagnosed at any time. A child may be diagnosed at birth, or a parent or professional may notice a difference in their development during early childhood. For some people it may be many years before a diagnosis, while others may never receive a diagnosis at all.

Ways to learn / communicate

  • Mirroring.
  • Pictorial.
  • Makaton.
  • Time to process.
  • Concrete.

Common Indicators

  • Difficulty with reading and or/writing.
  • Problems with maths.
  • Difficulty remembering.
  • Problems paying attention.
  • Trouble following directions.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Difficulty with concepts related to time.
  • Problem staying organised.

Is there a cure?

Learning Disabilities has no cure, but early intervention can provide tools and strategies to lessen the effects on the person. People with Learning Difficulties can be successful in school, at work and in their personal lives.

Role of the School Psychologist

School psychologists are trained in both education and psychology. They can help identify students with Learning Difficulties and can diagnose the Learning Difficulty. They can also help the student with the difficulty, parents and teachers come up with plans that improve the young person’s learning.