Learning Differences – What They Are and What They Are Not

Learning Differences are heart breaking for all concerned – a child’s self esteem is sacrificed; parents are emotionally pained and physically drained; teachers are perplexed and frustrated.

The most common learning differences are dyslexia (language learning disabilities), attention deficit disorderslearndiff (ADHD), nonverbal learning disabilities (NLD), and executive function disorder (EFD).  These may exist alone or in combination.  Below is an overview of each learning difference.

Dyslexia – Many learning differences involve language. These language-based learning differences, also referred to as dyslexia, or reading disabilities,  may show up as problems with reading, writing (dysgraphia), spelling, speaking, listening, and/or math (dyscalculia). Additional specific learning differences (SLD) include perceptual differences, or brain injury.

Nonverbal Learning Differences – In contrast to language learning differences, children with nonverbal learning differences (NLD) have difficulties with visual and spatial relations, which impact their ability to learn from nonverbal information. Kids with NLD often have trouble understanding the “big picture,” and because social interaction relies heavily on the exchange of nonverbal cues (e.g. body language, facial cues), children with NLD may be socially awkward.

ADHD – Although it is not included in the term-specific learning differences, ADHD involves problems regulating attention, which occurs often among children with learning differences. If not treated, ADHD interferes significantly with a child’s ability to learn and function in school, on the playground, and at home.

Executive Function Disorder – Executive Function Disorder (EFD) refers to difficulties carrying out the tasks that are a part of daily life—the ability to plan, organize, set goals, solve problems, regulate emotions, and monitor behavior. Because these skills are fundamental to what goes on in the classroom as well as in other settings, children with EFD often have significant problems in school and, as they grow older, in life.

Learning differences are not the result of:

  • Low intelligence
  • Poor instruction
  • Lack of motivation
  • Emotional disturbances
  • Seeing or hearing problems

Contrary to what some people think, people with LD are smart, talented, and resourceful; they just learn differently.

Some students with these challenges never get diagnosed as having a learning difference in spite of their struggles, but about 5-9% do get officially diagnosed because the discrepancy between their potential, or intelligence, and their actual performance is so great.

Learning and attention challenges are perplexing because they may cause very “able” individuals to be unsuccessful or “disabled” in certain situations. Children and adults with learning differences look and act like the rest of the population. They are bright and often talented in creative or physical areas. Their “difference,” with it’s accompanying frustration, hours of homework, and coping behaviors, rears its head in the face of specific tasks or expectations.

The most common reason for a child to struggle in school is weak or inconsistent learning skills or what you might think of as information processing skills. These underlying skills cause interference to learning. Unfortunately, they do not typically improve with time or traditional tutoring.  As a result students become more frustrated and anxious about their learning challenges. They may become angry or withdrawn. They may appear unmotivated or lazy. They may make poor decisions, feel like a failure, and quit believe in themselves.

The term ‘Learning Difference’ (LD) refers to an array of problems that cause bright and capable people of all ages to have difficulty learning using teaching methods found in most traditional classrooms.

While the underlying cause of LD remains a mystery, experts agree that it is neurologically based, meaning it results from differences in the way the brain is wired and processes information.

Although LD cannot be outgrown or “cured,” it can be compensated for and re-mediated. The better you understand the nature of your  learning difficulties, the greater your chances are of succeeding academically and socially. It’s important to understand people with LD may be highly intelligent and have considerable strengths upon which to build.

As incredible as it might sound, especially considering the profound emotional, physical, and mental impact, specific Learning Differences are usually not all that complicated brain-wise. With rare exception, the learning issue is being created by a localized brain dysfunction in an otherwise normal or even high functioning brain. Fortunately, the Quantitative EEG (computerized brain wave analysis) is efficient in detecting and defining these defective performance areas and Neurofeedback has shown the ability to re-mediate these dysfunctions and to optimize brain function.

Learning differences do not have to be permanent!

We live in an amazing time. In the last 20 years, brain research, as well as clinical evidence, has shown that the brain can literally be retrained to process information more quickly and easily.

The weak or inefficient underlying skills that cause learning differences can be developed. With specialized training the brain can learn to think and process information in more effective ways. Students don’t have to go through life crippled by their learning challenges.

Recent brain research tells us that the brain has plasticity, or the ability to change with training. Through intensive training that “stretches” an individual’s thinking, chemical and physical changes can occur in the brain. Because we know this kind of “neuro-rehabilitation” is possible, we also know that with the right tools and strategies, new, higher functioning neuropathways can be developed to permanently improve student’s overall processing and performance.

Our brains are continually modified by our experiences. This implies that programs which target processing and motor skills can improve those areas in students with brain injuries or motor or learning challenges. Learning differences can be corrected so that students can go on to live up to their potential!