Research Review: What is a Learning Disability and What Does it Look Like? Part 2 (Facts vs. Myths)

This article is based on my knowledge as a licensed and experienced special education teacher and from the National Center of Learning Disabilities.

Back in 2014, the center published an article called “The State of Learning Disabilities.” Within, they published some alarming information about how many adults perceive learning disabilities.

Here is How Our Nation Perceived Students with LD (our myths):

  • 80% of the public and parents, and 58% of administrators, believed a learning disability to be associated with “mental retardation” (currently we classify this as an intellectual disability or a cognitive disability, but this paper is a little old).
  • 75% of the general public and parent, and 50% of administrators, believed a learning disability to be associated with autism.
  • Almost half the popular link a physical disability with a learning disability.
  • Nearly half the people pooled believed that learning disabilities were caused by laziness in academics.
  • More than 70% of parents with 3/4 year olds showing possible early signs of learning disabilities believe they will grow out of it. These specifically are struggling to make friends, trouble following simple directions, becomes easily distracted, has trouble with days of the week or basic numbers/letters, and have trouble rhyming.
  • Up to one third or more of people believe learning disabilities are caused by too much time watching television, poor diet, childhood vaccinations, lack of early childhood education, believe that medicine or mental health treatments can fix a learning disability, or that eyewear can correct a learning disability. These beliefs are all incorrect. 

While these statistics may be alarming, it’s also important to note that most people believed that students with learning disabilities can learn. They also believe they are smart. Most educators and parents agree that children learn in different ways.


Here are the correct facts to these previously stated myths:

  • A learning disability is brain based issue. While there is still a lot unknown about these issues, we do know that there is evidence linking genetics, toxin exposure to lead, and a negative childhood environment. Unfortunately we do have the technology to scan every student’s brain for a learning disability, but we can use patterns and symptoms to diagnose.
  • While a student may score in the “below average” or “very low average” range on a intellectual assessment, a learning disability (LD) does not mean a student is cognitively disabled (CD). Sometimes a student with CD needs similar goals or educational support as a student with LD. However, a student with CD has different brain functioning than a student with LD.
  • This is the same for students with Autism. Students with Autism often need similar support or research based explicit teaching as students with LD. However, different brain functioning is occurring with a child who has Autism.
  • If a student can make educational improvement from adding glasses or a hearing device, that immediately disqualifies them from having a learning disability.
  • A Learning Disability is a unique brain issue that causes a difficulty learning specific subjects, and is typically due to the way your brain is hardwired. If your child is showing a struggle to develop on time, start talking to professionals. You could be helping your child from a frustrating experience at school.
Source: Current State of LD research found here.

2013 Graduation

Other Facts About Students with LD

Students diagnosed with learning disabilities have a higher increase of repeating a grade (thus a higher drop out rate from high school), they are twice as likely to be suspended as their other peers, have 3x’s the drop out rate than other students, their college completion rate is 41% rather than the national 52%, and only 46% of working age adults with learning disabilities are employed.

Now you may have many different thoughts on these facts. Here’s what I hear most often:

  • “That population must be bad or lazy people.”
  • “Teachers are not serving these students if these are projected outcomes.”
  • “The student’s parents are not involved in their life.”
  • “My child will not be diagnosed as having a Learning Disability because there are too many negative statistics.”

My response is always this: There are too many complex factors in a child’s life to specifically pinpoint the issue. There have many hundreds of researched articles on this very topic, and everyone has a different solution. A few of these complex factors are, the genetics of the family, socioeconomic status (did the child grow up in poverty vs. wealth?), cultural environments, and correct teaching practices. Keeping your child from a diagnosis will not necessarily keep them from the outcomes described above. Keeping a student from a diagnosis can actually encourage potential negative outcomes because they will missing the help they need. On the other hand, you don’t want to over address a weakness either. Going too far the other way can stop growth. If a student needs support in the general education setting, pulling them out can cause a regression in progress.


Finally, I just want to instill hope to any parents reading this. I have seen many students lessen their educational support and increase their time in the general education classroom. It is possible for students to be successful and score proficient. I also know a handful of students with learning disabilities whose struggles will continue with them through their entire life. These students are also able to learn, achieve, feel and be successful, and be contributing members of society. We just may need to think outside the box to get them to their successes. I can tell you this because I have seen it first hand. Don’t loose hope for your child!

Leave me any questions or comments below!

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