Common Misconceptions About Learning Disabilities

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we'll be exploring the common misconceptions people have about students with learning disabilities. By the end of the lesson, you'll have the facts you need to shut down these negative stereotypes to better support your students.

Learning Disabilities

On the first day of school, you have 20 unique individuals in your classroom who are eager to learn. Your students all look, act and think differently. Although students prefer to learn in their own ways, and might have different grade-level abilities, some have a specific concern called a learning disability. A learning disability (LD) is a neurological problem that interferes with processing information; it can't be cured, but with accommodations, students affected can excel in school, work and interpersonal relationships.

However, learning disabilities come with a lot of stigma. Despite research and a move towards inclusion classrooms composed of students with and without learning disabilities, many people are still confused about their effects and meaning.

Today, we're going to look at four common misconceptions about learning disabilities and use accurate information to address them.

Common Misconceptions

Misconceptions are ideas that are commonly held but are actually false; these ideas stem from a lack of information. The best way to fight misconceptions about student effort, IQ and learning styles is to educate yourself and others.

LD Students Are Lazy

You decide to go for coffee with your friend Josh on the weekend. While you're at the coffee shop, you mention that you're concerned about a certain student with a specific learning disability in reading. In response, Josh says that 'those' kids are so lazy. Although he isn't a teacher, he remembers that his elementary classmates who had disabilities always got less work. Shocked by Josh's ignorance, you decide to help him better understand learning disabilities.

Students with learning disabilities are not lazy but rather need extra supports to learn.
students working

One common misconception is that students with learning disabilities lack perseverance and are lazy. However, just the opposite is true! Students with learning disabilities often have to work twice as hard as students without learning disabilities. Imagine being dyslexic and trying to read and interpret a paragraph where the words on the page might be blurred. The effort to read the same assigned material as other students is immense.

An example of how a student with dyslexia might see print
dyslexic vision

This is why students with learning disabilities need accommodations, or changes that consider how they learn and make material accessible to them. With accommodations, like large print texts, bolded vocabulary words, annotation spaces or read-alouds, students with disabilities can conquer the same assigned work as their classmates.

LD Students Have Low IQs

Again, imagine being a learning disabled student. As you walk into math class, you have a feeling of apprehension. Your classmates have been teasing you, saying that your'e 'SPED' (a special education student). Just because you struggle in math, some people think you're not as 'smart' as they are.

However, you and your teachers know this isn't true. Students with learning disabilities are often incredibly smart and simply learn certain types of material slower than their peers. For example, a student with a specific learning disability in math might struggle to complete basic calculations in algebra, but could be an all star in reading and writing. Students with learning disabilities in reading can often express their ideas clearly and interpret information orally.

A learning disability does not mean a person has a low IQ (intelligence quotient) or intellectual disability; learning disabilities are not the same as intellectual disabilities. Learning disabilities affect the way a person processes information, usually in a specific academic area, such as language, reading, writing or math.

Students with learning disabilities do not have a low IQ.

LDs & Learning Styles Are the Same

Even well-meaning teachers sometimes get learning disabilities wrong. During a staff meeting about accommodations for students with disabilities, one young teacher is confused and asks if learning styles are the same as learning disabilities. Learning styles are preferred ways of learning new information. For example, one learner might prefer to learn by doing, called kinesthetic learning, whereas another might prefer to learn through auditory input, like listening to a story.

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