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Learning Disability or Learning Difference: How Do I Distinguish the Two?

Rochelle Matthews-Somerville, PhD

January 2024  |  Diagnosis

Every child struggles from time to time. Some may have trouble with a concept in reading or math, while others may have difficulty processing instructions. Regardless of when or in what capacity the difficulty surfaces, whenever a child struggles in school or in life in general, there is a great chance that that they have a parent who is struggling to figure out how to support that child best too. 

When do you think I should get Concerned?

This is always a great question and as you can imagine, there is no straightforward answer. Learning and developmental differences aren’t always obvious because kids grow at different developmental rates and 

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speeds. However, some developmental markers can be observed as potential indicators.  But before jumping to any conclusion, it is always best to collaborate with a professional who specializes in the developmental growth of children to verify any concerns.


Indicators of Difficulty in Preschool-Aged Children include:

Indicators for School-aged Children and Teens May Include  Challenges with:

Diagnosis and Treatment

Typically, diagnosis of a learning disability is achieved via a team approach involving parents or guardians, educators, and specialists.  Collaboration and communication amongst this team over time is essential for accurate diagnosis and some of the basic measures for diagnosis include:

While the path to diagnosis and successful intervention can vary from child to child, definitions for common learning disabilities are rooted in how well the child responds to tasks in reading, writing, and math, as well as the ability to pay attention, focus, organize, and retain information.




What exactly is a learning disability?

In simple terms, a learning disability is a disorder that affects the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding, or use of verbal or nonverbal information.  While it is obvious that these difficulties make it challenging for a student to learn through traditional methods, it is not difficult to see that these students are quite smart. 

Tips to Support Children Who Learn Differently

Although hearing an initial diagnosis of a “learning disability” can be difficult for parents, it often brings long-term relief to families.  Why? Because it removes the guesswork of figuring out the child is struggling. Additionally, knowing that students with learning differences are generally quite successful when provided the appropriate help and support from parents, teachers, and other professionals, is quite the bit of encouragement many parents need to hear.  When setting up a program, remember to:

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All parents want their kids to feel good about themselves and thrive in school. And while there is no recipe for raising healthy, successful children, equipping them with appropriate strategies and support surely puts them on the right path. 

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