Could Your Child have a Learning Disability?

Okay, I have to confess – I hate the phrase Learning Disability. I feel that it focuses mainly on the negative.  I prefer to say Learning Difference because everyone can learn, we just learn in different ways and at different speeds.

Learning DifficultiesPeople First, an advocacy organisation, refer to Learning Difficulties saying : At People First (Self Advocacy), when we talk about people with learning difficulties, we mean ‘people labelled as having a learning difficulty’. This is one of the labels that society puts on us to mark us out as not being able to understand things the same as other people… We believe that people labelled as having a learning difficulty are disabled by society. We choose the term ‘learning difficulty’ instead of ‘learning disability’ to get across the idea that our learning support needs change over time. 

However the medical model uses the phrase Learning Disability and because of that, it tends to be the phrase used in education as well albeit there is differentiation in classification from mild to severe.

So What is a Learning Disability?

I had difficulty in finding an exact definition of what a learning disability in Ireland but there are several definitions of learning disability used in the UK. A commonly used one is from Valuing People: a new strategy for learning disability for the 21st century, the government White Paper for England about health and social care support for people with a learning disability (2001). It explains that a learning disability includes the presence of:

  • a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information or to learn new skills
  • a reduced ability to cope independently
  • an impairment that started before adulthood, with a lasting effect on development.

In the United States, the phrase learning disability is used to cover several specific learning disorders particularly in relation to reading, writing and maths, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia.

There can be some confusion as to what exactly the phrase means. Parents, therefore, can be very concerned about the labels that their children may receive and the effect that society’s understanding as to what that label means will have on their future.

How can I know if my child is struggling with learning?

Trust your intuition. You know your child best. If something seems off ask the following questions:

  • Was he/she a late developer in talking?
  • Do they struggle to remember instructions?
  • Is spelling an issue?
  • Can they get the sounds of words / letters & link them to the shape of the letter?
  • Can they hear the slight differences in pronunciation of words?
  • Do they have trouble learning the alphabet?
  • Do they struggle to express their ideas when writing?
  • Avoids homework / rushes to get it done / gets upset if you want to check it?
  • Doesn’t always  understand jokes, comedy or sarcasm?
  • Can they remember what they have just read?
  • Is their vocabulary limited for their age?
  • Do they find it difficult to express themselves and get frustrated?
  • Do they have trouble telling a story in the proper order?
  • Is handwriting poor and do they hold pen/pencil awkwardly?
  • Do they have difficulty with maths symbols and maths problems?
  • Regularly interrupts conversations, talks out of turn in class?

These are just starting points

Remember, these questions are simply to help you. Answering yes to a few of them does not immediately indicate that your kid is in trouble. You need to look at the entire picture before jumping to conclusions. Talk to other parents at the school, perhaps they too are experiencing difficulties which may indicate that the classroom teacher is weak or unable to control a class. Talk to your family, do such difficulties run in your family? Talk to your child. Ask them if they need help and reassure them that it is ok to ask for help.

What if a diagnosis is made?

Keep perspective. Nothing about your child has changed, so don’t change how you see your child. Don’t be intimidated if your child has a learning difference. We all learn, we just do it in our own way and the way that your child learns may simply be different to they way that their teachers teach. In fact, many successful scientists and entrepreneurs have a learning difference. It is the fact that they learn differently that has made them into who they are today. Your priority is to support your child to keep confidence in themselves. Provide emotional, educational and moral support, don’t get caught up in all the testing and school bureaucracy. 


Learn about new developments in learning supports. New programs and techniques could make an impact with your child. Instinctively, we all look to others for solutions, teachers, counsellors, doctors, but when it comes to finding the tools your child needs to survive, you know best so don’t be afraid to take charge.

learning DifferencesAdvocate for your Child 

You may need to speak up – frequently – to get the answers and special help you need for your child. Take a proactive role as a parent and work on improving your communication skills. Your child’s success may depend on it. You will hear a lot of talk about a lack of resources and yes there is never enough money to go around. Educate yourself about what is available, and what specifically your child is entitled to so that you cannot be fobbed off.

Remember that Your Influence on Your Child is Paramount 

 Be strong for your child. They will take their cue from you. If you are upset, they will be upset. If you see it as a disadvantage, they will use it as a crutch. If you are embarrassed about it, they will be ashamed.  Your child will follow your lead. If you approach the learning challenges with optimism, hard work and a massive  sense of humour then your child is more likely to see things from your positive perspective. Focus things that your child is good at and enjoys, like a love of sports or music or art and focus on that. 

Need help?

At Hummingbird Learning Centre our focus is on the person, not the diagnosis. Together, we work on developing better learning strategies for your child, strategies that work with how they learn so that they can reach their potential. For more information, visit our website on

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