To the Editor:
It is heartening to see that Americans’ awareness of the characteristics of individuals with learning disabilities, or LD, is mostly accurate, although it is disturbing that a majority also believe that learning disability is related to mental retardation and autism (“Poll: Learning Disabilities Are Often Misunderstood,” Oct. 13, 2010). Could this be due to the actual label “learning disabilities”?
When people have difficulty learning, whether it be subject-specific or due to an impairment, the term often used to label such individuals is “learning-disabled.” Actually, such disability is more of a difficulty. This, of course, is not the same as the federal disability category of “learning disability,” a clinical and educational label with specific criteria associated.
As an educational professional serving in multiple roles, I encounter misunderstandings held by people in general, medical professionals, lawyers, and colleagues. Ironically, my students, upon having the diagnosis of LD, more clearly understand (and are relieved to have) the label, which describes what they experience. Perhaps it is time to make a concerted effort by knowledgeable professionals to clarify misunderstandings and consistently popularize the accurate federal definition, range of symptoms, and subtypes (dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysnomia, dysgraphia) of the disability labeled “learning disability.”
Arlene Harris is a New York City-based teacher, educational therapist, and board member of the New York branch of the International Dyslexia Association.
A version of this article appeared in the November 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as More of a Difficulty Than a Disability