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Learning disabilities vs learning disorders Learning disabilities vs learning disorders
Learning disabilities and learning disorders are terms that are used interchangeably though they are not the same. A learning disability is defined as... Learning disabilities vs learning disorders

by Kimberly Allen R.N.

Learning disabilities and learning disorders are terms that are used interchangeably though they are not the same.  A learning disability is defined as having significant difficulty learning in an academic area though not severe enough to meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis.  A learning disorder is a clinical diagnosis.  Recently the two have been merging into one umbrella term that covers many types of learning disorders.

Dyslexia is the most common type of learning disability.

Approximately 3 million children between the ages of 6 and 21 have some type of learning disability and require special education.  It is estimated that at least half of all the children that receive special education have a learning disability.  Learning disabilities or disorders affect the brains ability to process information, and learn.  There is no correlation between intelligence and learning disabilities.
The type of learning disability is determined by the type of information processing that is affected based on the 4 different phases used to process information.
1. Input: The information that is received through the senses like visual and auditory reception.  Children suffering with difficulty in this area have difficulty recognizing shapes and sizes of things they’ve seen.  They can have difficulty separating different sounds, for example they can’t tell the difference between the teachers voice and background noises.  Some are unable to process information from the sense of touch, meaning they might not be able to feel pain or may not want to be touched.
2. Integration: This is the phase where the information  from “input” is interpreted and categorized.  Children suffering from difficulties in this area usually are unable to memorize sequential information like months of the year or days of the week.  They can learn facts, however they are unable to connect the facts together to form the “big picture”
3. Storage: is the phase where the information that has been received and interpreted is put into memory.  Most of the difficulties in this area affect short term memory.  Children with difficulty in this area have severe difficulty with spelling and require more repetitions than normal.
4. Output: refers to the information the brain sends out either as words or muscle activity like writing or gesturing.  This causes problems with verbal language, it takes longer to retrieve the correct information to answer a question.  It can also affect the written word making it difficult to take tests.  If the information affects the muscle activity it can be either fine motor or gross motor function and sometimes both.  Gross motor skills would make tasks like running or learning to ride a bike difficult and cause the appearance of clumsiness.  Fine motor difficulties would be difficulty with buttons, tying shoes or holding a pen or pencil and trying to write.
There are different types of disabilities within each phase depending on the area of the brain that is affected.  Learning disabilities are not easy to identify mostly because there is no single symptom or specific set of symptoms that indicate the exact problem. Every child will demonstrate different symptoms, no two are a like. The important thing is that you don’t put fear before treatment.  Many parents suspect their child may have a learning disability but are afraid of the stigma that may accompany a diagnosis.  Remember learning disabilities have nothing to do with intelligence, history has many great people with learning disabilities.  Early diagnosis and treatment increases the childs chances of overcoming their disability.  There have been great strides in the science of understanding how the brain works.  There are a wide range of programs available to help the brain retrain itself depending on the phase that’s affected.  As a parent it’s important to learn what you can about the specifics of your child’s disorder, research the different treatments and services available then pursue those treatments and services.  Of all the things you can do to help your child nurturing their strengths, helping them to focus on the things they are passionate about and good at will help them and you to cope with the difficult things better.  There are also numerous support groups for learning disorders that can not only help you to cope but they are great for passing on new information, ideas and treatments available.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at