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Understanding Learning Disability

What is the difference between Learning Difficulties and Learning Disabilities

What are the differences between Learning Difficulties vs. Learning Disabilities

It is crucial to differentiate between learning difficulties and learning disabilities to provide appropriate support and interventions for individuals. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they represent distinct conditions with different characteristics and implications. This blog post aims to provide a deeper understanding of the differences between learning difficulties and learning disabilities, with in-depth examples of learning disabilities and their educational considerations.


Learning Difficulties

Learning difficulties encompass a range of conditions that affect the acquisition and use of specific skills, despite average or above-average intelligence. Key points about learning difficulties include:

Definition: According to the Department for Education (DfE) in the UK, learning difficulties refer to specific challenges individuals face in acquiring and using particular skills, such as reading, writing, math, or communication (DfE, 2014).

Dyslexia: Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects reading and spelling skills. Individuals with dyslexia may struggle with accurate and fluent word recognition, decoding, and spelling.

Dysgraphia: Dysgraphia is a learning difficulty that impacts a person’s writing abilities. Individuals with dysgraphia may have difficulties with handwriting legibility, letter formation, spacing, and organizing their thoughts on paper. It is considered a specific learning difficulty that impacts fine motor skills and written expression (British Dyslexia Association, n.d.).

Dyscalculia: Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty that affects mathematical abilities. Individuals with dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding number concepts, performing calculations, or grasping mathematical reasoning.

Addressing learning difficulties often involves targeted interventions, specialized teaching techniques, assistive technologies, and individualised support plans to accommodate the specific needs of affected learners.


Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities involve significant limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour. Key points about intellectual disabilities include:

Definition: Learning disabilities are characterized by significantly impaired intellectual functioning and limitations in adaptive behaviour.

Down Syndrome: Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21. Individuals with Down syndrome typically experience learning disabilities, developmental delays, and distinctive physical features.

Fragile X Syndrome: Fragile X syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects the X chromosome It is the most common inherited cause of intellectual disability in the UK (NHS, 2021). Individuals with Fragile X syndrome may have language delays, and social and behavioural challenges.

Individuals with learning disabilities typically exhibit significantly below-average intellectual functioning, often measured through intelligence quotient (IQ) tests, with scores typically below 70.

Supporting individuals with learning disabilities requires a comprehensive approach involving individualized education plans, adaptive teaching strategies, life skills training, therapeutic interventions, and community support services.


Educational Considerations

When it comes to education, distinguishing between learning difficulties and learning disabilities is crucial for providing appropriate support. Considerations include:

Individualised Approach: Both learning difficulties and learning disabilities require an individualized approach to education, taking into account the unique needs and strengths of each learner.

Specialized Instruction: Students with learning difficulties benefit from targeted interventions focusing on specific skill areas. Individuals with learning disabilities may require comprehensive instructional strategies addressing a broad range of cognitive, social, and functional skills.

Accommodations and Modifications: Accommodations and modifications, such as extended time, assistive technologies, and alternative assessment methods, play a significant role in meeting the diverse needs of students with learning difficulties and learning disabilities.

Inclusion and Support: Inclusive education environments that promote acceptance, understanding, and peer support are vital for fostering the academic and social development of students with learning difficulties or learning disabilities.


Understanding the distinction between learning difficulties and learning disabilities is crucial for educators, parents, and professionals in the field of education. Learning difficulties encompass challenges in specific skill areas, while learning disabilities involve broader limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour. By recognizing these differences and implementing tailored support, we can ensure that every learner receives the necessary interventions to thrive academically and reach their full potential.

For further understanding and perspective, we have our very own E-Learning Course which you can access here. If you feel you would like more in-depth training, we do provide face to face or virtual training on learning disabilities which you can contact us to book.

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