Alex Lowery speaks about autism

What is the difference between Learning Disabilities and Learning Difficulties?

Written on 12th Jul 2017 by Alex Lowery

As you may know, I have created a new speech on autism and co-occurring conditions that I’m hoping to deliver. There is a workshop we’re God willing going to run with this talk. Here is the link if you’re interested.  Anyway, today I’m speaking about two types of conditions that are both very common among autistic people, but neither of them are apparent in all people on the spectrum. The two I’m talking about are Learning Difficulties and Learning Disabilities. I’m going to speak about the difference between the two.

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I’ve come to find that many, many people seem to think that both Leaning Difficulties and Learning Disabilities are two names for the same thing. I don’t blame anyone for not knowing the difference. I didn’t even know myself at one point, but it’s something I’d really like to raise understanding of, because there really does seem to be a large amount who think they’re the same thing and there isn’t all that much information which says otherwise. But the fact to the matter is that both of them are different. The difference seems to be a bit complicated, since the definitions seem to mean different things depending on what country you live in, but from the information I’ve gathered; the following is what I understand the main difference as being. You could say that a Learning Disabled person has ‘Learning Difficulties’, but not all people with any form of Learning Difficulty are automatically Learning Disabled.

A Learning Disability refers to someone who has an IQ lower than 70, who are intellectually delayed in every aspect of his or her life. Learning Disabilities can be mild, moderate, severe or profound. People with mild Learning Disabilities may be able to live reasonably independent lives whereas people with Profound Learning Disabilities will likely require 24-hour care. Learning Disabilities are said to always be global and affect every aspect of the person’s ability to function at the same level all round. This is very different from an autistic person (unless there’s an accompanying Learning Disability) who will more than likely have some things that he or she is brilliant at, and other things that he or she really struggles with.

A Learning Difficulty normally refers to a difficulty in learning that’s more specific and not global. Conditions like Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia are all considered ‘Learning Difficulties’, but they wouldn’t normally be considered  ‘Learning Disabilities’, because they’re not global and instead only affect the ability to learn in specific areas, and they wouldn’t normally affect a person’s overall intelligence. I myself have ‘Learning Difficulties’ in specific areas, but they’re not across the board so I wouldn’t be classed as having a Learning Disability, even though as a child, my overall IQ was barely over 70. However, IQs aren’t really a great way of measuring an autistic person’s intelligence, but that’s a good topic for another time.

What makes the difference between the two forms of LD particularly confusing, is that in the USA; the term ‘Learning Disability’ also seems to mean a specific Learning Difficulty. It seems that a lot of people in the USA still use the term ‘Mental Retardation’ to describe a person with an IQ lower than 70. Either that, or they’ll use the term ‘Intellectual Disability’, which I tend to use more often myself now, because it makes a more clear distinction from specific Learning Difficulties.

Thank you all for reading. I hope you enjoyed this blog post and learned at least something from it.


8 thoughts on “What is the difference between Learning Disabilities and Learning Difficulties?

  1. Roxy says:

    This is brilliant. I am a Job Coach for adults with disabilities and always like to read these things. Please check my new blog below.

  2. Damilare says:

    Very interesting. Trying to write my mission statement and needed a clarification between the both. This writ up cleared my doubt convincingly. Will like to subscribe to many of your Webiners. Thanks

  3. Opara Joseph Chinonso says:

    If i may, i stand to be corrected. This thing is totally wrong.. Sir your explanation for learning disability is exactly that for mental retardation. I think you need to revisit this write up and make amends.
    Also, It’s M.R that affects an individual on a general level. I.e it cits across every aspect of human endeavor. People wit learning disability are people with relatively good IQ level. That is to say they are above average and in most times gifted ( check the history of Albert Einstein, Abraham Graham Bell.,sir Isaac Newton etc) they all lived with learning disability…. The types are where u find all the ‘DYS’- graphia, calculia,lexia……

    Learning difficulties on the other hand has to do with challenges that does not affect the functioning of the human brain. Such challenges might be environment as in poor finance, poor feeding etc or as a result of an impairment such as Visual impairment, hearing impairment etc. Mind you, these impairment only pose some form of difficulties for the acquisition of learning task but still yet when the right intervention are used, such people learn at a normal rate.

    I am a special educator in training..
    There is room for constructive critics

    • Alex Lowery says:

      I don’t know where you’re from, but ‘Mental Retardation’ isn’t a term we use anymore in the UK. At least not in polite conversation. I assume you’re from the United States or somewhere else on the globe where ‘Learning Disability’ has a different meaning. I did point this out in the article. However, in the UK: the term (generally speaking) does refer to what used to be called ‘Mental Retardation’. Believe me: I’ve spoken to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and other professionals in the UK and they do not use the term ‘Mental Retardation’ anymore. They use the term ‘Learning Disability’. To quote Wikipedia, “In the UK, the term “learning disability” generally refers to an intellectual disability, while difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia are usually referred to as “learning difficulties”. I know that in other countries; the term ‘Learning Disability’ doesn’t mean the same thing, but that doesn’t apply over here.

  4. David says:

    Is there any help or support with people with learning difficulties? My brother had an IQ of around 70 and struggles every day with washing, cleaning, paying his bills, socialising (he has no friends) etc. He is fired from every job he starts because he can’t do the job or can’t hit the targets. Been to the GP and got a diagnosis for learning difficulties but this literally means nothing – no support or help and same thing is still happening. Where can we get help?

  5. Sarafa sas Ganiyu says:

    Lemme try and clear somethings here from my perspective. I think where the difference lays is on general or specific disabilities.

    It’s imperative to know that LD from a academic point is a condition in which an individual’s performance in school is less than his actual potential, or a delayed in learning some academic processes, it can also be a specific deficit in intellectual abilities.

    With this been said, it’s obvious that LD deals with specific difficulties in certain skills ..
    As for the learning difficulties there is no clear cut difference save, if we’re to bring on mental retardation. Of course there are degrees of LD…

    conclusion: in my opinion they are both the same cause the both affect specific learning areas.

  6. Leah says:

    This is brilliant. How do you support adults with specific learning difficulties in the workplace? I am looking to hire more adults with dyslexia and dyscalculia because I believe in neurodiversity in the workplace.

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Organisations Alex has worked with

  • Autism Cymru
  • Chester University
  • Glyndwr University
  • National Autistic Society
  • St John's Ambulance
  • Welsh Government

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