I’ve thought a lot about whether to call dyslexia a “learning disability” or “learning difference” for the past few years.
Why Learning Disability?
One reason I refer to dyslexia as a learning disability is because that’s its legal label here.
When I chat with other Americans, I refer to it as a learning disability to keep things simple. When chatting with friends from the UK, it’s a learning difference. The term “learning disability” over there refers to what is now called “intellectual disability” over here.
For the record, I don’t agree with the term “intellectual disability” for much the same reason I don’t fully agree with “learning disability”. Intellectual disability implies a complete inability to think, just as learning disability implies a complete inability to learn. Neither idea is true.
I’m also writing for the internet, which means I need to think about keywords in mind. By using the free tool from google, I know which term is searched for more often. More people will find this blog when I use the more popular search phrase.
Over the years, my understanding of what disability really is has evolved. There’s a common misconception that you’re only disabled if you’re always unable to do something. In reality, ability level comes in a spectrum.
Disability comes in all flavors, and the only thing wrong with the label is the stigma that comes with it. Over the years, I’ve realize that environment creates disability more than physical or mental differences.
For me, dyslexia is a situational disability. For example, when I have time to read on my own terms, I can fully understand things like medical and legal texts. If I’m rushed or in a loud environment, I have a hard time reading simple menus.
Unfortunately, most school classrooms and tests have time restraints. My SPD turns what most people would consider a quiet room into a loud one for me. That’s where a little extra help goes a long way.
Something as simple as recording a lecture is to my learning as a wheelchair is to a paralyzed person’s mobility. We may not be able to do things the same way everyone else does, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get the job done. Some environments disable us, while we excel in others.
Why Not Learning Difference?
I struggle with calling dyslexia a “learning difference”, because that implies all dyslexics learn in the same way. For example, many think all dyslexics are great auditory learners. While many are, many others are better with tactile lessons.
I personally need to be able to listen to lectures repeatedly to get the same info I’d get from reading the transcript once or twice.
Interestingly, Orton Gillingham, developed to teach dyslexic students, has also helped other students as well. This district assessment shows just how helpful it has been to most students. Other schools are also starting to adopt it as a new tool.
Maybe dyslexics don’t learn as differently as we’re led to believe. Maybe methods used to teach reading and writing need to be changed for all schools.
“Learning differences” also implies the wiring applies only to school. Dyslexia is a part of every day life. It influences how we view the world and the choices we make. We’re told dyslexia won’t be there after we leave school, but it’s something we carry for our whole life. When adults need help, it’s often not there.
Perhaps a better term would be “Processing Difference”. I don’t know. I just work with what I have.
As for how I use dyslexia terminology? I identify with both learning disability and learning difference, so I just use LD.