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Learning disabilities: What they are and why it's okay to have one
by TeenHelp July 5th 2019, 02:33 PM

Learning disabilities: What they are and why it’s okay to have one
By Kylie M.

I am pretty open about the fact that I have dyscalculia, a specific learning disability in the area of mathematics. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about my disability and how it affects me personally, but there is one thing that stands out among the rest, that I really wish someone would have told me in my younger years: that it’s okay to be learning disabled. In fact, it’s more than okay! Sometimes it’s great!

Well, okay, maybe not when you’ve spent hours slaving over your statistics homework, crying silently to yourself and bemoaning the fact that you “will never get an A in this class.” (Spoiler Alert: I got an A, though it sure as heck wasn’t easy!) But I mean, hey, you have to start somewhere… right?

Learning how to accept and cope with your learning disability can certainly be a long, hard road, but my goal is to make your path to self-acceptance a little more bearable. So, let’s talk learning disabilities!

What the heck are they?

There are definitely a lot of misconceptions surrounding learning disabilities out there! Not that long ago I actually heard someone say that a person who got A’s and B’s in school could not possibly have a learning disability. As a straight-A college student, and someone who got A’s and B’s pretty reliably when she was younger, I was… a little perplexed, to say the least. And, if I’m honest, I was a little hurt that someone would assume that, just because I have a learning disability, I must not be as capable as my peers.

This, of course, is patently untrue. So if a learning disability isn’t a lack of ability, then what the heck is it? Well, I’m glad you asked!

The Learning Disabilities Association of America defines a learning disability as a “neurologically-based processing problem” that can interfere with an individual’s ability to learn math, read, or write; it can also affect higher order skills such as organization, abstract reasoning, memory, and attention. Basically, this is all just a fancy way of saying that people with learning disabilities have trouble processing certain kinds of information because their brains are wired differently. Some common learning disabilities include dyscalculia (my personal favorite, and one that is surprisingly not incredibly well-known), dyslexia, and dysgraphia.

Learning disabilities are not, however, synonymous with a lack of intelligence. In fact, people with learning disabilities typically have average to above-average intelligence, and there is usually a discrepancy between a person’s potential and achievement (Learning Disabilities Association of America, n.d.). Put simply: people with learning disabilities are perfectly capable of achieving at the same level as, or even outperforming, their peers, but their learning disability may initially get in the way of reaching their full potential.

Do you outgrow them?

Nope! I am just as learning disabled today as I was when I first diagnosed fifteen years ago. But it’s not a big deal! Someone with a learning disability is entitled to accommodations that level the playing field in the classroom environment and allow them to perform to the best of their ability.

Can you only have one learning disability?

Definitely not! People with dyscalculia may also have dyslexia, and vice versa. Similarly, a person with dysgraphia may also have dyslexia or dyscalculia. Learning disabilities can occur alongside other disabilities as well, such as ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

I think I have a learning disability – what should I do?

If you think you have a learning disability, then congratulations! We are thrilled to have you among our ranks.

Your first step would be to get diagnosed through a neuropsychological evaluation. Speak with your parents or with the Disability Services office at your school to discuss your options. Getting tested is the first step to creating a 504 plan (if you are in the United States – this will vary depending on where you live), which describes your specific disability, how it impacts you, and the accommodations and services you will be receiving.

But what will people think of me?

It’s normal to be worried about what your peers might think of you if you require accommodations in the classroom, but in my personal experience, a lot of people really don’t care – or they may even think you’re the coolest thing since sliced bread! When I was in high school, for example, I was allowed to use a word processor to type my notes, and some of the other kids loved writing me silly messages on it between classes.

No matter what, never go off your 504 plan just because you’re afraid of what others will think of you. I tried that once and it really wasn’t fun, trust me. Receiving accommodations is nothing to be ashamed of, and it really does make your life so much easier!

I have a learning disability and I struggle with my self-esteem. What should I do?

Know that you’re more than just a number. I know that seeing the results of your neuropsychological testing can be a little demoralizing sometimes, especially if the focus is mainly on what you can’t do. I always hated getting the results in the mail because I knew what they were going to say without even opening the envelope – that I was really lousy at certain things. It could also be tough when I found myself struggling with concepts in class that my peers had no problems picking up. But you know, there are also certain things that I’m really, really good at!

My advice? Focus on what you’re awesome at and forget the rest! Well, sort of... If you’re in middle or high school, there are unfortunately some classes that you’ll have to get through in order to graduate. In my case, they were subjects like geometry and physics… Yikes! But the good news is that once you get to university, you will be able to specialize and focus much more on your areas of strength. Even if you choose not to go to university, you can begin looking for a job where you can make use of your talents.

What I want to leave you with is this: it is okay to have a learning disability! It can be a struggle sometimes, but it does not have to dictate your future. You can still be happy, successful, and smart as someone with a learning disability!


Learning Disabilities Association of America. (n.d.). Types of learning disabilities.
Retrieved January 5, 2019, from https://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/

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