Most of us must have come across the term ‘learning difficulty’ – through a book, an article, a relative, or through personal experience. However, not many of us are aware of the term’s meaning. The main reason for this is lack of awareness and the fact that this learning difficulty is never addressed. It remains an uncomfortable issue. But it requires immediate attention.
How can we define Learning Difficulty?
A learning difficulty can be defined as an issue with the brain’s ability to process information. An individual suffering from learning difficulty faces problems while performing various cognitive functions. Cognitive functions are the mental processes involved in activities like attention, memory, retention, perception, reasoning, etc.
Learning disability is an umbrella term, which includes many learning difficulties/disorders. There are various types of learning disabilities that affect one or more cognitive processes related to learning. They include dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and other written, verbal, and non-verbal learning issues. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a comorbid condition of learning disabilities caused by neurological disorders. They can accompany learning difficulties, but the two are not the same.
How is it different from Learning Disorder?
Learning disability/disorder is a neurological condition that impacts overall cognitive functions and is linked to cognitive impairment. A prolonged learning difficulty that is not treated on time, can eventually become a learning disorder.
Since there is only a slight difference between learning disorder and learning difficulty, the two terms are often used interchangeably.
People often struggle with a new skill or a new activity but with regular practice, they get better at it. A lot of children suffer from learning difficulties but to a minor extent. This is because their cognitive functions are not yet fully developed. Such difficulties usually fade away with time. However, a learning difficulty, if it takes the form of a disability, affects how an individual’s brain receives and processes information.
Is having a Learning Difficulty bad?
Before answering that question, let’s be honest. Gone are the days when nobody cared about or acknowledged the existence of issues like learning disability, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. People have now begun to understand the importance of talking about these issues. Although it is true that the way we acknowledge them today, is pretty irregular and unconvincing, and we are still a long way from mainstreaming such issues, it is still a start.
Now going back to our question. The answer is, No. It is not terrible to be suffering or having suffered from a learning difficulty. Being diagnosed with a learning difficulty is not as earth-shattering as it sounds. People are mistaken if they think it cannot be cured, or that it makes their child less intelligent or normal.
It’s all a matter of how this problem is perceived. It can be overwhelming to digest the situation but stay positive and it can be managed. Don’t give up.
History has many examples of people who overcame Learning Difficulties to do extremely well in their chosen fields. Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci are all examples.
Can a Learning Difficulty be treated?
Learning difficulties need to be diagnosed by a team of professionals including clinical/rehabilitation psychologists and paediatricians as soon as the symptoms begin to surface. Do not make assumptions based on the child’s academic performance alone. Don’t panic and wait until the diagnosis is done.
A lot of research and technological advancements have been made in the field of learning difficulties in the last decade. There are a lot of learning programs and techniques available today to help manage and improve learning difficulties. Also early detection and intervention can reduce the impact of the difficulty and help in living a normal life.
Understanding the Brain
It is important to note that although a learning difficulty in an individual cannot be cured, the human brain still has the ability to change.
This can be understood by examining a simple analogy. Imagine a situation in which the telecommunication in a city was down due to faulty wiring. The telecommunication companies would then fix the wiring so the right information could be transferred to the right place. The same is the case with the human brain. Faulty wiring in the brain can cause an error in receiving and processing the information. But under the optimum learning conditions, the brain has the ability to re-wire itself. This ability of the human brain to change and create new neural pathways is called neuroplasticity. Science has made many advancements in the field of neuroplasticity, and the same is being used to help individuals suffering from learning difficulties.
Dealing with Individuals suffering from Learning Difficulties
One cannot ignore the fact that Individuals suffering from learning difficulties need special attention and care. But first, it is essential to make sure that this special attention do not become the reason for their discrimination. People having a learning difficulty do not have a less intelligent brain. They just function differently. Such people have an equal chance of achieving success in life. But it is the responsibility of people and the government to provide them with the necessary resources to ensure that they do not fall behind in the rapidly changing world.
They should be made to feel safe to reach out and ask for help. We need to be sensible about the issue and the people who are dealing with it. That itself will be enough to drive us to be a great source of emotional support to them and their families.