Can Learning Disabilities Be Cured? (2023)

Can Learning Disabilities Be Cured? (1)

What’s in a ‘cure’? Would a technique to ‘live’ with a diagnosis be the same if called by any other name?

It’s not at all unusual for parents, educators, and researchers in the field of education and child development to wonder if the short answer, ‘No, learning disabilities can’t be cured,’ is actually obscuring the subtleties of the ‘disabilities’, when they might be better if called ‘differences’.

What’s in a word? Isn’t this all just semantics?

Yes — and no. Research shows that words — especially when framing a particular issue to an impressionable child who is still learning and forming a sense of identity — can have a definitive and deciding effect.

The impact that judgements, conclusions and, indeed, diagnoses can have upon the expectations of a child on his or her own learning path is tangible.

Specifically, students might expect less and end up having a justification for giving up, being unwilling to risk ‘failure’, or simply not performing to their ever-expanding potential.

And, isn’t that the entire point of an education?

In 1964, Harvard professor, Robert Rosenthal was determined to find out whether the expectations of teachers affected students’ performance. His findings were definitive.

Rosenthal’s research showed that the expectations of teachers not only affected their students but did so in subtle, almost moment-to-moment interactions, what he calls a ‘thousand almost invisible ways‘.

‘It’s not magic, it’s not mental telepathy. It’s very likely these thousands of different ways of treating people in small ways every day,’ said Rosenthal.

What does this have to do with learning disabilities? Often, learning disabilities or learning differences are crystallised in their severity by others’ attitudes towards them — which the student, initially, has no choice but to accept and internalise.

It becomes more critical than ever, then, to properly understand learning disabilities before looking for a proverbial ‘cure’.

Learning Disability and a Learning Difference

Before there can be a cure, there must be an issue. Are learning disabilities an issue?

Terminology surely matters, especially when trying to differentiate between a learning disability and learning difference.

In general, learning ‘differences’ may include preferred learning styles, to the extent that a student might not necessarily flourish or even absorb as well as they would if they were operating in their ‘zone of genius’, so to speak.

Like anything that is a combination of behavioural and neurological, this falls on a spectrum.

Meanwhile, diagnosis of a ‘learning disability’ makes it a pressing matter to address and then supplement learning with supports. And isn’t provision of support the prime reason to identify children with cases of dyslexia, for example?

However, the term ‘disability’ doesn’t account for the entire picture because students with these perceived ‘disabilities’ also present with a higher frequency of three-dimensional spatial reasoning, understanding of abstract information and connections between concepts, and higher levels of creativity.

So does a hiccup that can be responded to with individualised support but that also possibly equips a student with some other learning ‘superpowers’ really need a cure?

Early Identification

It should be obvious from the above that the only real way to correctly ‘diagnose’ any learning disability is to let the student’s learning and tendencies evolve naturally, over time. Any ‘intervention’ should only occur after sustained observation — and, even then, consistent monitoring is the key to forming an ‘opinion’.

This means there shouldn’t be any rush to judgment about what a student ‘has’ or ‘doesn’t have’, especially when it comes to IQ or intelligence in a classroom.

Remember Rosenthal.

So what about observation and monitoring? Students who are struggling repeatedly with the same skills or in particular subjects might have a learning disability.

The first step in ‘intervention’ is to gather a holistic team of learning specialists and educators that understand organised intervention and how to create a focused ‘learning plan’.

This learning plan can mark milestones as well as help the student with a specific learning disability thrive academically regardless.

Some parents are simply too anxious and want to figure out ‘what’s wrong’ with their children. Others are more cautious about early labels.

The key here is to follow that parental gut and, then, from there, seek professional help. If parents get the sense that something is ‘off’, it might be. From here, they’ll need professional guidance to either refute or support that instinct.

It also helps when parents are aware of the signs of ‘atypical development’ or sustained struggle with certain milestones. Here are some common learning disabilities and the telltale signs.


A student may demonstrate dyslexia if:

  • They have difficulty pairing letter sounds and letter names
  • Demonstrate a consistent issue with understanding the sounds and parts of words like rhyming words, words that sound similar (‘chuck’ and ‘shuck’) or mixing up short vowel sounds
  • They have trouble sounding out unfamiliar words
  • Have a low ‘bank’ of words they can recognise on sight
  • Often confuse two words that look alike (displacing the consonants and vowels)
  • Have consistent difficulty retelling the main idea of a book or giving the main idea when reading independently


Dyslexia is clearly an issue with the visual and understanding aspect of words. What about when translating these into written work? Students with dysgraphia might display with:

  • Struggle when trying to maintain correct word and letter spacing while writing
  • Complaints of tired or cramped hands while writing
  • Trouble when organising information and thoughts in a cohesive or logical manner when writing
  • Issues with printing and spelling, to the point of illegibility and incomprehension by others
  • Issues with punctuation, prepositions and the direction of reading


As the name suggests, students with dyscalculia have sustained issues with mathematical or arithmetic-based tasks. They might demonstrate:

  • Issues when trying to remember the names of numbers and the quantities they refer to
  • Issues with signs and their functions (that ‘+’ sign means addition, etc.)
  • A struggle when trying to recall foundational math facts
  • Demonstrating a struggle with various counting strategies (example: counting by ones, twos, fives, or tens)
  • Issues around coin values, making change, or telling time
  • Having a troubling time conceiving of a strategy or plan to solve word problems; similarly, might also have trouble keeping track of mathematical procedures in a multi-step word problem
  • Issues with interpreting charts and graphs
  • Difficulty remembering the mathematical order of operations

Strategies for Learning Successfully

Certainly, every student’s specific situation varies greatly. But there are very common strategies teachers and educators can use to enhance the learning experience and make it a positive rather than a reductive one.


Allow students with learning disabilities extra time, a quiet environment or an ‘open-book’ testing methodology to help them not only get through the test but focus on absorbing what is truly important. Pressure in these cases rarely, if ever, helps.

Evoking self-awareness through educational therapy

As part of the student’s learning plan, it might help to expose students to a weekly form of educational therapy. These strategies might help them self-evaluate and then choose the best response to move forward, building a ‘can-do’ attitude in general, over time.

Assistive technology to supplement learning styles

These are pretty common in higher-education classrooms and lecture halls as it is, thanks to the rapid shift in digital technologies. Now, voice-to-text software, recording devices for notes, and audio lectures are examples of ‘assistive technology’ that are simply commonplace.

Dietary and environmental factors

Many parents, strapped for time and attention, might end up addressing behaviour issues like attention deficit or hyperactivity, linked to unrecognised learning disabilities, with drugs.

While it is certainly a path and an aid that shouldn’t be left unexplored, several parents also opt to go for more natural treatments to supplement their child’s overall neurological development through dietary therapy.

The Expectations of Educators in Assessing Learning Disabilities

These are all forms of mitigation, reduction and maintaining the status quo while giving either an adult or a child with learning disabilities the very best learning experience that translates into success in all aspects of their life.

But the question still remains: Are learning disabilities ‘curable’?

We’ve seen that a variety of factors influence how a learning disability is discovered, dealt with and monitored. While some ‘issues’ are genetically-influenced, others are a consequence of ‘nurture’.

The obvious response, then, is to approach learning disabilities using a ‘holistic’ methodology that draws on various intersectional strategies — as we’ve mentioned here.

And what about expectations? Obviously, it’s a thin line between denying an issue completely and actually responding to the situation without overblowing its influence. Robert Pianta, a researcher at the Curry School of Education, has a couple of pointers for teachers, educators, and instructors when aiding students’ learning:

  • Watch how the student interacts and details about their learning. Persistent observation over time helps teachers to understand the full spectrum of capability and is more likely to make them appreciative of a student’s ‘strengths’.
  • Listen to what students say their goals are and for language that indicates their worldview, their understanding of your role, their peers and their assignments.
  • Engage by talking to students about their individual interests but don’t offer any advice or opinions at first.
  • Experiment, based on observations, especially when challenging behaviour arises. It might be useful to shift one’s own thinking and re-frame issues to a thought like, ‘My student is trying to reach out to me by acting out. How can I respond to help them communicate?’
  • Connect outside of the classroom and allow the student to pick their own activities to be done together. The teacher’s job here, again, is to watch, listen and focus on the student’s interests.
  • Reach out and ask them about the mediums and methods of communication they feel strongest in. Allow them to tailor assignments and projects to reflect these strengths and preferences.
  • Reflect on prior and personal collegial experiences: What can be taken from these memories that can then be changed in one’s own personal style and approach to teaching?

Are these ‘cures’? No. But they are certainly novel ways to be able to sort through a spectrum of behaviours.

In other words, while a student may reflect behaviour that could be characterised as a learning disability, this kind of conscious approach may actually help sort out those who are simply disengaged, in need of extra attention and a different set of expectations from those whose learning differences call for sustained accommodations.

Of course, even the traditional classroom of today is not remaining the same. Assistive technologies, for example, are less of a stigma simply because the modern classroom in the digital age is digitally outfitted to incorporate computer- and tech-based projects, assignments and class material.

Gone are the days of slide projectors and handouts. Now, Prezis and online submissions rule the learning environment.

While MOOCs and eLearning courses are transforming adult education beyond traditional recognition, children’s education in K — 12 formats still relies on blended lessons, at best. It will be interesting to see, then, as we move forward, how we’ll reconstruct learning disabilities in an eLearning environment.

Unless, of course, we find out that the eLearning environment is a perfectly natural environment for students with learning disabilities.


Can Learning Disabilities Be Cured? ›

Learning disabilities have no cure, but early intervention can lessen their effects. People with learning disabilities can develop ways to cope with their disabilities. Getting help earlier increases the chance of success in school and later in life.

How do you fix learning disability? ›

Treatment options
  1. Extra help. A reading specialist, math tutor or other trained professional can teach your child ways to do schoolwork, study and get organized.
  2. Individualized education program (IEP). ...
  3. Changes in the classroom. ...
  4. Therapy. ...
  5. Medicine. ...
  6. Complementary and alternative treatments.
Feb 18, 2023

Are all learning disabilities are formed from birth? ›

Learning disabilities are caused by something affecting the development of the brain. This may occur before birth (prenatally), during birth, or in early childhood. Learning disabilities can be caused by any one of a variety of factors, or by a combination. Sometimes the specific cause is not known.

What is the average life expectancy learning disability? ›

Based on 2018-19 data, males with a learning disability have a life expectancy at birth of 66 years. This is 14 years lower than for males in the general population. Based on 2018-19 data, females with a learning disability have a life expectancy of 67 years.

Can you still be smart with a learning disability? ›

Students with specific learning disabilities have average to above average intelligence but may have difficulties acquiring and/or demonstrating knowledge and understanding content.

What is the root cause of learning disabilities? ›

Learning disorders are believed to occur because of an abnormality in the nervous system, either in the structure of the brain or in the functioning of brain chemicals. The difference in the nervous system causes the child with a learning disorder to receive, process, or communicate information in a different way.

How serious is a learning disability? ›

It limits the brain's ability to store, process, and produce information and affects a person's ability to speak, listen, read, write, or do math. A child with a learning disability has average to above average intelligence, but he or she falls below his or her academic potential to a significant degree.

What is the IQ of someone with a learning disability? ›

a) Learning disabilities are heterogeneous conditions, but are defined by 3 core criteria: lower intellectual ability (usually defined as an IQ of less than 70), significant impairment of social or adaptive functioning and onset in childhood. the DSM-IV term 'mental retardation' with 'intellectual disability'.

What is the most commonly inherited cause of learning disability? ›

Fragile X is the most common inherited cause of learning disability. Of the people who have Fragile X, nearly all boys will have a learning disability but only a third of girls. The learning disability could be mild, moderate or severe, which will affect the amount of support the person needs day-to-day.

Is a learning disability a mental illness? ›

Answer: No, a Learning Disability is not a mental illness. Learning Disabilities are neurologically-based. They result from “faulty wiring” in specific areas of the brain.

What is the most severe learning disability? ›

1. Dyslexia. Dyslexia is the number one learning disability that affects people of all ages. It affects a person's reading and language processing skills.

Is it hard to live with a learning disability? ›

Learning disabilities can make routine tasks more difficult, forcing individuals to adapt their approaches and techniques based on their unique abilities and needs. Because learning disabilities include a wide range of conditions and potential symptoms, no two people will share the same experiences.

Can you live a normal life with a learning disability? ›

Learning disabilities (LD), sometimes referred to as “specific learning disorders,” are life-long, but adults who have LD can experience great success in all aspects of life when using their strengths together with the strategies, accommodations and technology that are most appropriate and effective for their ...

What is gifted with learning disabilities? ›

Who are these students? Students who are gifted and also have learning disabilities are those who possess an outstanding gift or talent and are capable of high performance, but who also have a learning disability that makes some aspect of academic achievement difficult.

Can someone with learning disabilities succeed in college? ›

Every student learns differently, and those with learning disorders may find the average classroom environment intimidating, especially in college. But with proper accommodations,support and preparation, students with learning disorders can not only find success,but excel in higher education.

Can a child with learning disability be successful? ›

With the right support and interventions, however, children and adults with learning disabilities can succeed in school and life. Recognizing, accepting and understanding your learning disability are the first steps to success.

Do learning disabilities run in families? ›

Often, learning problems can run in families (genetic), but environmental factors can play a role too. Mostly, learning disabilities occur because there is an enormous range of variation that occurs normally in people's cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

Are learning disabilities brain based? ›

Learning disabilities affect how a person learns to read, write, speak, and do math. They are caused by differences in the brain, most often in how it functions but also sometimes in its structure. These differences affect the way the brain processes information.

What illness causes learning disability? ›

Young children who do not receive the support they need for their intellectual development may show signs of learning disabilities once they start school. Sometimes a person may develop a learning disability later in life due to injury. Possible causes in such a case include dementia or a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

What is the number 1 learning disabilities? ›

Reading disability (dyslexia) - is the most common LD, representing at least 80% of all LDs, and results from deficits in phonologic processing. Skills necessary for appropriate phonologic processing involve reading decoding, phonics, ability to produce sounds, and proper auditory capabilities.

How do people with learning disabilities feel? ›

Someone who experiences problems with these abilities may feel confused, frustrated and frightened. A common symptom is short term memory loss; the individual finds it difficult to remember recent events or conversations. This can lead to them repeating stories or asking the same question over and over again.

What is the number 1 disability in the world? ›

The CDC reports that arthritis is the most common cause of disability for U.S. adults. It often worsens as someone gets older. If someone has another disability, they also are more likely to have arthritis.

Can someone with a learning disability get married? ›

While there is no law prohibiting disabled people from marrying, in practice there are penalties and restrictions that often limit our freedom to enjoy what Chief Justice Warren called one of the “basic civil rights of man.” Disabled people who depend on medical and financial benefits in order to survive and live ...

Is ADHD considered a learning disability? ›

Although ADHD is not considered a learning disability, research indicates that from 30-50 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability, and that the two conditions can interact to make learning extremely challenging.

How does a learning disability affect you emotionally? ›

Much research has demonstrated that students with learning disabilities experience emotional distress related to their difficulties. Students with learning disabilities tend to have higher levels of emotional concerns, such as depression, loneliness, and low self-esteem, than do their peers without disabilities.

What do most learning disabilities affect? ›

Learning disabilities are disorders that affect the ability to: Understand or use spoken or written language.

How is a learning disability diagnosed? ›

Learning disabilities are traditionally diagnosed by conducting two tests and noticing a significant discrepancy between their scores. These tests are an intelligence (or IQ) test and a standardized achievement (reading, writing, arithmetic) test.

What is a mild learning disability? ›

Mild – A person who is said to have a mild learning disability is usually able to hold a conversation, and communicate most of their needs and wishes. They may need some support to understand abstract or complex ideas. People are often independent in caring for themselves and doing many everyday tasks.

Is learning disabilities the same as mental retardation? ›

An intellectual disability describes below-average IQ and a lack of skills needed for daily living. This condition used to be called “mental retardation.” A learning disability refers to weaknesses in certain academic skills. Reading, writing and math are the main ones.

Is learning disability autism? ›

Autism is sometimes referred to as a spectrum, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is not a learning disability, but around half of autistic people may also have a learning disability.

Can anxiety cause learning disabilities? ›

While anxiety can certainly make things like focusing and paying attention more difficult, anxiety is not a cause of learning difficulties, but rather one of many symptoms. Children with learning differences are significantly more likely to have challenges with anxiety than children without a learning difference.

Is a learning disability brain damage? ›

Many students who sustain brain injuries have resulting specific learning disabilities (SLDs). 4 The type and severity of the disability depend on the seriousness of the injury and the part of the brain affected. If the student had an SLD before the brain injury, it is possible that the learning disorder may worsen.

What mental age is severe learning disability? ›

Severe — Approximate IQ range of 20 to 34 (in adults, mental age from 3 to under 6 years). Likely to result in continuous need of support. Profound — IQ under 20 (in adults, mental age below 3 years). Results in severe limitation in self-care, continence, communication and mobility.

Can a learning disability get worse? ›

Can learning disabilities get worse as a person ages? Learning disabilities can present new challenges as your life changes, especially if you are adjusting to a new set of demands like a job change or parenthood. These transitions can cause stress and increase a sense of struggling.

What should you not say to a learning disability? ›

10 Things to NOT Say to Someone with a Learning Disability
  • "You don't look/act like you have___." ...
  • "It's just an excuse to get extra time on tests." ...
  • "Never mind, you wouldn't get it anyway." ...
  • "But your grades are fine." ...
  • "Oh, that's your (disability) acting up." ...
  • "Just try/study harder!"
Mar 27, 2022

What struggles do people with learning disabilities face? ›

Students with learning and attention issues often experience feelings of failure, lack of acceptance among their peers and high levels of bullying, which can increase the risk of misbehavior and absenteeism. Negative emotions can exacerbate academic struggles, and school climate can also be a significant factor.

What happens to adults with learning disabilities? ›

For adults, having an undiagnosed learning disability can affect career choice, limit job advancement and lead to a number of psychological and emotional issues, including depression and feelings of low self-worth.

Are gifted kids actually special needs? ›

On its own, giftedness is not defined as a disability or special need. Some gifted students do have special needs (known as "twice exceptional" or "2e"), but most don't.

Are gifted kids sped? ›

Being gifted and talented does not fall into one of the 13 classifications of special education, however, these children are still considered “exceptional children”.

Are gifted children autistic? ›

About 70% of autistic people have an intellectual disability, which means they have an IQ lower than 70. The remaining 30% have intelligence that ranges from average to gifted. Autism and intelligence are two separate characteristics. A person can be autistic with any level of intelligence.

Can you get into Harvard with a learning disability? ›

Harvard University, in accordance with its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, does not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities in admission or access to programs and activities.

Does Harvard accept people with learning disabilities? ›

Harvard University Disability Resources (UDR) welcomes students, faculty, staff, and visitors with disabilities.

How does a learning disability affect you academically? ›

Students with learning disabilities (LD) have difficulty acquiring basic skills or academic content due to difficulty using or understanding spoken or written language. These difficulties may impact a student's ability to read, write, spell, think, speak, listen, or do mathematics.

How do you raise a child with learning disabilities? ›

Tips for dealing with your child's learning disability
  1. Keep things in perspective. A learning disability isn't insurmountable. ...
  2. Become your own expert. ...
  3. Be an advocate for your child. ...
  4. Remember that your influence outweighs all others. ...
  5. Clarify your goals. ...
  6. Be a good listener. ...
  7. Offer new solutions. ...
  8. Keep the focus.
Feb 23, 2023

How do I accept my child with a learning disability? ›

Accepting your child's LD
  1. Keep things in perspective. Your attitude toward your child's LD will go a long way in defining his attitude toward his disability. ...
  2. Don't get hung up on grades. ...
  3. Arm yourself with information. ...
  4. Join a parent support group. ...
  5. Take care of your other child. ...
  6. Practice self-care.

At what age can a learning disability be diagnosed? ›

Learning disabilities are usually not diagnosed until students have been in school for about three years, but there are often early signs of disabilities that parents may notice. More importantly, there are also strategies and resources that can help.

What are the top 5 learning disabilities? ›

The top five most common learning disabilities are dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and dyspraxia. Each of these conditions can present with a range of symptoms and can be diagnosed through a combination of medical and educational assessments.

What are the 3 types of learning disabilities? ›

Educators must be on the lookout for signs of the three types of specific learning disabilities: dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.

What are the 4 major types of learning disabilities? ›

Learning disabilities usually fall within four broad categories:
  • Spoken language-listening and speaking.
  • Written language-reading, writing, and spelling.
  • Arithmetic-calculation and concepts.
  • Reasoning-organization and integration of ideas and thoughts.

Is ADHD is a learning disability? ›

Although ADHD is not considered a learning disability, research indicates that from 30-50 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability, and that the two conditions can interact to make learning extremely challenging.

What is the most rare learning disability? ›

Aphasia – Aphasia is a rare condition that impacts a students' ability to use and comprehend words. Students with this disorder often have trouble remembering names of items or people and have difficulty speaking fluently and expressing themselves.

Is Autism a learning disabilities? ›

Autism is sometimes referred to as a spectrum, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is not a learning disability, but around half of autistic people may also have a learning disability.

Is a learning disability a disability? ›

In Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term is “specific learning disability,” one of 13 categories of disability under that law. “Learning Disabilities” is an “umbrella” term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.

What medication is used for learning disabilities? ›

ADHD and autistic spectrum disorders
  • methylphenidate or clomipramine for hyperactivity.
  • SSRIs for self-injurious behaviour.
  • haloperidol, risperidone, buspirone or clonidine for irritability and aggression.
  • clonazepam, buspirone or β-blockers for anxiety symptoms.

What are two common learning disabilities? ›

Learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can frustrate students, confound parents and challenge educators. But all are treatable once they have been detected and diagnosed.


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