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What’s the difference between a learning disability and a learning difficulty?

Many people think learning disabilities and learning difficulties are the same things… but they’re not! Although they are both used to describe a different, slower, or delayed pace of learning, the two conditions have subtle differences in the way they affect an individual.  In this blog, we explain the meaning behind two complex terms – learning disabilityand learning difficulty.

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability, or intellectual disability as Mencap describes (1) – causes an individual to have a lower IQ (below 70) and affects learning in ALL areas of life, not just in an educational environment. Largely, learning disabilities are present in people who are born with the following syndromes or disorders:

Down’s Syndrome
Prader-Willi Syndrome
Rett Syndrome
William’s Syndrome
Asperger’s Syndrome
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – although people with Autism do not always have an accompanying learning disability and have a very high IQ
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Interestingly, two individuals with the same learning disability will not be affected in the same way – so you can imagine the importance of being able to obtain 1-2-1 support that is unique to them! They are prolifically resistant to support and individuals with learning disabilities often spend most, if not all, of their lives being guided by family members, friends, carers, or specialists. Learning disabilities affect how a person understands information, listens to others, speaks, and comprehends maths and English – along with the ability to cook, clean, manage time and money and look after themselves.

When do learning disabilities start?

Most learning disabilities begin in the womb and can be anticipated during pregnancy upon the anticipated diagnosis of a syndrome (like Down’s), while others develop a learning disability after suffering trauma like a serious accident, a childhood illness, or a seizure, for example.

What is a learning difficulty?

Unlike learning disabilities, learning difficulties do not affect a person’s IQ or general intelligence. The vast majority of individuals living with a learning difficulty can lead an independent life but will struggle with basic reading, writing, or maths skills, for example. They may find it difficult to understand information or they’ll process, store, or analyse it in an entirely different way (2).

Learning difficulties are highly receptive to support and individuals can expect to see an improvement within years of specialist help – particularly in reading, writing, and other educational skills they may struggle with.

Types of learning difficulty:


ADHD is a disorder that is commonly accompanied by learning difficulties.

Find support for learning disabilities & learning difficulties

Our CASE Training Centre is fully equipped to support adults aged 16+ with learning disabilities and learning difficulties, regardless of their way and pace of learning. What’s more, the time our trainees spend with us varies greatly – some individuals are with us for 5 years, whereas others, 35 years! Contact us today for your free visit.



What is a learning disability? | Mencap
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