Learning Disabilities is an Unfortunate Choice of Words  
Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist

"Learning disability is an unfortunate choice of words.  It brings into focus a disability rather than an ability.  I know that the term has to be used to determine a child's eligibility for educational and financial entitlements.

I am a fortunate parent to have "learning abled" children.  I never had to be told by a teacher or a psychologist that my child had a learning disability.  Had that happened to me, I wonder how I would have reacted to such a news.  Would I have become defensive, felt diminished and defective as a parent, or felt relieved that someone finally figured out what was wrong with my child?  Does the "label" really harm or hurt?

I don't really know how I would have reacted.  All I know is that I would have had a wide range of negative and discouraging feelings to work through before I could have followed a sensible plan of action.

I am pretty sure I would have blamed my genes for my child's learning disability.  That is because I had difficulties at school as a child.  However, my learning difficulties were of moderate severity and mainly were in recognition and copying of shapes, and in orientation of left and right.  In psychological lingo, those are called "visuo-spatial" abilities.

As a result of visuo-spatial difficulty, I used to get a big goose egg in geography, geometry and all tests that involved arts and crafts.  I also had difficulty in eye-hand coordination and fine motor coordination.  Due to this, my handwriting was poor.  I was repeatedly asked to write letters legibly and clearly.  I hated to write the same words or a sentence 15 times or 20 times, and it still didn't show any noticeable improvement.  Oh, yes, and I could never draw a straight line with a ruler.  Somehow they would all come out slanted.

But I was a fortunate child indeed.  I had excellent reading skills.  In the third grade, I could read books at the seventh - or eighth- grade level.  Due to my advanced reading level, I did very well in other subjects.  I was lucky because reading and comprehension help us attain the knowledge of most of the subjects.  I did so well in other subjects that at the end of the third grade, they promoted me to fifth.  

So, in spite of being a "clumsy child an getting zeroes in some subjects, I was perceived as a "bright" child.  Basically, I felt myself to be a smart kid who had a few annoying problems.

In regard to my messy handwriting, I happened to hear a conversation early on that doctors' had "terrible" handwriting and later I read somewhere that "all great men had bad handwriting including Mahatma Gandhi (the "father" of the Indian nation).  "I exploited this knowledge to the fullest.  Whenever, an adult referred to my messy handwriting, I would say something to the effect in my language that, "I am sorry but can't help it, I am destined to be a great leader."  This excuse coming from a little kid, was "cute," so everybody laughed.  My embarrassment became a source of laughter.

Unfortunately, all learning disabled children are not as lucky as I was.  The subjects in which I was deficient were not  the core subjects.  I was gladly promoted.  Skills, such as reading, spelling and calculation are core skills.  The success in most of the other subjects depends on these skills.  Being good in reading and spelling, I was not labeled a "dummy" or "stupid" by adults or children.

Unfortunately, children with disability in  the 3 R's have a rough time.  Their self-esteem may be damaged because they receive far more negative feedback than I did.  I learned to hide my difficulties, to laugh with others about some of them, and show off in those skills that I was good at.  Learning disabled children are often seen by others as not trying hard, not paying attention or simply being noncompliance.

These perceptions have social and educational consequences.  Learning disabled children often encounter difficulties in relationships with peers, teachers, siblings or parents.  As they grow older, educational and career choices are narrowed down for them. Learning difficulties are not just the difficulties of learning, they are life difficulties.

We must remember that a "learning disabled" child is not disabled to learn everything.  Such a child had "difficulty" in learning certain subjects and tasks, and may be very fast in learning other subjects and tasks.

For example, many children I have evaluated have difficulty in solving word puzzles or mathematical problems but they are sharp and quick in solving mechanical problems.  Adults should pay attention to all those things, academic or non academic, in which a learning disable child is good at.  We should provide them experiences of success over and over again.

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



Click for Dr. Sharma's credentials
Dr. Vijai Sharma
Your Life Coach
By Telephone

Feedback- Let us know how we are doing

Terms and Conditions

Web site designed and maintained by Chanda Taylor