The reality is this: learning for a number of people is met with speed bumps where understanding is involved. Often, the terms learning disability and learning difficulty can be used interchangeably, yes, but there is a stark difference when one is said to have difficulty learning from one who suffers from a learning disability. Defined by Mental Health Org, a learning disability is a condition that affects learning and intelligence across all areas of life. An example of this is Downs Syndrome, which equates to all areas of the individual’s life including their IQ, physical condition, life skills, and overall health being affected. Mental Health Org goes on to explain that a learning difficulty is a condition that creates an obstacle to a specific form of learning but does not affect the overall IQ of an individual. Such is the case with a person diagnosed with a condition such as dyslexia. This condition impacts only a certain area, or set of areas, and does not hinder their life skills otherwise. In this example, dyslexia impacts the ability to read, write and spell, but the individual can otherwise function without the need for ongoing care and support.
Found among the top five learning difficulties are Dyslexia and Dyscalculia. Dyslexia, often called the reading disorder, is characterized by reading below the expected level for one’s age. Also called Lexia, problems that derive include difficulties in spelling words, reading quickly, writing words, sounding out words in the head, pronouncing words when reading aloud, and overall speaking and understanding what one reads. Believed to be linked to genes, this disorder often runs in families. It’s said that if your parents, siblings or other family members have it, chances are it’ll be passed to you. According to WebMD, “Kids who have it are often smart and hardworking, but they have trouble connecting the letters they see to the sounds those letters make. About 5% to 10% of Americans have some symptoms of dyslexia, such as slow reading, trouble spelling, or mixing up words. Adults can have this learning disorder, as well. Some people are diagnosed early in life. Others don’t realize they have dyslexia until they get older.” Problems derive when the part of the brain dedicated to processing language doesn’t work properly. Basically, from an imaging scan of the brain point of reference, the areas of the brain that should be active when someone reads don’t work properly. For example, as taken from WebMD, “When children learn to read, they first figure out what sound each letter makes. For example, “B” makes a “buh” sound. “M” makes an “em” sound. Then, they learn how to put those sounds in order to form words (“C-A-T” spells “cat”). Finally, they have to figure out what words mean (“Cat” is a furry animal that meows). For kids who have dyslexia, the brain has a hard time connecting letters to the sounds they make and then blending those sounds into words. So to someone with dyslexia, the word “cat” might read as “tac.” Because of these mix-ups, reading can be a slow and difficult process.”
Now, even though Dyslexia is known as a reading disorder, Dyscalculia, although less known than Dyslexia, is actually referred to as “math dyslexia” despite it actually not being Dyslexia in math. This can be misleading as dyslexia is a different condition from dyscalculia. Think of it like Dyslexia, but instead of with words this one’s with numbers. This brain-related disability results in difficulty learning or comprehending arithmetic, such as difficulty in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, performing mathematical calculations and learning facts in mathematics. The term ‘dyscalculia’ was coined in the 1940s, but it was not completely recognized until 1974 by the work of Czechoslovakian researcher Ladislav Kosc. Kosc defined dyscalculia as “a structural disorder of mathematical abilities.” His research proved that the learning disability was caused by impairments to certain parts of the brain that control mathematical calculations and not because symptomatic individuals were mentally handicapped. Cognitive disabilities specific to mathematics were originally identified in case studies with patients who experienced specific arithmetic disabilities as a result of damage to specific regions of the brain. More commonly, dyscalculia occurs developmentally as a genetically linked learning disability that affects a person’s ability to understand, remember, or manipulate numbers or number facts (e.g., the multiplication tables). The term is often used to refer specifically to the inability to perform arithmetic operations but is also defined by some educational professionals and cognitive psychologists such as Stanislas Dehaene and Brian Butterworth as a more fundamental inability to conceptualize numbers as abstract concepts of comparative quantities (a deficit in “number sense”), which these researchers consider to be a foundational skill upon which other mathematics abilities build. Symptoms of dyscalculia include the delay of simple counting, the inability to memorize simple arithmetic facts such as adding, subtracting, etc. The identification of symptoms are few because little research has been done on the topic.
Where Dyslexia involves difficulty with reading and can affect writing, math and spelling too; Dyscalculia is a specific learning difficulty that hinders learners from developing the basic number concepts needed for the acquisition of mathematics. There are many different types of learning difficulties, some of the more well-known are dyslexia, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia and dyscalculia. A person can have one, or a combination of disorders. As with learning disabilities, learning difficulties can also exist on a scale. However, unlike a learning disability, a learning difficulty does not affect general intelligence (IQ). Lastly, here’s a fun fact of origin: Dyscalculia comes from Greek and Latin and means “counting badly”. The prefix “dys-” comes from Greek and means “badly”. The root “calculia” comes from the Latin “calculare“, which means “to count” and which is also related to “calculation” and “calculus”.