Learning Differences Guide
Understanding Learning Differences at any age — at home, at school and in life.
Micaelia Randolph, EdD, MA
Neilson Chan, PhD
CHC’s Catherine T. Harvey Center for Clinical Services
A View of Learning Differences Across the Lifespan
One in 5 in the US has a learning difference (LD). Terms such as learning difference, learning disability, or even learning disorder all refer to what we call LD. This is not about intelligence, although one can experience challenges especially in the areas of reading, writing and math. Learning differences can exist with other challenges such as problems with executive function, anxiety or even ADHD. Individuals with LD also possess great strengths and the lists here include traits that are meant to help you understand LD over time; they are not meant to be a diagnostic tool.
Children with learning differences are typically bright, outgoing, and often, very verbal. Signs begin to appear when more formal language learning begins.
- Difficulty with rhyming
- Appreciates routines
- Trouble recognizing letters of alphabet
- Works hard
- Slower to talk
- Unable to find the right words
- Often creative
- Tells the truth
- Usually follows rules
School Age Child
Once the child begins school and the demands increase, the impact of a learning difference becomes more apparent.
- Challenges with spelling
- Often has a good sense of humor
- Difficulty learning math facts
- Likes puzzles
- Bright and curious
- Self esteem begins to deteriorate
- Sees patterns
- Doesn’t want to go to school
- Somatic complaints (stomachache, headache etc)
- Likes to help others
Adolescents with learning differences continue to experience academic and learning challenges as the workload increases. They also begin to understand and leverage their strengths.
- Can be very verbal
- Skilled at problem solving
- Sometimes outgoing with good sense of humor
- Perceive themselves as ‘dumb’ in school
- Difficulty with homework and completing assignments
- Understands real-world math
- Can be disorganized
- May withdraw
- Artistic and creative
- May excel at sports or music
Although adults may continue to have difficulties with reading, writing and math, they can find their niche in life and in the workplace by identifying and using their many strengths.
- Poor memory
- Difficulty following verbal directions
- Creative and clever
- Adept problem solvers
- Good listeners
- May carry the pain of not feeling successful throughout childhood
- When successful, they may feel like an impostor
- Can experience increased motivation
- Well-developed strategies to support challenges
- May be incredibly resilient
Your Questions Answered
Top questions answered by CHC experts.
Can a Learning Difference be “cured”?
Learning differences cannot be cured, but one can learn to live with and actually celebrate their conditions if they are aware of them. Each person is a unique individual with a combination of strengths and challenges. Learner variability can be supported at home and at school through self- awareness and self-advocacy. If not diagnosed, a person with a learning difference may experience anxiety, frustration and loss of self-esteem. Therefore, when there are concerns, it is important to seek professional help and obtain an evaluation so that support can begin.
Does having a learning difference mean my child is not smart?
No. The opposite is true. Those with learning differences are typically bright and outgoing and simply have brains that are wired a particular way. Students with dyslexia, for example, may be slow readers who are clever, creative problem-solvers in other areas. Learning differences typically reside within what Yale LD expert Dr. Sally Shaywitz calls “a sea of gifts.” Early evaluation is important so that the family and the child can begin on the path of self-awareness and self-advocacy and get back to a sense of wellbeing and empowerment.
How is a Learning Difference Diagnosed?
When a family is concerned that a student’s progress in school could be the result of a learning difference, it is important to speak to a professional, beginning with the pediatrician. The pediatrician may refer the family to a learning and mental health group that can provide advice, and if needed, a psychoeducational evaluation to determine how the child learns. This evaluation can involve a team that includes a psychologist, a speech and language therapist and an occupational therapist. Once the child’s strengths and challenges are identified, further recommendations can be made for the types of help that are right for the child at school and at home.
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Tools, Tips & Takeaways
CHC Voices of Compassion Podcast
Our weekly CHC podcast with expert insights, inspiration and creative conversations about mental health, education and family.
EPISODE 19, SEASON 2 | FEBRUARY 2, 2022
with Julie Lythcott-Haims and Sawyer Lythcott-Haims
Parenting expert, author and educator, Julie Lythcott-Haims is well-known for her words of wisdom and encouragement. But in today’s podcast episode — for the first time — we are invited to listen in on a heart-to-heart conversation between Julie and her 22-year-old son Sawyer, about his journey with ADHD and their family’s road to acceptance. Sawyer bravely shares stories of his diagnosis, his anxiety, his decision to take a year off from college and the importance of his parents’ understanding. We hear Julie, not just as an expert, but as a mom in the moment, discussing the mistakes she’s made along the way, what she’s learned and how she and her partner are finally becoming the “parents their son deserves.” This is one you won’t want to miss — it’s special from start to finish.
EPISODE 10, SEASON 3 | DECEMBER 14, 2022
with Nicole Ofiesh, PhD
We often think of learning differences as challenges faced in school. But the reality is that learning differences impact people throughout their lives with implications far beyond the classroom: home, relationships, work and family to name a few. Therefore, it’s important to learn strategies and skills that apply throughout the lifespan. Join us for a conversation with Dr. Nicole Ofiesh, Director of the Schwab Learning Center at CHC, as she shares pro tips developed throughout decades of leveraging neurodiversity in settings from kindergarten to college, classroom to corporate. A must-listen episode for people with learning differences and those who support them!
EPISODE 11, SEASON 3 | JANUARY 4, 2023
with Joan Baran, PhD and Meghan Collins, MS, MPhil
Self-advocacy is more than speaking up for yourself–it’s about self-awareness, understanding our needs and clear communication. It’s about asking for what we want and need, but not demanding it. In today’s podcast episode, CHC’s Catherine T. Harvey Center for Clinical Services experts Joan Baran, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and Meghan Collins, MS, MPhil, doctoral psychology intern share strategies for parents and caregivers to model and build self-advocacy skills, independence and confidence in our kids.
Learn more about Learning Differences from CHC experts.
Does your child have difficulty following directions, struggle with organization, or have trouble focusing on and completing schoolwork? The following checklist can help you determine whether your child may have a learning difference.
Individuals with ADHD and learning differences (LD) often experience stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions. It is sometimes difficult to tell what is ADHD/LD and what is anxiety. Students can often have difficulty concentrating or be restless – which could be a symptom of ADHD or LD or it could be anxiety.
In this session presented by Chris Harris, MEd, Chief Schools Officer at CHC, you’ll learn more about the interrelatedness of ADHD, LD and anxiety and how you can support your child.
Learn how to help young adults navigate life transitions when they learn differently and/or have mental health challenges.
In this collection, we share top questions answered by CHC experts.
How We Help
CHC provides life-changing services for learning differences and mental health for young adults, kids and teens.
The Silicon Valley school where learning differences are considered superpowers.
Because Sand Hill School students learn differently, we teach differently. We’re dedicated to helping 2nd – 8th grade students with language-based learning differences, ADHD and school-based anxiety learn to love school again.
Our students feel a sense of belonging at Sand Hill for so many reasons. Come see why! Visit our campus, or sign up for an informational tour.
A community of experts, parents, kids, teens and young adults who support and celebrate neurodiversity.
Sign up for CHC’s Virtual Village email list to be the first to know about new CHC expert content, events, programs and more! We’re in this together.
You are not alone. Connect with other parents at a monthly parent support group.
Come and join other parents of kids with Learning Differences at CHC’s parent support group. Parents and caregivers are invited to attend this free, virtual monthly support group facilitated by CHC experts with extensive experience serving children, adolescents and families.
Helping college and high school students with learning differences navigate school, work and life.
The Schwab Learning Center (SLC@CHC) offers Customized 1:1 Learning Strategy sessions for teens and young adults.
Work with an SLC Learning Specialist and create a personalized toolkit with solutions designed to maximize your potential.
For Children, Teens & Young Adults Ages 0-25 with Mental Health Challenges & Learning Differences
CHC provides single and multi-disciplinary psychoeducational and neuropsychological (learning and mental health) evaluations, with options to include an Occupational Therapist, Speech-Language Pathologist and/or Educational Specialist. During a CHC evaluation, we really get to know your child to learn what issues are interfering with their wellbeing. Then the team collaborates and recommends a plan of action that works best for your family. Whether your child receives a clinical diagnosis or not, our specialists offer coaching and strategies to manage behavioral or educational concerns.
At CHC, we have learning and mental health experts who can help you overcome barriers to learning and help you develop skills that last for a lifetime. Real people you can talk to. People who can really help.
Neilson Chan, PhD
Ann Lyke, MEd
Jessica Naecker, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologistt
Sharmila Roy, PhD
Special Projects CONSULTANT
Comprehensive & Integrated Services for Learning Differences & Mental Health
CHC therapists provide specialized, individualized and age-appropriate services for you to take charge of your own mental health and wellbeing. Services in California.
The SLC@CHC empowers all types of learners to adopt tools and strategies to support their unique strengths. Students and young adults with diagnosed or suspected ADHD, dyslexia and other learning disabilities discover their gifts, strengths and potential.
Related CHC Offerings
Check out other CHC offerings for services and support for kids, youth, and families with Learning Differences.
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