Anonymous asked: I have noticed that learning disabilities in the UK seem to refer to something different into the states. I was wondering what do they group things like dyslexia, ADD, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and audio/visual processing issues?
The use of the terms ‘learning difficulty’ (which many in the UK would use to describe the conditions you mentioned) and ‘learning disability’ is contentious. Here are some different interpretations below:
A learning disability can be mild, moderate or severe. Some people with a mild learning disability can talk easily and look after themselves, but take a bit longer than usual to learn new skills. Others may not be able to communicate at all and have more than one disability (see Profound and multiple learning disability).
A learning disability is not the same as learning difficulty or mental illness. “People get confused if they start using the term ‘learning difficulty’. In education this means things like dyslexia, which is not a learning disability,” says Lesley Campbell, from learning disability charity Mencap.
“Our definition of learning disabilities focuses on people who have difficulty learning across more than one area of their life. It’s not just to do with reading or writing.”
Consultant paediatrician Dr Martin Ward Platt agrees. “It can be very confusing,” he says, pointing out that the term “learning difficulties” is used by some people to cover the whole range of learning disabilities, from children with a slightly lower IQ to those who will never be able to live on their own.
“It is easy to give the impression, by using a term like ‘learning difficulties’, that a child has less of a disability than they really do,” says Dr Ward Platt.
Self Advocacy group People First say:
When we talk about people with learning difficulties, we mean ‘people labelled as having a learning difficulty’. This is one of the labels that society puts on us to mark us out as not being able to understand things the same as other people… We believe that people labelled as having a learning difficulty are disabled by society. We choose the term ‘learning difficulty’ instead of ‘learning disability’ to get across the idea that our learning support needs change over time.
In the Government White Paper Valuing People: a new strategy for learning disability for the 21st century (2001), a learning disability includes the presence of:
- a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information or to learn new skills;
- a reduced ability to cope independently;
- an impairment that started before adulthood, with a lasting effect on development.
In the UK education system, the term ‘learning difficulty’ includes children and young people who have ‘specific learning difficulties’, for example dyslexia, but who do not have a significant general impairment of intelligence. The Special Educational Needs codes also use the terms ‘moderate learning difficulty’, ‘severe learning difficulty’ and ‘profound multiple learning difficulty’, which relate to general impairments in learning of different severity. These could be seen as interchangeable with the term ‘learning disability’ which is used in health and social care.
So to sum up, this is how I understand it:
- 'Learning Difficulty' (UK) = 'Learning Disability' (USA) i.e. dyslexia, dyscalculia etc
- Learning Disability (UK) = ‘Intellectual Disability’ (USA) [with some less enlightened folks still referencing The R Word]
- There is a move happening in the UK towards referencing Intellectual Disability instead of Learning Disability: maybe we’ll see a complete language change in a few years
I’d be interested for people’s input on this as I’m no expert: How do you prefer to self define? How do you understand the use of these terms?