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What do Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg, Greg Louganis, General George Patton, Walt Disney, Winston Churchill, and Alexander Graham Bell all have in common? These famous people have all been successful despite the fact that they had or have learning disabilities (collectively called LD).

Having a learning disability doesn't mean you can't learn. Some of the most creative thinkers of all time were diagnosed with LD. These people simply have trouble learning in certain areas. In particular, people with LD have difficulty with basic skills such as reading, writing, math, or communication because of the way their brains take in information.

What Are Learning Disabilities?
Learning disabilities aren't contagious, but they can be genetic. That means if one member of a family has a learning disability, the chances are greater that other members of the family will, too.

The most common type of learning disability is dyslexia (say: dis-lek-see-uh), a learning disability in which someone has trouble understanding the written word. Dyslexia is sometimes called the "invisible disability" because no one knows you have it unless someone asks you to read or write.

There are other learning disabilities, too. Kids who have trouble doing math problems in school may have dyscalculia (say: dis-kal-kue-lee-uh), a learning disability in which the person has trouble understanding math. Someone who has trouble forming letters when they write may have dysgraphia (say: dis-graf-ee-uh). Some kids have trouble understanding language even though their hearing and vision are normal. These children are said to have language disabilities. Often children with language disabilities also have trouble understanding what they read. All of these conditions have something in common - they are all types of learning disorders.

About 50% of kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) also have learning disabilities. Problems with paying attention may make school-related learning even more challenging. Although you can have both AD/HD and LD, neither one is known to cause the other.

How Do I Know if I Have a Learning Disability?
Does this describe you? You are reading a chapter for homework and you realize that you really can't remember what you have already read. In class, everyone moves along turning pages but you get stuck. You bring your homework home and open up your book but have no idea where to even start. You don't want to let your parents know that you're having a hard time because you're afraid they'll think you're dumb.

If this sounds familiar, you may have a learning disability. Don't worry! All this means is that you process information in a different way than other kids do because of the way your brain is wired.

Kids with LD may also answer "yes" to many of these questions:

  • Do you struggle in school?
  • Do you think you should be doing better than you are in school?
  • Is reading harder for you than it should be?
  • Does your head think one thing but your hand writes something else?
  • Is writing slow and tedious for you?
  • Do you make spelling and grammatical errors when you write?
  • Are you having difficulty with math?
  • Is it hard for you to keep your notebooks and papers organized?
  • Do you end up losing or forgetting them?

What You Can Do About Learning Disabilities
Your parent or teacher may have told you that if you only try harder you'll be able to do better. But you know that you're not lazy. You are trying and it's just not working.

If you're having trouble with your schoolwork and think you should be doing better, trust your feelings. Maybe there's a reason you're having trouble learning. Tell someone about it. Talk to your parents or your teacher.

The problem will not go away unless you ask someone to help you. It's OK to ask for help and learn more about LD. Your parent can take you to a specialist who can test you for learning disabilities and help with ways for you to do your best work. Remember, the more that someone can talk about a disability, the less it really is a disability.

Treatment and Therapies
Programs have been developed to help kids with LD learn more efficiently. There are specially trained tutors who help you learn new ways to deal with your problem. If you have trouble reading, they'll help you with your reading problem. If you have trouble writing or with math, they'll help you with those.

Not everyone can learn the same way. Special tutors can help you with a plan that can show you ways to organize your thoughts so it's easier for you to learn. They can even help you structure your binder so you're less likely to lose things!

There are spelling, grammar, and other kinds of programs on computers that can help you learn. There are even computer programs that recognize your voice when you speak and type the word for you on the screen. These programs may help you if you have no trouble thinking what you want to say, but you have trouble writing it down.

What Is Life Like for Someone With a Learning Disability?
If you have friends with a learning disability, you may know that they're smart, but they just don't do well in school. They spend a lot of time trying to cover up their problems and they may not feel good about themselves.

They may feel sad or angry because everyone seems to blame them for their bad grades. Their parents may get angry with them because they don't get their work done. They may also get yelled at because they never seem to bring home the right schoolwork. Like Peppermint Patty in the "Peanuts" comic strip, they know the answers but something isn't working. The right answers never seem to come out.

Dealing with having LD can be frustrating, but kids with LD can learn strategies to cope. They can learn to stay with the problem and work it through, even when it's hard. They learn courage, bravery, and "stick-with-it-ness!"

If you have a learning disability, you can get help. You can learn. And just like the many famous and not-so-famous people who have learning disabilities, you too can succeed.

Reviewed by: David Sheslow, PhD
Date reviewed: February 2001

Source: KidsHealth is a project of The Nemours Foundation which is dedicated to improving the health and spirit of children. Today, as part of its continuing mission, the Foundation supports the operation of a number of renowned children's health facilities throughout the nation, including the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Nemours Children's Clinics throughout Florida.  Visit The Nemours Foundation to find out more about them and its health facilities for children