In years gone by, certainly when I was at school in the 1950's and 1960's, failure to learn at a teacher-accepted rate was frequently attributed to 'laziness' or to 'stupidity' or being 'slow'.  Psychometric testing for Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and other factors seemed to be popular in the 1970's when I was concerned with technician training.  Only in the past few decades have learning disorders really gained the attention of educators.  Possibly the fact that Albert Einstein, arguably one of humankind's finest minds, may have suffered from learning disorders in his youth, made people realize that there was more to effective learning than just "raw intelligence".

My experience with iTutor Grahamstown  tutoring maths suggests that most if not all people suffer from Learning Difficulties in some or other form.  Ability and even brilliance in one field of study is often accompanied by difficulty in another.  I feel that I am quite capable in High-school Mathematics.  However, although I love music, all my attempts to learn to play a musical instrument have ended in failure.  Many of 'my' students suffer from Learning Difficulties.  Indeed,  Learning Difficulty is the primary reason for seeking the services of a tutor to augment regular schooling.

Where a Learning Disorder (with a clinical diagnosis) is present, medical treatment is frequently available.  I suffer from Dyslexia (as letter-reversal) but not to a degree that requires treatment.  I also suffer from myoclonus (involuntary muscle twitching) and require life-long medication with anti-Parkinson's medication.  I know what it means to live with a disabilities and have to compensate for them.  I feel that I can relate  in a meaningful way with those of my students who have learning difficulties.

Many, if not most people with early learning difficulties overcome these difficulties and live happy productive lives. Several sources report that Albert Einstein experienced learning difficulties in his early life.  He may not have been able to speak fluently until his 7th year.

The material that immediately follows is due to Wikipedia

Where I have added to a source's text I have enclosed my comment in braces like this: "{ }".


Learning disability is a classification including several areas of functioning in which a person has difficulty learning in a typical manner, usually caused by an unknown factor or factors. While 'learning disability' and 'learning disorder' are often used interchangeably, the two differ. Learning disability refers to significant learning problems in an academic area. These problems, however, are not enough to warrant an official diagnosis. Learning disorder, on the other hand, is an official clinical diagnosis, whereby the individual meets certain criteria, as determined by a professional psychologist, pediatrician, etc.) The difference is in degree, frequency, and intensity of reported symptoms and problems, and thus the two should not be confused. When the term "learning disabilities" is used, it describes a group of disorders characterized by inadequate development of specific academic, language, and speech skills.[1] Types of learning disabilities include reading disability (dyslexia), mathematics disability (dyscalculia) and writing disability (dysgraphia)[1]    

Tina Richardson writes a very interesting article on dyscalculia at

For detail on living with learning and communication disorders see 

The unknown factor is the disorder that affects the brain's ability to receive and process information. This disorder can make it problematic {difficult} for a person to learn as quickly or in the same way as someone who is not affected by a learning disability. People with a learning disability have trouble performing specific types of skills or completing tasks if left to figure things out by themselves or if taught in conventional ways.

Learning disabilities are {may be} life long. However, with appropriate cognitive/academic interventions and technological assistance many can overcome the effects of their disability.  Individuals with learning disabilities can face unique challenges that are often pervasive throughout the lifespan. Depending on the type and severity of the disability, interventions and current technologies may be used to help the individual learn strategies that will foster future success. Some interventions can be quite simplistic, while others are intricate and complex. Current technologies may require student training {in order} to be effective classroom supports. Teachers, parents and schools can create plans together that tailor intervention and accommodations to aid the individual in successfully becoming independent learners. School psychologists and other qualified professionals quite often help design the intervention and coordinate the execution of the intervention with teachers and parents. Social support may improve the learning for students with learning disabilities.

Types of Learning Difficulties.

What are specific learning difficulties?

The umbrella term specific learning difficulties (SpLD) is used to cover a wide variety of difficulties. Many people use it synonymously with dyslexia (a difficulty with words), but it is now generally accepted that dyslexia is only one of a group of difficulties that may include

  • Dysgraphia: writing difficulty
  • Dyspraxia: motor difficulties
  • Dyscalcula: a difficulty performing mathematical calculations
  • Attention Deficit Disorder, or attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADD or ADHD): concentration difficulties with heightened activity levels and impulsiveness
  • Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism: emotional behaviour or even social communication difficulties.

These learning difficulties typically affect a student's motor skills, information processing and memory. However, note that no two individuals have the same combination of {Specific Learning Disorder(s)} SpLD and it is impossible to extrapolate a description from one person to another.

Note also that many students with SpLD, as well as many other students without SpLD, suffer from a visual-perceptual discomfort and disturbance which is sometimes known as Meares-Irlen Syndrome. This affects their reading of print on white paper, on overheads and slides, and use of a computer.

It is also important to note that the difficulties described influence the strategies developed by an individual in order to cope with their studies, and that stress and anxiety also have an impact.

Only those who have experienced the challenges of having a specific learning difficulty truly understand the complications and difficulties that arise in a learning situation - and the excitement when someone presents information in a way that matches their thinking style or preferences.

Helping the Student:  Parents and Teachers.

One of the most common learning disorders is ADHD (Attention Deficit / Hyper-activity Disorder)  Literature suggests that both teachers AND parents have major roles to play in assisting the student.

For my part I employ patience, observation, feedback from parents and students and research of diagnosed difficulties to construct a suitable teaching approach for an individual student.  I try to build an individual profile for a student, listing which techniques work and which do not.  I strongly believe in meeting a student "where they are" and guiding them toward a more productive relationship with mathematics, as opposed to emphasizing their short-comings and insisting that they do things differently right away.