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Some Common Myths

Here are some commonly held misconceptions about the nature of learning disabilities, followed by alternative views.

Myth 1

A "learning disability" is just a polite way to refer to lower overall intelligence and abilities.

Learning disabilities are quite different from global impairments. In fact, inherent within the definition of learning disabilities is a discrepancy between demonstrated intelligence and specific functioning. It is possible for a student to be both gifted and learning disabled at the same time; many students with LD attending the University of the Pacific match this description.

Myth 2

Given the proper instruction, students can grow out of their learning disabilities.

College students with LD can and do acquire improved skills, but the learning disabilities themselves are not cured in the process. Because learning disabilities are now thought to be lifelong conditions, it is more appropriate to talk about "compensation" instead of a "cure."

Myth 3

Students with learning disabilities have "attitude problems."

It is certainly true that the frustrations of living with a learning disability can cause a loss of self-esteem, and this in turn can look like "a bad attitude." But this is a result and not a cause of a learning disability. It is critical that faculty and staff understand the level of dedication many students with LD bring to the University of the Pacific. They come here knowing that, in many cases, they will need to put much more effort compared to their nondisabled peers. A little understanding can go a long way to help these students retain the level of confidence and motivation they will need to succeed here.

Myth 4

Accommodating the needs of a student with learning disabilities means watering down course requirements.

Teaching a student with special learning needs does not mean "less." It may, however, mean "different." The instructional goal should be to find ways to work around the area of deficit in order to impart and to evaluate the same body of information and sets of skills.

Myth 5

Students use learning disabilities as an excuse to get out of work.

Students with learning disabilities may need help from their instructors to see the essential information in a course. Their purpose is not to avoid work, but rather to focus their efforts. Many students with LD routinely invest far more effort in their studies in comparison to their non-LD peers.

Myth 6

Accommodations for disabilities give students an unfair advantage.

Without modifications, common forms of instruction and examination often inadvertently reflect a student’s disability rather than the subject at hand. For instance, a student with dyslexia may perform poorly on an essay exam question, even with a large fund of knowledge on the topic, because the dyslexia makes on-the-spot writing very difficult. An alternative form of examination may factor out the dyslexia and allow the instructor to measure the student’s understanding of the subject instead of the degree of disability.

A study by Runyan (1991)1 compared scores obtained under timed conditions by students with learning disabilities and by normally achieving students. When students with learning disabilities were provided extra time, she found no differences between the two groups. So good accommodations aren’t unfair; they simply level the playing field.

1 Runyan, M. K. (1991, February), Journal of Learning Disabilities.