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What’s the first thing you think when you hear that somebody has a learning difficulty?

Yes, exactly – that thought right there is why we are focusing on difficulties, disabilities and deformities this month.

Before going deeper into this topic, there is a vital difference between a learning difficulty and a learning disability:

  • A learning disability affects the intellectual ability and independent social functions of an individual, which can make it difficult to understand new information and perform everyday activities – for example someone with Down’s Syndrome
  • A learning difficulty does not affect intelligence (IQ) but rather it affects the way a person learns – for example someone with dyslexia, autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

This article will focus on learning difficulties. Remember that first thought you had at the beginning of the article? Well, prepare to challenge it.

There are a number of specific learning difficulties that affect different functions of the brain. Our brain is comprised of different sections or areas – each with a specific purpose. For example, the frontal part of the brain (between the forehead and the middle of the head) is divided into areas for our many brain functions i.e. attention, creativity, movement, reasoning ability, problem-solving, working memory, information processing and multitasking. In individuals with a learning difficulty, one or more of these brain functions is affected creating a difficulty in that particular function.

Some of the more commonly diagnosed learning difficulties include:

  1. Dyslexia – difficulties with reading, writing and spelling
  2. Dyspraxia – difficulties with motor movement and coordination
  3. Dysgraphia – difficulties with recognising written words, letter forms and sounds
  4. Dyscalculia – difficulties with processing numbers and calculations
  5. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – difficulties with attention and hyperactivity

This means that having a learning difficulty does NOT make an individual dumb, daft or unintelligent. In fact, it does NOT affect intelligence at all. Most people with such difficulties just learn in a different way, and they usually have stellar memory-capacity.

The national Hft Charity website has more information on these specific learning disabilities and difficulties, accurate resources and guidance, and how to obtain the support in all areas of life – such as housing, finances and care. The NHS website also has some advice about living with a diagnosis and how best to obtain support.

Having a formal diagnosis of a learning difficulty is no reason to feel sad or hopeless, in fact it celebrates the neurodiversity of the human race. We are a diverse species and this diversity makes us stronger, beautiful and more resilient as a result.

Just think about it, we’re okay with books being different and distinctive; to come in all shapes, sizes, colours and font types. So, why are we finding it so hard to accept people with diverse shapes, sizes, colours and font types? We hate reading the same story from different authors (I mean, where is the originality?), so why do we expect the same normalcy from all people?

What even is normal anymore?

In Islam, those with difficulties and disabilities are showered with blessings:

“No Muslim is pricked with a thorn, or anything larger than that, except that a hasanah will be recorded for him and a sin will be erased as a reward for that”
[Bukhari and Muslim]

 This shows the elevated status of such individuals and, if anything, we should be there to help and support them rather than push them down or make them feel weird or unwelcome. Is it worth making someone feel bad and hurt because they are different? Is it worth carrying that burden?

What is your experience with learning difficulties of your own or someone you know?

Sarah Gulamhusein

Sarah is a Master’s graduate in Psychology, having completed an undergraduate degree in Medical Biochemistry. She is passionate about mental health and has attained a good knowledge of mental illnesses from both a scientific and psychological perspective. From her early years, she has been a keen writer and has consistently used her words to raise awareness and battle the stigma of mental health in society, highlight the challenges faced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities within the UK – especially for an organisation called 1000women. She hopes to use her skills and motivation to inspire others, promote co-existence and help others.

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