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Learning Disabilities and Intelligence

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 6 May 2019 | comments*Discuss
Learning Disabilities Asperger’s

It is a common misconception that people with learning disabilities suffer from poor intelligence. In fact, in the majority of cases, nothing could be further from the truth. One of the criteria for diagnosing a learning disability is often an above-average IQ score.

What is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability (LD) is defined as a disorder “in one or more of the basic processes involved in understanding spoken or written language – despite an average intelligence score”. It usually becomes apparent in activities involving reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking, spelling or the ability to do math. Both children and adults of any age can be affected and males and females are equally prone – in fact, it is estimated at up to 20% of the population have some type of LD.

The causes of LD remain uncertain, although it is believed that genetics, problems during pregnancy and childbirth, drug or alcohol by the pregnant mother and incidents during childbirth may play a role. It is not something that can be “outgrown” but something that an individual needs to learn to cope with throughout his/her life. It is diagnosed via a comprehensive assessment which may include IQ tests, achievement tests and tests to determine processing skills.

Common characteristics associated with LD include slow verbal development and vocabulary growth, extreme restlessness and difficulty following directions in preschool years; poor coordination, confusion with letters, numbers and signs, problems with sequenced events and difficulty making friends during school and problems with spelling and open-ended questions, poor memory, difficulty grasping abstract concepts, misreading information and avoidance of reading and writing in adulthood.

So are People with Learning Disabilities Stupid?

No – one of the criteria for diagnosing learning disabilities is often an above-average intelligence score. In fact, most people with learning disabilities have average or above-average intelligence but they have a problem managing all the information that they hold in their brains. There is often a big gap between how clever they are and what they are able to achieve. This is because their disability leads their brain to set up “road blocks” that prevent them from processing and reproducing the relevant information. This difficulty with processing sensory information interferes with a child or adult’s daily activities at school and work. In other words, they see, hear and understand things differently. This leads to the appearance of stupidity and poor achievement, which has knock-on effects on self-esteem, leading often to a vicious circle of self-perpetuating failure.

One good example of the relationship between learning disabilities and intelligence is Asperger’s Syndrome, a neurological condition at the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum. People with Aspergers often display eccentric or repetitive behaviours, problems with social skills, communications difficulties and limited but obsessive interests. However, people with Aspergers also have very high intelligence, exceptional focus and extraordinary talent in some area or another. In a way, you could say that they struggle with social skills in the same way that some people struggle with maths and they learn math with the ease that most people learn social skills.


Learning disabilities can be treated and managed successfully, especially if the disability is identified in early childhood or adulthood. But one of the main challenges if overcoming the stigma of “stupidity” which is so often wrongly attached to this disorder and which is sadly so untrue.

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Hello Name is RebeccaI have an moderate Learning disability Dyspraxia glasses broken left hip Hearing aids walking stick One kidney heart problems Anxiety problems Mental health problems Happy time are watching cartoonDVD CDs singing art craft scap booking music Baking cooking kids books cbbc cebbies Citv horid henny the large famiily Justin house pop shop Tracy beaker The Simpsons Motfird lizze Magie Sleep over clubFun house Wimpy kids Pressed diaries Cheaper by dozen Lots lots Of kids stuff Happy times Tuck shop Sweets
Hello - 30-Aug-14 @ 2:32 PM
I have a case going through the courts and the judge has said that as I am an intelligent woman, my learning disibilities (dislexia/dispraxia) would not have prevented me from presenting my claim in time. I have until 2/04/12 to put in my appeal against her and need to know if this is direct discrimination or disability-direct discrimination and also how to describe it - discrimination or stereotyping or bias. I desperately need someone to tell me how to word this and also what type of discrimination this is thank you - would love to have asked the author of the article for his opinion on this!
whyme - 23-Mar-12 @ 5:55 PM
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