Learning disability and learning difficulty are very similar terms, with very different meanings.

I’ve tried to describe them both here, so that you don’t need to keep flitting between two pages. I hope this doesn’t add to the confusion!

A learning disability (LD) is defined by Mencap as a “reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities…which affects someone for their whole life”.  If IQ is tested, a score of lower than 70 is used to define that person as having a learning disability, but then IQ tests are not an unbiased form of testing, so hopefully this wouldn’t be the only criterion.

The most common genetic learning disabilities are Down’s Syndrome and Fragile X Syndrome. To, reiterate, both are likely to involve a degree of intellectual disability (less so for females with Fragile X).

Some autistic people have learning disabilities alongside their autism, and these are then what is described as co-occurring conditions. Autism is NOT a learning disability. Mencap states that around half of autistic people also have some degree of learning disability. No one agrees on these statistics of course, and other’s say as little as 15%. Somewhere between 15 to 30% seems to be the popular consensus, though not all of these are severe.

The term learning disability is frequently confused with the term learning difficulty. Many autistic people do have at least one learning difficulty. Someone with learning difficulties does not have impaired intelligence, unless they also have a learning disability.

Examples of learning difficulties include dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia – all commonly co-occurring conditions for autistic people. These make learning particular skills, such as reading, writing and maths more difficult and require and deserve methods of teaching that cater for those needs.

I feel like this is as clear as mud, after my explanation, and even disability charities can’t agree on a definition (surprise, surprise). So, here’s a really beautiful explanation from The Autistic Advocate, Kieran Rose, What are Learning Disabilities?

And here’s the link to Mencap’s definitions of learning disabilities and learning difficulties – What is a learning disability?