“He’s not smart enough to be learning disabled.”

I’d be willing to bet that the average person who has a college degree outside of the field of education has a mistaken understanding of what “learning disability” means.  Check this out with your friends who are not teachers.  My hunch is that most of those folks, well-educated though they are, confuse “learning disabled” with “intellectually disabled.”  They think that the term LD refers to the kids with low cognitive ability who are served in the Life Skills room. 

I know I was one of those people.  When I began working with school districts I knew nothing of disability categories or educational jargon.  I had a moment of enlightenment in a phone conversation with a director of special education who sought my advice about a 6th grade student who was not doing well in school.  The director explained that the boy seemed to be a student who needed special help, but he did not qualify under any of the special education categories. 

I asked “Is he learning disabled?”  I knew the term—I just didn’t know what it meant.

“Oh no,” she said.  “He’s not smart enough to be learning disabled.” 

What?!?!  How smart do you have to be, I wondered.  Would I be smart enough? 

Later, after studying the legal definition of SLD (Specific Learning Disability) I figured out what she meant.  To have a learning disability the student must have “adequate” intelligence.  Thus there is a distinction between those with an intellectual or cognitive disability, and those with a learning disability. The LD student has enough intellectual firepower to perform at or above grade level,  but for some other reason is not doing so. Thus there are students who are “not smart enough to be LD.”

But that’s a harsh way to put it and I asked the director if that was how she explained it to parents. “Oh no,” she said.  “I just tell them ‘his bucket isn’t big enough.’”  The director was from Behind the Pine Cone Curtain, and so she added “bless his heart.“


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!