Kids with learning difficulties are often labeled as having a learning disability. What if we looked at them instead as having a learning difference?

dyslexia learning disability or learning difference

Early on in our days of homeschooling, my creative, entrepreneurial, and dyslexic husband bought a boat, we moved on board with four children, and set sail for three years of travel and adventure. I often joke that my husband descended from Vikings and I do believe that that’s true! Not only does he love adventure, but he’s passed this passion on to our kids as well!

While we were traveling the high seas, we rented our house out to a young family with kids who were about our kids’ ages. Their oldest daughter went to the public school in our neighborhood. Interestingly, it turned out that their daughter had dyslexia although nobody knew it at the time. She was in 3rd grade.

What happened to that sweet 8-year-old at that elementary school is nothing short of bullying. Her teacher regularly mocked her and intentionally embarrassed her in front of the class for her inability to read, misjudging her inability as laziness or a lack of effort.

It’s not that this teacher was a horrible person. Her reaction to this bright but struggling 8-year-old was influenced by her lack of knowledge and appreciation for learning differences.

I later learned that this experience is not uncommon.

Dyslexia: A Learning Disability or a Learning Difference?

The truth is that even with a good understanding of what language-based learning difficulties like dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia are, our educational system still looks at these bright but struggling students from a deficit point of view. 

What I mean by this is that because our kids are unlike 80% of other children their ages, the focus has been on ‘fixing’ them or getting them to be more like the 80% of traditional learners in the classroom.

This is where the ideas of being behind and catching up come from. 

What if we turned this thinking around? What if instead of focusing on fixing kids who are struggling with the traditional teaching methods and time tables, we changed the way we teach them to better meet their actual needs.

Picture this school day example.

After a good night’s sleep and some time playing outside, you bring your 3rd grader in for school.

You pull out your Orton-Gillingham-based reading curriculum and your reading planner. You remember that in your last lesson, she was struggling to remember that the letter ‘y’ on the end of a short word says /eye/ so you spend a few minutes reviewing that rule by building words with letter tiles and practicing writing the words in a salt tray. 

You work on the rest of your lesson and see that she is becoming distracted and struggling. You switch gears, pull out a review game, and end the lesson before she gets overwhelmed.

An avid animal lover, your daughter runs outside to play with her rabbit. While she’s outside you grab your stack of library books on animals, rabbits, and a day in the life of a veterinarian and strew them around the living room.

When your daughter comes inside she curls up on the couch and flips through the books, attempting to read the pages that interest her. No pressure. No rules. 

You finish working on reading with her little brother and and pull out a few games to play together. You spend the next 30 minutes playing a few games that teach math, basic reading, following directions, and sportsmanship, not to mention having fun together and building your relationship with your kids. 

After a simple lunch, you sit on the couch to listen to the latest audio book together. One kid pulls out art supplies and draws while listening, the other is building (not so quietly, but oh well) with Legos as they listen. 

This fictional tale teaches the kids concepts of grammar, rich vocabulary, geography, history, and character lessons.

You ask each child to tell you about their favorite part of the story. Your youngest is fascinated with the time period of the book and you make a mental note to find some educational shows and library books on the subject to fuel that interest.

Accommodating Learning Differences

On another day, you may do more reading, do a lesson in your math curriculum, or go to a co-op or class or sports practice.

But the tone of the day is on learning together. On building relationships. On pursuing interests.

Learning is a by-product of your lifestyle.

This is an example of a quote from my most recent book that I often share:

“For our children who struggle inside the box of traditional education, we have no other choice than to rethink education. Either we will continue pounding our square pegs into round holes until they break, or we will look for a system of learning that accommodate square pegs.

Marianne Sunderland, No More School: Meeting the Educational Needs of Kids with Dyslexia and Other Language-Based Learning Differences

Or more simply stated, “Kids who learn differently need to be taught differently.”

Read more about how dyslexia is less of a learning disability and more of a teaching disability.

Can this unique, individualized way of teaching possibly be enough?

After homeschooling for 27 years, I say ‘YES!’

Building relationships, individualizing learning, encouraging interests, enjoying your time together – this builds the foundation that kids need to learn and grow.

Honestly, when I started homeschooling this way, I had no idea what the end result would be. I was worried that what I was doing wasn’t enough.

As one by one my kids graduated form high school and set out into the adult world, I saw over and over again how the foundation of their learning – self-paced, individualized, with plenty of accommodations and modifications – set them up for success.

Once they found their path and what they wanted to do with their lives, they had the confidence, support, and skills to find success – a success they were uniquely created to fulfill.

If this post resonated with you, leave a comment below or better yet, share it with your friends and let’s get the conversation going.