Join The Parade, New South Wales - Ph:+61-2-1234-5678

What people say about 'Learning Difficulties'...

The term 'Learning Difficulties' most often refers to difficulties in learning to read and write, but is also applied in other areas of learning, especially including mathematics, engineering and the arts.

Ask anyone in the street, and more than ninety percent of them will tell you that people with 'Learning Difficulties' such as Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Dyslexia suffer a disability.1)

Ask any group of educators/ youth workers and they should be able to tell you that 'Reading failure is the single most significant factor in those forms of delinquency which can be described as anti-socially aggressive'. 2)

Ask many of the, often very bright, people affected by these same 'Learning Disabilities' and many of them will offer a surprisingly different assessment of their own 'disabilities' and treatment compared to the perceptions and attitudes held by most teachers, youth workers, parents and the population at large.

This page includes a collection of authoritative evidence and the opinions and advice of some smart people with learning disabilities, based on their own personal experiences…

What people with 'Learning & Support Needs' have to say...

What affected people say about how their own 'Learning and support needs' were recognised and delivered in school and how that helped prepare them for later success in life…

Guess what forty percent of self-made millionaires have in common?:

  1. Had rich parents.
  2. Did well at school.
  3. Had a university degree.
  4. Had higher than average IQ.
  5. Had a positive mental attitude.
  6. Had a diagnosed 'learning disability'.

…watch the next video to find out!

  • Video: A Dyslexic sperm bank - Kate Griggs

The positive

The evidence is in, and it supports the view that individuals who present as being Dyslexic are better differentiated by their neurological advantages than by their relative reading abilities and/or in-school 'Learning and support' needs. 3)

  • There’s a popular, global misconception that autistic people are either anti-social tech geniuses or Rain Man-like savants. These perceptions are incorrect but research is increasingly showing that people diagnosed as dyslexic and low-functioning autistic might be smarter than most neurotypical people in surprising ways. 4)
  • Despite reading difficulty being most commonly associated with Dyslexia, and more than ninety five percent of people perceive Dyslexia to be a disability, studies show that adult dyslexics are consistently and massively over-represented in such diverse areas as design, science and finance. For example; “Fourty percent of self-made millionaires are dyslexic 5)
  • International studies show that a hugely disproportionate number of the world's most highly successful entrepreneurs have dyslexia. In the USA, 35 percent of the entrepreneurs studied had dyslexia - see detailed UK study. 6)
  • Dyslexics are also over-represented amongst may other groups. For example; 'School work did not go well for young Albert. His poor facility with arithmetic, his lack of special ability in any other academic subject, and his great difficulty with foreign language led his teacher to predict that “nothing good” would come of the boy.' (Sullivan 1972). 7)
  • 'Australian surveys indicated that 10 to 16 percent of students are perceived by their teachers to have learning difficulties and have support needs that go beyond those normally addressed by classroom teachers. 8) 9) 10) 11)

The Negative

  • Many children with dyslexia go unrecognized because they otherwise seem quite normal. Many are simply labeled slow or lazy or uncooperative. The National Institutes of Health (USA) say 70 percent of juvenile delinquents have dyslexia. 12)
  • There is a high correlation between juvenile delinquency, incarceration, welfare, and Dyslexia or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
  • Studies in the Australia, UK and USA have found that sixty to seventy percent of incarcerated individuals are dyslexic/ADD.
  • Australian studies 13) 14) have hi-lighted how 'delinquency problems' are closely associated with language disorders
  • More than ninety percent of juvenile delinquents (USA) have clinically provable learning disabilities 15)
  • “Reading failure is the single most significant factor in those forms of delinquency which can be described as anti-socially aggressive.” 16)

How bad is that?

Many famous people who have been diagnosed with 'learning disabilities' perceive these same disabilities in ways that would shock most educators? Do you know why?

  • Treating a correlation as a cause does NOT produce an improved outcome.
  • Dyslexia is not simply the result of problems at school, but school failure certainly makes life more difficult 17)
  • Unfortunately, the behavioral and social aspects of perception and language problems are often not considered until they become so pronounced they are extremely difficult to address.
  • Educators cannot ignore the overwhelming public perception that dyslexia is a 'disability' or 'disorder', often associated with aggressive anti-social behaviour.
  • These social perceptions often cause more difficulty for the dyslexic/ADD individual in the adult world or on the work force than the academic or learning side of their problems.
  • Most surprisingly, if you listen to the people most affected by their own learning 'disabilities' you may find they perceive these same 'disabilities' as 'gifts' and the research provides strong evidence that such a view is well justified 18) 19)

Research shows that many autistic people simply 'think different', not 'think worse'.

This isn’t to suggest that the parents of severely autistic children - some of whom are prone to tantrums and violence - don’t face real challenges. There’s only so far someone who can’t speak can go with pattern recognition, creativity, and detail orientation. 20)

But this and other research might signal that it’s time to rethink the way educators help young autistic children prepare for the broader world. Early childhood interventions should focus on harnessing strengths, Mottron says, rather than erasing the differences between autistic children and neurotypical kids. 21)

Are things getting better?

Minister for Education says Australian school performance in absolute decline:

“Basically what's happening there is everything's sliding backwards if you like — our strong kids aren't as strong as they were and our weak kids are actually weaker than they were.” 22)

Some people are saying that Dyslexia is not a learning disability, but it is a teaching disability. 23)

What you may have heard about learning disabilities

What people who study characteristics of adult dyslexia say

Dyslexia Behavior, Health, and Personality: 24)

  • May have a short fuse or is easily frustrated, angered, or annoyed.
  • Easily stressed and overwhelmed in certain situations.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Self-conscious when speaking in a group.
  • May have difficulty getting thoughts out – pause frequently, speak in halting phrases, or leave sentences incomplete. This may worsen with stress or distraction.
  • Sticks to what they know – fear of new tasks or any situation where they are out of comfort zone.
  • Extremely disorderly or compulsively orderly.
  • Confusion, stress, physical health issues, time pressure, and fatigue will significantly increase symptoms. Source: 25)

What you may not have heard

  • Video: Dyslexic (dis)advantage - What you may (& not) have heard about Dyslexia


  • Video: A conventional view - Overcoming Dyslexia - Sir Richard Branson

  • Video: What I Wish I Knew When I Was Younger - Derek Muller

Learned helplessness is behaviour exhibited by a subject after enduring repeated aversive stimuli beyond their control. 26)

In humans, irrespective of education, intelligence or wealth, opportunities for success are often related to concepts of self-esteem and self-efficacy - the individual's belief in their innate ability to achieve goals. Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses are often results of a real or perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.

It was initially thought to be caused from the subject's acceptance of their powerlessness: discontinuing attempts to escape or avoid the aversive stimulus, even when such alternatives are unambiguously presented. Upon exhibiting such behavior, the subject was said to have acquired learned helplessness.

Over the past few decades, neuroscience has provided insight into learned helplessness and shown that the original theory actually had it backwards: the brain's default state is to assume that control is not present, and the presence of “helpfulness” is what is actually learned. 27)

* Video: Alternative view -'Remediating' a disability versus nurturing a gift!

  • Video: An alternative view of Dyslexia - Part1

  • Video: How can you describe something that other people can't see? - Tommy Edison

  • Video: Sound navigator - How skilled listeners listen - Dean Hudson

  • Video: Steven Spielberg talks about his problems at school

  • Video: A contemporary view - Disability versus gifted

  • Video: ADHD sucks, but not really - Salif Mahamane

  • Video: From Special Ed to Harvard, multinational corporation, China, and more.

  • Video: Dyslexia and privilege - Samantha Coppola

So, how can we help?

As a result of what we have learnt from parents educators and evidence, our initial focus on 'learning difficulties' has moved significantly towards 'learning and support'

The reason is that learning difficulties, although of core importance, are no longer our sole and primary focus.

1. Assisting students with learning difficulties was the reason the resource centre was established.

2. Assisting students experiencing issues with behaviour, well-being, resilience, anxiety, social skills etc are now as equally important. Our stats show that these topics are top-of-mind for our visitors, as evidenced in your searches and loans.

So, as more and better research-driven resources come to hand, this has allowed our emphasis to shift - initially from 'learning difficulties', to 'learning assistance' and now 'additional learning and support needs'.

There is growing and overwhelming evidence from authoritative sources that there are advantages having a learning disability as well as disadvantages. The benefits in emphasising and promoting (about flipping a 'disadvantage' around to become a positive) are both evidence-based and self-evident, and we hope you can see now why we tried to ensure that the heading flavour of our newsletter 'teaser' reflects that.

The thinking was that an emphasis on 'learning difficulties' should work hand-in-hand with our mission in 'Assisting students experiencing issues with behaviour, well-being, resilience, anxiety, social skills'.

This is a revised draft of the initial mail-out, designed to more explicitly align with the additional learning and support needs identified in item 2 (above)


In a recent large-scale survey of teachers, 93% said they were interested in scientific knowledge about the brain and its influence on learning. Further, 90% of the teachers thought that this knowledge was very valuable for their teaching practice. To find out more, try our 2 minute quiz...

QUIZ: Try a 2 minute on-line NEUROSCIENCE QUIZ about common teaching topics.

This quiz may be completed one or more times. Getting the 'correct' answers is unimportant - It is only a teaching aid to help strengthen understanding.

Conventional educational philosophy re-enforces the negative.

According to Learning Difficulties Australia: 'The term 'Learning Difficulties' most often refers to difficulties in learning to read and write, but is also applied in other areas of learning, including mathematics. Learning difficulties can be caused by internal factors (inherent, medical, physical, neurological), AND/OR, external factors, (family, communities, opportunities, experiences). Internal factors are intrinsic to the individual, can cause a person to learn differently, are usually life-long, and are usually considered a learning disability – also referred to as a specific or significant learning difficulty (in Australia and the UK), or learning disability (in the US and Canada). Dyslexia is generally considered to be a learning disability, or specific learning difficulty.'

'Australian surveys have indicated that 10 to 16 per cent of students are perceived by their teachers to have learning difficulties and have support needs, particularly in literacy, that go beyond those normally addressed by classroom teachers. These rates are similar to those reported in the UK and USA'. - Disabilities and Dyslexia in Australia

Are current 'evidence-based' strategies working in Australian schools?

'There is now sufficient evidence to suggest that conventional learning and support strategies do not work and that urgent change is needed. If school is to be an environment in which all students can engage productively in a range of learning activities, educators need to listen and learn from what affected students say about their own educational journey'.

'Recognising that schools are also an important protective factor in the lives of students who experience learning difficulties, often associated with problem behaviour, educators must review their approaches and adopt evidence-based strategies that maximise outcomes for all students'.

Time for a change in perspective?

  • Video: Conventional view - Autistic reporter says train thankfully unharmed in crash.

What does the evidence say?

There have been more advances in neurological research and understanding in the last twenty years than all of history until that time.

The research is telling us that instead of re-educating children who do not fit the current model of what is 'normal', it's time to re-educate those who perpetuate the old model.

Changing the focus from 'disabilities' in favour of 'gifts' is not a bad place to start.

  • Video: How you can be good at math, and other surprising facts about learning | Jo Boaler

How can Neuroscience research inform learning strategies?:

  • Finger perception in Grade 1 is a better predictor of maths achievement in grade 2 than test scores and predicts high school calculation scores.

'Staying current' - Does it help?

  • 93% of teachers say they value scientific knowledge about the brain and its influence on learning.
  • 90% of the teachers say this knowledge is very valuable for their teaching practice.
  • 49% of the 'neuromyths' held by teacher relate to commercialized educational programs.
  • Teachers with more general knowledge had significantly more belief in false 'neuromyths'.

Richard Branson considers dyslexia his greatest business advantage along with many other business leaders with diagnosed dyslexia.

  1. A Dyslexic Sperm Bank 'Forty percent of self-made millionaires are dyslexic'
  2. The gift of dyslexia 'Dyslexics are ten times over-represented amongst entrepreneurs'
  3. The True Gifts of a Dyslexic Mind (History + Neuroscience) 'Seventy percent of all juvenile delinquents have dyslexia'
  4. Lessons from 83,000 brain scans 'Psychiatrists are the only medical specialists who rarely, if ever, look at the organ they treat.'

What lots of people have to say about their own, wide-ranging 'disabilities'

VISION - Disadvantage?

Watch a video about how vision impaired people 'see'…

Vision Quotes

  • Stevie Wonder “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.”

Speech / Language

Nicole Kidman: This Oscar award-winning actress is known for her performances in Dead Calm, The Hours, To Die For, Batman Forever, and Rabbit Hole. She suffered from stuttering as a child and ultimately overcame her stammer through years of hard work and speech therapy.

Bruce Willis: Bruce Willis has starred in more than 60 movies, including the with Die Hard series. Other popular films include Pulp Fiction, Armageddon, and The Sixth Sense. The four-time-Oscar-nominated star said he had trouble expressing himself and communicating with people and it took 20 years for him to overcome his stutter. Bruce has talked about his speech disorder on multiple occasions. According to him, his speech impediment was so bad that it would take him three minutes to complete a single sentence.

Winston Churchill: He served as the British prime minister from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 until 1955. A noted statesman and orator, Churchill was also an officer in the British Army and an author. He often spoke of having a speech impediment, which he consistently worked to overcome. There are many sources that claim that in addition to stuttering, Churchill suffered from a lisp and the condition known as 'cluttering'.

Michael Phelps: Michael Phelps, one of the greatest Olympians of all time with a record 22 medals (18 of them gold!), was often teased about his speech impediment as a child. “When I talked fast, I’d drop my Ls and add Ss to words, and if I tried to tell people I didn’t have a lisp, I’d usually lisp the word lisp,” Phelps wrote in his book Michael Phelps: Beneath the Surface. That helped motivate him to push his personal limits.

Julia Roberts: Julia Robert's amazing acting skills didn't come naturally. The $140 Million net worth actress suffered from an extreme stutter. Her speech impediment forced her to stay indoors and away from the public. She was able to cure her stutter with the help of vocal exercises. Her brother, Eric Roberts, suffered from the same speech disorder.


  • “People who stutter have the unique opportunity to teach the world to listen.” - King George VI

DYSLEXIA - Disdvantage?

Difficulties with reading or spelling. Dyslexia is thought to have two types of cause, one related to language processing and another to visual processing. It is considered a cognitive disorder, not a problem with intelligence. 28)

How 20% of people (individuals with dyslexia) share a unique learning difference that can create advantages in the classroom, on the job, or at home.

Scientific research shows that dyslexic children and adults process information differently from non-dyslexics and some of these changes may account for strengths in creative problem solving, entrepreneurial thinking, and certain types of learning and memory. An understanding of the advantage side of dyslexia is important for children to discover how they learn and remember best as well as for adults to find careers and work environments that allow them to work to their highest abilities. 29)

Douglas Merrill, who was the Chief Information Officer at Google for several years and a tremendously impressive person. He said, “If I close my eyes right now I couldn't tell you which direction my door is.” But he was very strong in all of the other mind strengths we describe.

Wired: If I was the parent of a dyslexic child, what advice would you give to me?

Brock: One of the most important things is to remember to focus on identifying and building strengths. Too often all the focus is on “fixing what's wrong” rather than celebrating and nurturing what's right, and that's a big mistake. 30)

Dyslexia Quotes:

  • “when someone says to you, ‘Johnny’s got dyslexia’, shake the child’s hand and say: ‘Well done, you lucky, lucky boy’,
  • “I seemed to think in a different way from my classmates. I was very focused on trying to set up a business and create something. My dyslexia guided the way we communicated with customers.” “If you're not good at conventional work at school, you're made to feel stupid.” - Richard Branson
  • “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” - Sir Winston Churchill
  • A teacher sent the following note home with a six-year-old boy: “'He is too stupid to learn.' That boy was Thomas A. Edison.” - Thomas Edison
  • “I was, on the whole, considerably discouraged by my school days. It was not pleasant to feel oneself so completely outclassed and left behind at the beginning of the race.” - Winston Churchill
  • “He told me that his teachers reported that . . . he was mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in his foolish dreams.” - Hans Albert Einstein (Albert Einstein’s father)
  • “The biggest problem with dyslexic kids is not the perceptual problem, it is their perception of themselves. That was my biggest problem. ”- Bruce Jenner

DYSPRAXIA - Disadvantage?

Dyspraxia affects planning of movements and co-ordination as a result of brain messages not being accurately transmitted to the body. Impairments in skilled motor movements per a child's chronological age interfere with activities of daily living.

In addition to the physical impairments, developmental coordination disorder is associated with problems with memory, especially working memory.[16] This typically results in difficulty remembering instructions, difficulty organizing one's time and remembering deadlines, increased propensity to lose things or problems carrying out tasks which require remembering several steps in sequence (such as cooking). Whilst most of the general population experience these problems to some extent, they have a much more significant impact on the lives of dyspraxic people. However, many dyspraxics have excellent long-term memories, despite poor short-term memory.

Many dyspraxics benefit from working in a structured environment, as repeating the same routine minimises difficulty with time-management and allows them to commit procedures to long-term memory.

People with developmental coordination disorder sometimes have difficulty moderating the amount of sensory information that their body is constantly sending them, so as a result dyspraxics are prone to sensory overload and panic attacks.

Moderate to extreme difficulty doing physical tasks is experienced by some dyspraxics, and fatigue is common because so much energy is expended trying to execute physical movements correctly. Some dyspraxics suffer from hypotonia, low muscle tone, which like DCD can detrimentally affect balance. 31)

Dyspraxia Quotes

Dyspraxia often presents as a great sense of humour, as a result of a different way of thinking and overacting minds. Dyspraxia is an advantage for those who can learn to discover interesting and intriguing ways to understand, resolve and enjoy apparent contradictions and unusual problems.

  • Daniel Radcliffe “Do not let it stop you. It has never held me back and some of the smartest people I know are people who have learning disabilities. The fact that some things are more of a struggle will only make you more determined, harder working and more imaginative in the solutions you find to problems.”
  • Cara Delevingne - At nine, she was told she had the reading ability of a sixteen-year-old. (Later, at sixteen, she was told she had the reading ability of a nine-year-old.) She suffered from dyspraxia, a problem with coordinating her thoughts and movements. Writing was always hard, exams a nightmare.
  • “When I was in elementary school I was considered a poor speller and somebody who couldn’t sound out words, so I was taken into remedial classes,” ”I remember having a tutor come down and take me out of class and bring me to a different room. It certainly felt like I wasn’t as good as the other kids.” “I found ways to overcome any difficulties that I had. I would memorize words and how they were spelled rather than try to sound them out. So, I feel as though that taught me that if I want to do something, I just put blinders on and I go forward and I do it. Some of the ways that I overcame my struggles in school helped me later on to be able to focus.” - Dr Carol Greider


An inability to write neatly or draw. Dysgraphia is a deficiency in the ability to write, primarily handwriting, but also coherence.[1] Dysgraphia is a transcription disability, meaning that it is a writing disorder associated with impaired handwriting, orthographic coding, and finger sequencing (the movement of muscles required to write) 32)

Dysgraphia Quotes

  • “Writing is a great comfort to people like me who are unsure of themselves and have trouble expressing themselves properly.” - Agatha Christie
  • “I, myself, was always recognized . . . as the “slow one” in the family. It was quite true, and I knew it and accepted it. Writing and spelling were always terribly difficult for me. My letters were without originality. I was . . . an extraordinarily bad speller and have remained so until this day.” - Agatha Christie


Dyscalculia is difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic, such as difficulty in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, performing mathematical calculations and learning facts in mathematics. It is generally seen as the mathematical equivalent to dyslexia. 33)

Dyscalculia Quotes

  • “Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.” “It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.” - Albert Einstein
  • Like many math-gifted dyslexics, Norbert Wiener was not particularly strong with basic arithmetic as a child. “My chief deficiency was arithmetic. Here my understanding was far beyond my manipulation, which was definitely poor. My father saw quite correctly that one of my chief difficulties was that manipulative drill bored me. He decided to take me out of school and put me on algebra instead of arithmetic, with the purpose of offering a greater challenge and stimulus to my imagination.” - Norbert Wiener

Attention Deficit (ADHD)

It is characterized by difficulty paying attention, excessive activity, and behavior without regards to consequences which is not appropriate for a person's age.[1][2] There are also often problems with regulation of emotions. The symptoms appear before a person is twelve years old, are present for more than six months, and cause problems in at least two settings (such as school, home, or recreational activities). In children, problems paying attention may result in poor school performance 34)

Many people with ADHD can have sustained attention for tasks they find interesting or rewarding (known as hyperfocus).

ADHD Quotes

  • ”Everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.” - John Lennon


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often presents as a problem with social communication and interaction; and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities. 35)

Autism's Hidden Gifts - There’s a popular misconception that autistic people are either anti-social tech geniuses or Rain Man-like savants. But research is increasingly showing that even “low-functioning” autistic people might be smarter than neurotypical people in certain ways. 36)

In the memoir Born on a Blue Day, Daniel Tammet, who has Asperger syndrome, described a childhood filled with social stumbles, but also his delight in mastering 10 different languages. Similarly, some tech geniuses on “the spectrum” might have better luck wooing venture capitalists than romantic partners, yet they still manage to live independently and make it to the bank.

In 2011, Mottron found that people with autism concentrate more of their brain’s resources on visual processing and less on tasks like planning and impulse control. That’s why, as he showed in 2009, that autistic people are up to 40 percent faster at problem-solving.

Research shows that many autistic people simply “think different,” not worse.

This isn’t to suggest that the parents of severely autistic children—some of whom are prone to tantrums and violence—don’t face real challenges. There’s only so far someone who can’t speak can go with pattern recognition, creativity, and detail orientation.

But this and other research might signal that it’s time to rethink the way educators help young autistic children prepare for the broader world. Early childhood interventions should focus on harnessing strengths, Mottron (2011) says, rather than erasing the differences between autistic children and neurotypical kids. 37)

Autism Quotes

  • “I want people like me to see that they shouldn’t let a disability get in the way. I want to raise awareness – I want to turn my disability into ability.“ - Susan Boyle


  • Prince Harry “The experience I have had is that once you start talking about it, you realize that actually you’re part of quite a big club.”

Consequences of a conventional education

One 15 minute presentations followed by several short TV news videos present alternative cultural visions about successful educational outcomes that do not fit comfortably within a conventional education framework.

A 15 minute TED talk: The Toxic Culture of Education - Joshua Katz

Short TV News/Documentary Videos/Commentary:

  1. Fog Alert: - The Gunning Fog Index. estimates the years of formal education a person needs to understand a text on the first reading.
  2. Lecture: & 'Death by Powerpoint' about reading and dyslexia.


Kate Griggs - Dyslexic Pop-up Shop - https://youtu.be/CYM40HN82l4
2) , 14) , 16)
Australian Institute of Criminology - https://aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi531
Dyslexic Entrepreneurs: Incidence; Coping Strategies & Business Skills - https://www.cass.city.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/367383/julielogan-dyslexic-entrepreneurs.pdf
Disabilities & Dyslexia in Australia -https://www.ldaustralia.org/disabilities-and-dyslexia.html
National Institute of Child Health - https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/reading
Association for Children with Learning Disabilities (ACLD) - https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/jj.delinq.read.probs.htm
Dyslexia Research Institute - http://www.dyslexia-add.org/resources.html
With reading difficulties can come other cognitive strength - https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-advantages-of-dyslexia/
Dyslexia is a teaching disability - https://youtu.be/s35Gwz_NbOU
LoGiudice, Karen. (2008) Common Characteristics of Adult Dyslexia - http://www.ne-dyslexia.com/
teaching/learning-difficulties/what-people-say.txt · Last modified: 28/01/2020/ 16:11 (external edit)