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What’s the Difference between Learning Disabilities and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities?

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — January 14, 2021 — 4 min read
Many people assume that intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDDs) are the same as learning disabilities (LDs)—but that’s not the case. While both IDDs and LDs can impact a child or adult’s ability to learn and develop new skills, there are differences between the two. This article covers those differences and explains what to look for if you think your child has a learning disability.

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

If someone has an IDD, it means that they have one or more conditions that affect their development. Specifically, IDDs impact their physical, mental, or emotional development (sometimes more than one). Children and adults with IDDs are often born with their disability or it develops shortly after birth.

According to the National Institutes of Health, those with an IDD can experience delays in several different body systems. Some types of IDDs include: Every child with an IDD is different—some may find schoolwork to be easier than a child without an IDD, while others may find it more difficult. Many children with an IDD will take special education classes so that they can get the physical, mental, or emotional support they need. However, a child doesn’t necessarily have an intellectual or developmental disability because they’re enrolled in special education.

*Note: A child must be diagnosed with an IDD when they are developing. Or, if the person is evaluated and diagnosed later in life, there must be evidence that they had the disability when they were still developing.

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Learning Disabilities (Also Called Learning Disorders)

If someone has a learning disability (LD), it means that they have difficulty in one or more areas of learning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are different kinds of learning disabilities, but the three main types are:
  • Dyslexia. A child with dyslexia has trouble reading.
  • Dyscalculia. A child with dyscalculia has trouble learning and performing math.
  • Dysgraphia. A child with dysgraphia has trouble writing.
Another type of learning disorders is called Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD), also known as Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD). Children with NVLD may struggle with:
  • Organization and planning
  • Recalling visual information
  • Peer relationships
  • Essay writing
  • Reading comprehension
  • Math skills
Children with NLVD have trouble understanding communication that is not verbal.

Can My Child Have Both a Learning Disability and an Intellectual or Developmental Disability?

By contrast to children with IDDs, children with LDs typically do not have delays in overall cognitive (intellectual), physical, and emotional development.

However, some children with an IDD may have a co-occurring learning disability (meaning they have been diagnosed with both an IDD and an LD). For example, a child diagnosed with autism—who does not have overall intellectual delays—could have a math learning disability.

How to Tell if My Child Has a Learning Disability

There are lots of reasons your child may have trouble in school. If your child is not performing well in their classes, they don’t automatically have a learning disability. Some children naturally do well with some subjects while struggling in others.

Your child’s environment and recent life events may also influence their grades. Are they misbehaving with their friend group? Or could they have experienced abuse, bullying, or some other form of trauma? Negative factors like these may make it more difficult for them to focus in their classes.

If you have ruled out the above and your child is still falling behind, it may be time to have them evaluated for a learning disability.

According to the CDC, some symptoms of learning disabilities include:
  • Difficulty telling right from left
  • Reversing letters, words, or numbers, after first or second grade
  • Difficulties recognizing patterns or sorting items by size or shape
  • Difficulty understanding and following instructions or staying organized
  • Difficulty remembering what was just said or what was just read
  • Lacking coordination when moving around
  • Difficulty doing tasks with the hands, like writing, cutting with scissors, or drawing
  • Difficulty understanding the concept of time
You can start by taking your child to their pediatrician. From there, the doctor will refer you to the right resources.

Medicaid and Learning Disabilities

It’s important to note that while intellectual and developmental disabilities are covered by Medicaid for eligible members, learning disabilities are not covered by Medicaid.

There are several State-funded options for children with learning disabilities, including special education and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Learning disabilities are often addressed by the education system. Start by talking to your child’s teacher to find out how your child may be assessed.

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