The short answer to your question is that it really does matter what words are used to capture the nature of a person’s struggle with learning. And “differences” just doesn’t cut it! And here’s why. No two people are alike in how they learn, and just because one person has a preference for processing information in one manner does not mean that those who do so differently are “disabled.” That said, learning disabilities (LD) are not easily explained. They are “specific” to any number of areas of learning (such as reading, math, and writing), and are often overlapping or co-occurring, meaning that individuals with LD can have significant challenges in more than one area of skill development and performance. Because learning doesn’t take place in a vacuum, social-emotional and behavioral issues often mask or exacerbate the effects of LD. And as individuals are exposed to new information, gain new insights and experience, and build their own menus of strategies to overcome or work around their areas of struggle, the impact of their learning disabilities can change, for better or for worse. Add a person’s overall personality and motivation and other factors like opportunities to expand one’s repertoire of effective accommodations (trying things out and see if they work) to the mix, and it’s clear that LD is not just one thing, is not easily captured in a simple explanation, and does not effect all individuals in the same way. That’s why it is appealing for some to talk about “learning styles” or “differences” in the same breath as learning “disabilities.”
And here’s another important reason to not get stuck in the worry about “stigma” around the LD label. When a student qualifies (through progress monitoring and targeted assessment) for the educational classification of specific learning disabilities, a menu of services and supports is made available. Without this “label,” schools may be limited in the types and intensity of supports offered to address learning challenges.