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10 Things to NOT Say to Someone with a Learning Disability

Living with a learning disability doesn't only have difficulties in the classroom. Depending on the disability, others may have issues in the workplace, with dating, and general social life. You may have a few friends who struggle with learning disabilities, and just like physical disabilities, there are some comments that are simply off-limits.

1. "You don't look/act like you have___."

Most people know, or should know, that not all disabilities are visible. You cannot see a learning disability, but that does not mean it doesn't exist! Comments like this make it hard for a learning disability to be validated. Avoid comments about someone's appearance and their disability altogether. These disabilities are more common than you probably think.

2. "What don't you understand?!"

As someone with ADHD, I've gotten this comment plenty of times if someone is trying to explain a foreign concept to me. This comment is pretty insensitive (unless the person is genuinely asking you to tell them what part you don't get). Often times, it just takes people with learning disabilities a little extra time to comprehend, not a screaming explanation.

Disclaimer: ADHD is not a learning disability, however learning disabilities are documented in 70% of children diagnosed with ADHD. Children with ADHD but no learning disability had a degree of an attention problem. Attention difficulties and learning disabilities usually coexist.

3. "It's just an excuse to get extra time on tests."

Extra time on tests or testing in a separate room is an accommodation, NOT a privilege of having a learning disability. Needing extra time can be embarrassing to have, but it is something that helps people make sure they are getting enough time to process.

4. "Never mind, you wouldn't get it anyway."

This comment usually comes after asking someone to restate or explain something. This one is, in my opinion, one of the worst ones to hear. Just because someone didn't comprehend or retain a bit of information the first time doesn't mean they won't understand! This comment makes people with learning disabilities feel excluded and frustrated. All they ask is that you explain again without oversimplifying it.

5. "But your grades are fine."

There's often not any intentional harm with this comment, but it can come off as invalidating. Just because someone with a learning disability does well or even excellent in school, doesn't mean they don't struggle. It just means they are working really hard to overcome internal struggles. Instead, try changing this into a compliment. A simple "you make great grades despite it being hard for you, good job!" could help validate and praise the person.

6. "At least you can get away with not listening!"

The inattentive aspect of learning disabilities is not something we are happy about, so it is not an excuse for us. Personally, I get super embarrassed if I miss something either by not hearing or by not processing it the first time. Know that we are trying to pay attention and comprehend.

7. "Oh, that's your (disability) acting up."

I know many people with learning disabilities who do not share it with others because they are SICK of this comment. If someone opens up to you about their disability, please do not use it to justify an action or mistake that they do. Not every accident that we make is due to the disability, and assuming so is frustrating and hurtful.

8. "You're medicated, so you should be fine now."

I was unmedicated until very recently. People who knew me before and after being medicated say that my personality has changed. A lot of people do not feel that they need to be medicated, or just simply don't want to. I was one of these people! If you know someone who is medicated for their learning disability, know that it is not a "cure." Medication can help some people focus, but it won't eradicate the issue. Never assume someone is "fine" or "better" after choosing to receive treatment options!

9. "Just try/study harder!"

People with learning disabilities do try hard, if not harder, than their peers without learning disabilities. This comment is extremely insensitive to those who have a harder time learning. Studying more could help, but this isn't a solution for everything. The brains of people with learning disabilities are simply wired a bit different. What works for one person may not work for the next.

10. "Your disability isn't as bad as other's."

Comparing the severity of disabilities is never acceptable. This invalidates people, mostly targeting people with invisible disabilities. Just because you can't observe someone's disability doesn't lower the severity.

Instead of invalidating and judging folks with learning disorders, simply understand what they are going through. Their disability isn't something that should be constantly discussed unless they offer to talk about it. Remember that not everyone shares their disability with others so do not tell other people about someone else's disabilities.

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