The three R’s– and one ‘L’

We memorize the alphabet, the multiplication tables, and other skills early on.  But for some, rote memorization and repetition of the “three R’s” (“reading, writing & ‘rithmetic”) does not result in “L”- learning.  For most of us there’s no question at the college level of our ability to read, spell, and express our ideas in writing.  Most of us find it’s not taht dficuflit to raed eevn hwen ltertes wihitn wrods are mexid up.  But for some people, the brain processes spoken language, written words, and/or numbers in  different areas of the brain.  My partner, for instance, has no trouble interpreting this:

F(s) = \mathcal{L} \left\{f(t)\right\}(s)=\int_0^{\infty} e^{-st} f(t) \,dt.

Laplace transform

or this:

Speaker schematic,

Speaker schematic,

But a page of text appears like this in terms of comprehensibility:

From Reading by the Colors by Helen Irwen









Like many people with learning disabilities, my partner tires quickly when he reads.  He transposes digits and letters when he writes.  His handwriting is inconsistent and sometimes illegible– but designing and building, visualizing and thinking creatively, are very easy.  He was not diagnosed until a year ago, at age 28. He went through testing that showed he has an IQ in the 99th percentile– and ADD as well as learning disabilities in reading, writing, and arithmetic.  This explained why he could do calculus and computer programming at age 14, but still does the times tables on his hand; why his composition and speech are descriptive, fluid, and well-organized, but he spells many words wrong, often in a different way each time.

People with LD’s have great gifts: they see things differently, think “outside the box”, and with support, can find ways to flourish in an educational system that is rarely geared toward their needs.  In too many cases, however, they drop out of school out of frustration and poor self-esteem.  In childhood, parents and teachers may each assume the other would observe and share any concerns about the child’s learning– meaning a student may make it to college undiagnosed, and be adept at working around his or her difficulties. They may be embarrassed about and hide any struggles they have in school.  Diagnosis may never happen– or be necessary for some.  For others like my partner, they eventually hit an obstacle that they can’t circumnavigate.  His department is the only one in the College of Engineering to require an 8-hour written qualifying exam for PhD candidacy– a test my partner didn’t pass.

This was probably the most valuable failure of his life, as it led to his LD testing and subsequently to a better understanding of himself.  Unfortunately, many individuals with ‘invisible’ disabilities still find themselves suffering due to others’ ignorance. They may be put in the role of teacher rather than student, trying to explain their needs to professors who lack education in how “intelligence” and “learning” may manifest.


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4 Responses to The three R’s– and one ‘L’

  1. Phil

    I find the term “Learning disability” to be a bit of an oxymoron. It may hinder one’s ability to learn certain topics or skills, but a single LD cannot stop a person for learning entirely. The wonderful thing about us humans, is we adapt. We know our faults and our strengths and we play toward the latter in the hopes we’re not held back. Most of us succeed, but a learning disability is not the major cause for failure.

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