How do you treat a print disability

Learning disabilities (learning disabilities) in children - causes and opportunities

Learning disabilities and learning disabilities - two terms that have meanwhile become synonymous

The terms “learning disabilities” and “learning disabilities” originated around 1960 in connection with the renaming of the then “auxiliary school” to “school for the learning disabled” and had been established over decades. Since the 1990s, however, they have been increasingly called into question - especially in the course of the integration and current inclusion discussions. Above all, however, the objection is that the term “learning disabled” has a stigmatizing effect on the children and young people concerned and can put a strain on their identity development. Therefore, efforts are being made to use less stigmatized classification terms. For example, the Standing Conference in its “Recommendations on the Funding Focus on Learning” (KMK 1999) replaced the term “learning disabilities” with “learning disabilities” and consistently uses the terms “pupils with learning disabilities” or “learning disabilities”. In the scientific discussion, “learning disabilities” have largely replaced the term “learning disabilities”. B. Basic book “Pedagogy in the case of impairments in learning” (Schroeder 2015). Nevertheless, learning disabilities can also be found as a technical term in more recent scientific publications (e.g. Grünke 2014). The association LERNEN FÖRDERN, which is largely supported by affected parents, is also called the “Federal Association for the Promotion of People with Learning Disabilities”.

In the following I use both terms with the same meaning. If I use “learning disabilities”, the reader can replace them with “learning disabilities” and vice versa. Whichever term one prefers, it is crucial to express oneself with due respect about the people classified with it and their origins and worlds of life and to ensure that they are also conceptually in the social law help (especially the corresponding social codes) with their need for help SGB ​​VIII, SGB IX and SGB XII) are anchored.

What do "learning disabilities" or "learning disabilities" mean?

It is not easy, Learning disability or Learning impairment to be clear in terms of content and differentiated from other terms such as B. To delineate school performance weakness, learning failure, learning disorders. What is called a learning disability in a child does not “catch the eye”, such as B. the mobility impairment in a physically handicapped child or the obvious orientation problems in a blind person. Nevertheless, I would like to offer a few points of orientation for the conceptual clarification of learning disabilities (learning impairment). The first step is to clearly state what they are Not is:

  • Learning disability is, even if the word might suggest, not a “comprehensive disability of a general ability to learn” (Schröder 2005, p. 80); because there is no general ability to learn. Each person develops individually different skills in different learning areas, which are above, within or below average compared to other people. Even a child who is assigned a learning disability can achieve above-average performance in special areas, e.g. in practical matters, in caring for relatives, in sport, but also in the accurate assessment of people or the atmosphere of situations.
  • Furthermore, learning disabilities are not an individual characteristic “which is the cause of learning difficulties - so to speak Behind the poor school performance - or could even be seen as a characteristic of certain children ”(Schröder 2005, p.104). Therefore, it does not make sense to say that “a child fails in general school and is not to be supported there because it has a learning disability” (ibid.).
  • After all, learning disabilities are not simply equated with a lack of intelligence; because the pupils affected by this show a high spread of less than 60 to over 100 IQ points in their intelligence test performances. Some of these students show different levels of intelligence; another part reaches into the average range of intelligence. Otherwise, there is no clear dividing characteristic between children and adolescents with and without learning disabilities.

But what, then, would be asked in a second step, is learning disability then? Learning disability indicates a disproportion, a poor fit between the opportunities for action and learning of a specific child and the learning requirements derived from the curriculum or education plans as well as the corresponding teaching methods and rituals of a specific general school that this child has to attend (Fig. 1). Problems of fit can be on the part of the child and his difficult learning history in connection with
biological risks (e.g. premature birth), before but also with disadvantaged life situations. On the other hand, fitting problems can arise on the part of educational institutions, especially in schools and in relation to teachers, e. B. through teaching that does not or only insufficiently take into account the effects of life situations, the associated experiences and ways of dealing with possible failures and discrimination of socially disadvantaged students. This - often two-sided - lack of fit is all too often unilaterally offset against the learners as problematic, incorrectly proceeding and failing school learning processes, because one takes the offers, the teaching methods and the level of requirements of the respective general school as non-questionable reference points for the assessment. However, since learning and teaching always interact with one another, a learning disability can only be adequately understood as a result of those interaction processes between learning and teaching. So it can never be narrowed down to an individual trait of the learner.

Fig. 1: Learning disabilities as a dynamic process in the area of ​​tension between teaching and learning

It is therefore an urgent task of the school system to minimize inadequate fit. Traditionally, this takes place in such a way that children who have a learning disability or - in the new terminology of the Standing Conference (cf. KMK 1999) - a “special educational need in the learning focus” are enrolled in or retrained in a school for those with learning disabilities (Today this school is called differently depending on the federal state, e.g. as a "school for learning assistance" or "special school with a focus on learning"). Increasingly, however, pupils with learning disabilities are also being educated in an inclusive form in general schools. There, the disparity between their learning opportunities and the school requirements is remedied in that they, where this appears necessary, according to individual educational goals, i.e. targetdifferent, be taught. In 2014, for example, of the pupils with special needs in the learning focus, a good 60 percent attended the corresponding special needs school and almost 40 percent attended general schools (KMK 2016, p. XIX).

While Learning disorder relates to difficult teaching / learning processes in a more limited area (e.g. reading and spelling weaknesses), is with one Learning disability an extensive, long-lasting and serious mismatch between individual learning opportunities on the one hand and school requirements and teaching arrangements on the other. If a child experiences constant failures at school and this weakens their confidence and joy in learning, then a learning disorder can develop into a learning disability and solidify - if, for example, For example, the difficult teaching / learning process in the case of a reading and spelling weakness is not adequately taken into account in the classroom, which leads to serious problems in other subjects.

From a so-called intellectual disability The learning disability differs in the smaller mismatch between the possibilities of an individual and the expectations of his environment, especially the school. This is why the degree of dependence on psychosocial and educational assistance is generally lower in people with learning disabilities than people with an intellectual disability (nowadays often also referred to as cognitive disabilities).

How is a child impaired or handicapped in learning?

Learning disabilities are therefore not a static characteristic, but rather develop - under certain stresses - in a dynamic process that shapes the life and learning history of a child or adolescent. Three groups of factors belong to these pressures.

1. Biological factors hindering development and learning

Above all, dysfunctions of the central nervous system should be considered here. These can arise in connection with complications before, during or after childbirth, in premature and deficient births and as secondary conditions in accidents and illnesses during childhood. What is meant here is not serious damage to the central nervous system that can lead to physical, mental or other disabilities, but lighter, diffuse (indefinite) functional disorders. If there are disturbances in perception, z. For example, the children have problems grasping their perceptions correctly, which can have an inhibiting effect on learning to read and write. In the case of concentration and attention disorders, it is more difficult for children to steer themselves towards a certain learning object in a targeted manner. The task of the teacher is to give the children motivation and control aids through personal addressing and structuring offers - which does not always happen sufficiently under the conditions of the specific school situation.

2. Environmental influences that hinder development and learning

80 to 90 percent of children and young people with learning disabilities come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, often with a migration background. Their living, development and learning conditions at home are often characterized by a combination of several characteristics such as:

  • parents' low educational and employment status and therefore insecure and long-term scarce financial resources;
  • smaller and poorly equipped apartments, often in disadvantaged residential areas;
  • little one's own available living space for studying, resting, withdrawing;
  • inadequate satisfaction of basic children's needs (safety, security, care and nutrition, exercise, play and other activities ...);
  • Little family encouragement and suggestions for learning in school and in a highly complicated civilization (e.g. because the parents themselves are heavily burdened with lifestyle problems or have to bear with their negative school experiences);
  • Living in a language and culture that deviates significantly from the standards expected and practiced in school (Schröder 2005, p.158–163).

This list of features is to be handled carefully; because it could lead to blame on parents who (cannot) offer their children adequate development and upbringing conditions. In fact, it is not uncommon for children with learning disabilities to be exposed to poverty and social disadvantage, and even more so, of course, to their parents and families. B. Teachers take sufficient account of the background that lies in the family's living situation and that shapes parental upbringing behavior.

A dilemma arises here: On the one hand, when describing the conditional factors that can lead to learning disabilities, it is important to refrain from assigning blame to the parents. On the other hand, it must be examined critically to what extent the living and upbringing conditions of children and young people in poverty and social disadvantage hinderto acquire the skills with which they are able to withstand the contradicting demands and temptations of our complex society. Assessors (e.g. teachers, scientists and also parents in more favorable circumstances) can only deal productively with this dilemma if they ask about the background in the fairest possible way - i.e. self-critical of the assessment patterns of their own bourgeois way of life. why people in socially precarious circumstances specifically develop different forms of coexistence and survival with their children. Treating these people with respect also means asking where in their (development-inhibiting) forms of life "strengths of survival" can be found that a "bourgeois" view easily overlooks.

Under no circumstances can the dilemma be resolved in such a way that the environmental influences that hinder development and learning are swept under the carpet when learning disabilities arise. Another fact should be pointed out: The risks that can arise from the biological factors that hinder development and learning as described above are not, as is often assumed, evenly distributed across all strata of the population. The risk of being affected is much higher among children living in poverty, social disadvantage and marginalized people (Lampert; Richter 2010). This is related to the stressed life situation in which these children grow up.

In addition, a very low-stimulation life and upbringing situation in the first years of a child's life can have an inhibiting effect on the development of the child's brain, its functions and structure, as recent brain research shows impressively (cf. e.g. Noble et al. 2012) . The longer a child grows up in a stressed family environment without the environmental conditions improving, for example through help for the family, the more negative these neurological effects are. On the other hand, favorable conditions can offset or reduce the developmental and learning-hindering effects of biological risks. If, however, biological risks combine with unfavorable living and upbringing conditions, then both groups of factors have an impact on a child's learning biography and their consequences, which hinder development and learning, intensify. It is precisely because of this close reciprocal relationship between the biological and the social - both positive and negative - that it is important to recognize biological and social development risks at an early stage and to continuously offer appropriate help, starting with early intervention.

3. Unfavorable teaching / learning conditions at school

Since learning disabilities - as explained - are insufficient relationships between individual learning opportunities and school educational goals and how they are conveyed, the school itself must not be ignored when asked about aggravating conditions in the learning biography of a child or young person. Around 40 years ago, Kobi (1975, p.88) saw the “therapeutic and teaching opportunities to avoid or reduce learning disabilities” as “not yet exhausted”. His criticism remains topical. The results of the international PISA studies show that in Germany - more than in comparable countries - at least so far, the social status of students has played a major role in determining their success in school. In view of the extremely large proportion of socially disadvantaged pupils in special schools with a focus on learning, these results are extremely explosive. While there are apparently the first signs of positive change, there is still a long way to go.

Kobi (1975, p.13) speaks pointedly of the fact that the learning disability on the part of the child can correspond to a “teaching disability” on the part of teachers. A "teaching disability" can occur, even in special schools, especially when teachers set their bourgeois norms and expectations with regard to behavior and performance absolutely and therefore no understanding access to the deviating living and development conditions and everyday experiences of their students find inside.

What should I do?

  1. Even if learning disabilities often only appear as an inadequate balance between individual learning opportunities and learning and educational requirements in the school environment, social and biological factors are often already effective in the early life and educational history of a child. It is therefore very important to identify such factors early on. If corresponding abnormalities are observed in a child himself, but above all in his living and developmental conditions (be it by the parents, by other people from the family environment or by specialists, e.g. pediatricians), the parents should be encouraged to To contact suitable specialist bodies.Interdisciplinary early intervention centers in particular are centers of excellence for the development problems of children in infancy and kindergarten as contact points for parents who are concerned about the development of their child.
  2. Children with biologically or socially related developmental and learning problems need appropriate external support as early as possible, especially in inclusive day-care centers including inclusive crèches - also in connection with volunteer godparents, with "Wahlomas" etc. who are also socially involved Accept the margins of standing children, accompany them, stimulate them or read to them. Playing, working and learning together with other children should experience this appreciation and encouragement for a positive self-esteem development, feel confirmed in what they can do and be encouraged to deal with new things and thereby further develop their knowledge and skills. For this purpose, educators need to know about the respective strengths of a child, but also about where there are possible difficulties that inhibit the child in its development. Recognizing children in their strengths is a central feature of child-friendly pedagogy, but recognizing possible problems and obstacles sensitively and dealing with them carefully is essential to pedagogical competence. Only then can the child be offered suitable help so that he can overcome obstacles on his learning and educational path as well as possible or productively evade them.
  3. In spite of all the necessary support outside the home, especially for those children for whom the conditions for the development of a learning disability arise early in their life, the family continues to be the central place in their learning and educational development for these children. It is therefore essential to work intensively, especially with families in difficult life situations, and to support them in their upbringing and educational mission for their children. This is an important task of day-care centers and schools in which the children are encouraged, but also of early intervention. It can only succeed if the parents and their environment are treated with respect in principle with all problems that may exist in families.
  4. If a child is found to have a need for support in the area of ​​learning when they start school or during their first school years, the two alternatives that have already been briefly described are generally available: either inclusive schooling or attending a special school with the special focus on learning. Both forms have their advantages and disadvantages. It is important that the parents get detailed information about these different options before making their decision, perhaps also to inspect both types of school themselves. It is likely that the proportion of inclusive schooling students with learning needs will continue to increase in the future, although this also requires appropriate framework conditions. Schools that are well geared towards the living conditions and educational needs of the pupils in their catchment area increase the joy of learning the content offered, because the children and young people can better understand its meaning and purpose for their lives.


The research situation clearly shows: learning disabilities (learning disabilities) arise to a very large extent in interaction with social disadvantage. It is therefore not only important to ensure that unfavorable living and upbringing conditions - and thus also affected children and their parents - are as fair as possible in science and practice, i. H. to describe and assess against the background of societal and social framework conditions. Much would also be gained if those parents with good (educational) resources and opportunities for articulation, whose child is certified as having a learning disability (learning disability) - in proxy solidarity with "socially weaker" parents - for the interests of children with learning disabilities and their own Use families. This idea of ​​solidarity has led the work of the Bundesverband LERNEN FÖRDERN - Federal Association for the Promotion of Learning Disabled e. V. as an initiative of particularly affected parents since it was founded in 1968. In cooperation with experts, the association continues to have an important but difficult task here. As an unaffected specialist, I can only guess what it might mean for parents, in addition to the effort of caring for their own child with the learning disability in the best possible way and advocating for their concerns to the outside world, in proxy solidarity also the interests of children and families beyond to perceive and represent one's own, ultimately alien world. But this solidarity could help to further develop the existing system of help for people with this handicap as a whole, i.e. to expand it in an inclusive and participatory way: in the areas of early detection and early intervention, school upbringing and education, integration into work and the world of work as well as accompanying help and advice. Much will also depend on whether young people find reliable and competent adults in the often difficult transition from school to adult life, especially if their starting opportunities in this new phase of life are hampered by social and cultural conditions. They then need companions and mentors who will go part of their way with them (Hiller 2015). Joint initiatives by parents and experts (teachers at special schools, school social workers, etc.) can, e. B. within the framework of sponsoring associations to build networks for such a culture of helping.

Important contact address

Bundesverband LERNEN FÖRDERN - Federal Association for the Promotion of Learning Disabled e. V.


  • Grünke, Matthias; Grosche, Michael (2014): Learning disabilities. In: Lauth, Gerhard W .; Grünke, Mattias; Brunstein, Joachim C. (Ed.): Interventions in case of learning disorders. Göttingen, pp. 76-89
  • Hiller, Gotthilf Gerhard (2015): Sema and Halim - Or: How does mentoring work and to whom is it useful. In: Special Education Promotion Today, vol. 60, pp. 78–90.
  • [KMK 1999] Secretariat of the Standing Conference of the Education Ministers of the Federal States in the Federal Republic of Germany Recommendations on the funding priority learning. Berlin
  • [KMK 2016] Secretariat of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (Ed.): Sonderpädagogische
  • Funding in schools from 2005 to 2016. Statistical publications by the Conference of Ministers of Education. Documentation No. 210 - February 2016. Berlin.
  • Kobi, Emil E. (1975): The Rehabilitation of the Learning Disabled. Munich, Basel
  • Lampert, Thomas; Richter, Matthias (2010): Child poverty and health consequences. In: Holz, Gerda; Richter-Kornweitz, Antje (ed.): Child poverty and its consequences. Munich, Basel, 55–65
  • Noble, Kimberly G. et al. 02012): (Neural correlates of socioeconomic status in developing human brain. In: Developmental Science, Jg. 15, 516-527
  • Schroeder, Joachim (2015): Pedagogy in the case of learning impairments. Stuttgart
  • Schroeder, Ulrich (2010): Learning Disabled Education. Basics and perspectives of special educational aid. 2nd edition Stuttgart


Prof. Dr. Hans White
Jahnstrasse 45
93326 Abensberg



discontinued on September 21, 2016