On the DL: Understanding Different Learners

March is learning disabilities month. I like the phrase Different Learners (DL). For the rest of this post, I’ll use DL to refer to Different Learners/Learning. Those are also my initials. So, there’s that.

When my kids struggle with someone, I remind them that there are millions of people in this crazy world, and if they meet one they can’t get along with, it’s OK. There’s always another friend around the corner.

It’s similar with learning. People don’t all learn the same way. How could they, really? There are many kinds of learners. People don’t always neatly fit into any of those “types of learner” categories. Even though good teachers teach to more than one learning style, unfortunately large classrooms and good teachers can’t meet the learning styles of everyone.

On the DL Understanding Different Learners

If you’ve read anything I’ve posted here, you know we homeschool. Two of my children are DLs. Here are 10 things I try to remember when homeschooling a DL:

1. I know my child best.

If I know a timed math test is going to push my DLs over the edge because there’s a timer and anxiety builds in their chests and steam-engines-up-their-shoulders-down-their-arms-and-through-the-pencil-flying-across-the-room-and-can’t-be-stopped-until-they-explode, then—simple—I don’t do timed tests. Not now. Maybe later, maybe not.

2. I have a vested interest.

I want my child to succeed. I want positive self-esteem, self-image, and self-efficiency. I don’t want my DLs cheated or taken advantage of in life. To avoid this, they need social skills, some basic math, and more. They get a lot of this in everyday homeschooling life.

Our DLs were not driven by learning “just because.” At very young ages they needed valid reasons for learning. Homeschooling let me put practical application to the fundamentals: “You need to know how to add so you can know you have enough money for groceries,” or, “We need a new fence. How much fencing do we need for the area? How much will it cost?” This motivated my DLs.

3. There are many resources out there. Use them.

With help from inventories, books, and professionals, I determined how our DLs learn best. An occupational therapist (OT), educational psychologist, or other professional can help. Our OT helped us.

Avoid black hole, suck-your-money, “magic” curricula: “Guaranteed to teach your child the multiplication tables in 30 days or less—and she’ll LOVE doing it!” These play on emotions, want money, and seldom, if ever, hold a magic key. I learned this the hard way.

Talk, talk, talk to other mothers, educators, and professionals. I do this. All. The. Time.

Homeschooling co-ops offer classes with instructors who tap into different learning styles in small teacher-to-student ratios. We found instructors who taught to and capitalized on our DLs’ learning styles and strengths.

4. Nothing is ever written in stone.

At any point, you can change curricula, find more resources, find an OT or learning program, or try another schooling option.

5. Homeschooling provides flexibility.

Many DLs have “off” days—days when allergens are high, for example. DLs can be more sensitive than others. They can be inconsistent and have days when things just won’t flow. We may not do math or grammar on these days. Instead, we might take the day off or do something completely different—like blow up something with kitchen science or go to the movies.

6. Don’t compare.

I try very hard to not compare our DLs (or any of my kids, for that matter) and what they have or haven’t accomplished to others. DLs run a whole spectrum—or two, or three, or four. Some are extremely gifted verbally, mathematically, etc. Some function better with colored transparencies over their reading material. Some respond well to one form of OT while others don’t. The brain is a universe we’re still exploring.

7. Many roads lead to “graduation.”

There’s a GED, a diploma—whatever it takes. My DL got a transcript, took the appropriate test, and entered community college as a dual-credit student. A couple years later, I wrote a letter stating that high school courses were complete, and DL’s status became full-time college student. Then, there was a transfer from community college to university. Do you see an SAT or ACT score in there? I don’t. That’s wonderful for a DL with test anxiety or who doesn’t test well. Besides, no standardized test will ever adequately measure what a DL knows or has the potential to accomplish.

8. Focus on lifelong attributes. 

Loving to, wanting to, and knowing how to learn are more important than reciting multiplication facts at warp speed.

9. Break down the big stuff.

Feed them in pieces, but give them access to the whole plate. This is where strengths emerge. For one DL this was an introduction to Roman history through a novel we read together. Soon, there was a YouTube search, a movie on the History Channel, maybe another book, and then a Peloponnesian Lego war on the kitchen table.

10. Find others who have traveled this road before you (see #3).

This is a good idea for everything you’ll do in life.

San Antonio has many programs, professionals, and resources for helping your DL. I’ve listed a few below. Please share your resources in the comments.

Scottish Rite Learning Center of South Texas

The Winston School of San Antonio

Learning Rx


  1. Homeschooling 101: Answers to Common Questions | Alamo City Moms Blog - April 1, 2015

    […] First, let’s talk about how my children learn. All three are different. Two have similar, yet unique, learning styles. I have a great support system—from an amazing occupational therapist, to coaches, to co-op teachers, to friends like family—but it still takes a village. All of these people and more help me find the best way to teach my children. I discussed how to teach to different learning styles in an earlier post. […]