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5 Misconceptions About Learning Differences at Sterne and Beyond

Sterne is dedicated to serving students who learn differently. In reality, all humans learn differently to some degree because everyone's brain structure is unique. That said, let’s explore five common questions and misconceptions as they relate to learning profiles. 

1. Sterne ONLY serves students with diagnosed learning disabilities. 
This misconception is kind of like one of those tricky multiple choice questions. Here is a simpler question to address this misconception (that’s a nice rhyme, huh?): 
What population does Sterne serve?
a)    Students with learning disabilities
b)    Students who learn differently
c)    Students who thrive in a relationship based model
d)    Students who excel in a learning environment where innovative thinking is a core value
e)    All of the above
Yep, the correct answer is e) All of the above. And, we could probably create a list of A to Z describing our population.

2. Is ADHD a learning disability? 
Technically, ADHD is not a learning disability. ADHD falls under the “Other Health Impaired” category. However, according to Learning Disabilities of America, it can be determined a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), making a student eligible to receive special education services. All that being said, it’s understandable why there is confusion around whether or not ADHD is a learning disability. One thing that is more clear about ADHD is how it presents: inattention, hyperactivity and/or impulsivity. As a teacher (even though it’s easier said than done), the best way to reach students with ADHD is with a lot of patience, creativity and consistency. Fortunately, Sterne teachers are some of the best out there when it comes to teaching students who learn differently and we’re always looking for new ways to help support our ADHD students. To that point, we recently had an inservice with Nick Ratcliff who is an Instructional Coach at Sand Hill School and ADHD expert. He shared The ADHD Iceberg with us.

3. Students with dyslexia can’t read, or they read backward or they will always have difficulty reading. 
As part of the Sterne community, you know that this is wrong. Research has shown that the brain can actually be rewired to process the written word the same way as ‘good readers’ by implementing a program that uses systematic, explicit, sequential phonics taught in a multi-sensory way. We are lucky to have Steve Tattum, Sterne’s Reading Specialist, who has compiled his own program that does just that for students. (To learn more about his work check out his interview on Sterne’s podcast)

4. Students who learn differently are lazy. 
This is a common misconception for a myriad of reasons, including but not limited to: students may have to work harder, their results may not reflect their efforts, and/or they may have become discouraged because they have struggled for so long. At Sterne we work tirelessly to combat this misconception in the classroom. Through our executive function support, our approach to homework, and our alternative forms of assessment, we help our students shine. We value and foster confidence building in our students and work to their strengths. 

5. There are more boys than girls with learning differences. 
According to, studies have found that based on scientific criteria, there is no gender gap when it comes to learning problems, yet at Sterne we have a 3:2 boy:girl ratio. There are a few reasons/thoughts as to why we see these numbers in LD specific programs. In general, boys tend to draw more negative attention in traditional classrooms, which pushes families to find more innovative educational settings. (Insert Sterne.) Girls, generally speaking, do not act out as much as boys and tend to fall under the radar when they experience challenges in their learning. As such, girls tend to be underdiagnosed. However, Sterne is always looking to increase the number of girls we serve. 

In the end, there are probably a gazillion other misconceptions out there. Some of them are pretty outlandish, i.e. left-handedness and allergies can case learning differences, dyslexia does not exist, children who skip the crawling stage will have reading delays. As always, it is important to understand the facts, the science, and the research behind learning profiles. 

At Sterne, our students are treasures and we love working to find ways to reach their individual learning profiles and unleash their potential. 

Submitted by: Sarah Ridenour, Director of Learning