The Positves and Negatives Effects of Labeling Students "Learning Disabled"

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It is important for teachers to be aware of the possible consequences of the “learning disabled” label. By identifying issues associated with the label, teachers can intercede when negative issues occur.

Positive Effects

The “learning disabled” label allows educators the opportunity to give extra support to the student. Educators can develop an individualized education plan and offer extra learning support and specialized education to help the student succeed in school.

Individualized Education Plan

One of the positive effects of labeling students “learning disabled,” is that it qualifies them to have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This plan allows them to receive instruction at their current level of functioning, provides them with accommodations and specially designed instruction, and creates goals and objectives for them.

Extra Learning Support

Labeling also qualifies students to receive services that they may not have otherwise been able to receive, such as instruction in a learning support room. In this setting the instruction they receive is at a pace much more conducive to their learning. They receive frequent repetition and instruction in a much smaller setting with other students just like them.

Specialized Instruction

By labeling students as “learning disabled”, they are able to receive help in order to remediate their problems. For example, if a student has been identified as having a learning disability in reading, the instruction can be specifically geared at a suitable level. Receiving instruction based on what students need is crucial in helping them excel and be successful in the future.

Negative Effects

The “learning disabled” label can result in the student and educators reducing their expectations and goals for what can be achieved in the classroom. In addition to lower expectations, the student may develop low self-esteem and experience issues with peers.

Low Self-Esteem

Labeling students can create a sense of learned helplessness. The students may feel that since they are labeled they just cannot do well or that they are stupid. This can also cause the student’s self-esteem to be very low.

Lower Expectations

Labeling can also lead to others having lower expectations for the student. Adults, including teachers and parents, may think the student cannot do what is required and lower their expectations. If the teachers and parents do not believe in the student’s ability, then the student will not either. It can create a vicious cycle, which ultimately sets the student up for failure.

Peer Issues

A student who is labeled may experience peer issues. The student may be made fun of for being learned disabled. This can cause trouble with making friends and can cause bullying as well. The student then may become very isolated and withdrawn in the school setting and may begin to skip school.

Balancing the Pros and Cons

There is no question that there is a need to identify and label learning disabled students in order to give them the educational and emotional tools they need to succeed. Teachers can help prevent the negative consequences of the label by taking a few proactive steps to minimize the chance of problems occurring. Counselors and teachers should talk with learning disabled students and their parents and explain that a learning disability does not take away a student’s value, that each person learns at a different pace and in a different manner and the school intends to provide the specialized education required to help the student achieve success.

Parents and teachers should also be careful not to lower their expectations for the student and instead offer positive encouragement. Finally, teachers should talk to the class about learning disabilities and how different paces and styles of instruction are used. Open classroom discussions about learning disabilites can help to create an understanding between peers.


  • Council for Learning Disabilities; Learning Disability Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 1; Stages of Acceptance of a Learning Disability: The Impact of Labeling; 2002