If you're a parent who has been told your child may have learning differences, you need to start doing some research to ensure you head down the right path when dealing with those differences. Choosing an incorrect method of dealing with them can be a setback for your child, and no parent wants that. It's best to start asking questions as soon as you can, but it helps to consider these three things when formulating those questions.
The Legal Status of "Difference" vs. "Disability"
The phrase "learning difference" has become a euphemism for "learning disability" in the past few years. The logic is that the way the child learns isn't necessarily a disability that prevents them from learning, but rather a difference in the way the child learns that necessitates a different method of dealing with the child, including providing different resources, in the classroom. Some parents and organizations prefer to use the "difference" terminology and try to avoid associating the child with the term "disabled."
An issue arises with this usage, though, in the form of legal protection. The laws governing how learning disabilities are handled and what resources are devoted to them rely on this "disability" terminology. In other words, laws may only start protecting your child's right to adequate assistance if your child is diagnosed and called learning disabled (specifically using that term and then further classifying the child according to specific categories).
That sounds vague and not very problematic at first because technically, anyone diagnosing your child is going to use "disability" terminology. However, if you insist that the school use only the "difference" terminology, that could create confusion when you try to get adequate help for the child in the classroom. In order to get the best help for your child, you should go through with getting an official diagnosis of learning disability. You are free to use the term "difference" casually, but don't balk at using "disability" when dealing with official forms and procedures.
Different Abilities vs. Different Styles
If you've been told your child has learning differences, get detail about what's going on and have the child evaluated further. "Learning differences," unfortunately, has other meanings, including simply being a different style of learning. Some children learn better by listening to an explanation of how something works, for example, while others need to work through a demonstration physically -- they learn better when the explanation is hands-on. And sometimes, the educational style of the school is so inadequate that it doesn't help children who aren't learning disabled but who could still use extra help, like tutoring. Be sure that the person saying your child has learning differences isn't just mistaking a different learning style or a bad teaching style for a potential disability.
If you dive further into the realm of misunderstandings, you eventually find misdiagnoses. If someone's telling you that your child may have a learning disability, not only do you have to ensure that it isn't just a different learning style, but also that it isn't a different diagnosis altogether. For example, ADHD and learning disabilities are often confused.
A good school will help you navigate these pitfalls and find out what is really happening with your child. Talk to the school and to educational therapists who can help your child get the right tests and eventually the right help with his or her education.