Learning Differences in Middle-Grade

It’s back to school time!  For many of us this phrase elicits memories of backpacks and sack lunches, the smell of new clothes and the smooth feel of crayon against paper.

For me, however, back to school means long meetings and headaches, IEP’s and 504’s, discussions with teachers and other professionals and loads and loads of encouragement.


Because I have a learning disabled daughter.  Don’t feel sorry for me – or her.  It’s ok.  My daughter is exactly as she was supposed to be.  She’s perfect.

Learning disabilities (or learning differences as we prefer to call it) come in various forms.  While there are many types of learning disabilities, the most common are Dyslexia (words and shapes are processed differently, sometimes backwards), ADD or ADHD (children have attention problems and are easily distracted), Dyscalculia (the inability to memorize or master basic math functions), Auditory Processing (the inability to distinguish or process oral language), Speech and Language (not just the intelligibility of a child’s speech, but also their understanding of written and oral language) and Dysgraphia (illegible handwriting and the inability to make letters consistent).   Learning disabled children are typically of normal or high intelligence and are simply wired differently, requiring alternative methods of teaching.

So, you might be wondering what this has to do with middle-grade.  It’s simple really.  Most learning disabilities are discovered in those challenging, impressionable years of middle-grade; usually between the ages of 8 and 12 or 3rd – 6th grade.  Granted, there are exceptions.  Depending on the severity and impact on learning, these disabilities may be found much sooner – or even later for that matter.  But for the majority of children, their learning struggles will manifest during this time period.

Like all children, kids who learn differently long to have someone they can relate to, especially in middle-grade when they are discovering who they are and their place in the world.  Adding to their challenges is the pressure to fit in socially, to be more like their peers academically and most of all, to be accepted.  This can further their desire to find someone who understands them and can also lead to feelings of frustration and isolation. 

There is one place, however, they need never feel alone.  Books!

One of my daughter’s favorites is The Lightning Thief series.  When I learned that Percy had ADHD and dyslexia, it made me realize just how vital learning challenged characters are in book.  And quite frankly, I longed to find more stories with characters who struggle with learning challenges. 

Although I haven’t read all of these books yet, I’m excited to share them with my daughter and you.

My Name Is Brian by Jeanne Betancourt

A story of a boy with dyslexia.  When he writes his name on the blackboard as Brain (instead of Brian), he’s made fun of by a group of kids.  Although the story focuses on the character’s learning challenges, it also incorporates real life problems with friends and family. 

Reach For the Moon by Samantha Abeel

Although originally self published, this collection of poems and essays went on to a small press.  The author herself suffers from dyscalculia and has also written a memoir (The Thirteenth Year)about her journey.

The Safe Place by Tehila Peterseil

Kinneret is an Israeli girl with ADD and dyslexia.  Going to school produces feelings of frustration and humiliation.  But with the help of some special teachers Kinneret is able to find the confidence to succeed.

Spaceman by Jane Cutler

Fifth grade student, Gary, is placed in a special education classroom after “spacing out” as a coping strategy for daily taunts by his peers.  There he is instructed by a gifted and talented teacher who unveils Gary’s learning disabilities and finds the method of instruction best suited to his needs.

Other choices: 

  • Trout and Me by Susan Richards Shreve
  •  Zipper: The Kid with ADHD by Caroline Janover
  • The Worst Speller in Jr High by Caroline Janover
  • Sparks by Graham McNamee
  • Rules by Cynthia Lord
  • The Survival Guide for Kids with LD by Gary Fisher

I hope these books will help the children you know who learn differently.  Maybe they’ll even help a classroom of children to be more understanding and compassionate towards the differences in others. 

Have you read any books about learning challenged kids?  What did you like about them?  I’d love to hear your impressions!

Amie Borst is a mother of 3 girls (two of which are middle-graders).  She loves to write fairy-tales with a twist and never misses an opportunity to eat chocolate.  She welcomes you to visit her website

  1. Good list and an important topic. To add to it, the Hank Zipzer books by Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler are all about a dyslexic boy (modeled on Henry Winkler). Also of interest, perhaps, was this list of books that Abby the Librarian put together of books on the Spectrum, including lots of great titles: