Learning Disabilities Are Not A Prescription For Failure
Learning disabilities are not a prescription for failure. With the right kinds of instruction, guidance and support, there are no limits to what individuals with LD can achieve.”
Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., Director of LD Resources
National Center for Learning Disabilities
For the school-age population, the most commonly used definition is found in the federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
IDEA uses the term “specific learning disability (SLD)”
According to IDEA, SLD is “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in
understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. Such term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. Such term does not include a learning problem that is primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation*, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.”
Learning disabilities are not caused by visual, hearing or motor disabilities, intellectual disabilities (formerly referred to as mental retardation), emotional disturbance, cultural factors, limited English proficiency, environmental or economic disadvantages, or inadequate instruction.
What We Know About LD
Learning disabilities arise from neurological differences in brain structure and function and affect a person’s ability to receive, store, process, retrieve or communicate information. While the specific nature of these brain-based disorders is still not well understood, considerable progress has been made in mapping some of the characteristic difficulties of LD to specific brain regions and structures. Progress has also been made in understanding the interface between genetics and LD, with documentation of LD, ADHD and related disorders occurring with considerable frequency within members of the same families (e.g., parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, and cousins).
Learning disabilities may also be a consequence of insults to the developing brain before or during birth, involving such factors as significant maternal illness or injury, drug or alcohol use during pregnancy, maternal malnutrition, low birth weight, oxygen deprivation and premature or prolonged labor. Postnatal events resulting in LD might include traumatic injuries, severe nutritional deprivation or exposure to poisonous substances such as lead.
Learning disabilities are not caused by visual, hearing or motor disabilities, intellectual disabilities (formerly referred to as mental retardation), emotional disturbance, cultural factors, limited English proficiency, environmental or economic disadvantages, or inadequate instruction. However, there is a higher reported incidence of learning disabilities among people living in poverty, perhaps due to increased risk of exposure to poor nutrition, ingested and environmental toxins (e.g., lead, tobacco and alcohol) and other risk factors during early and critical stages of development.
Learning disabilities are both real and permanent. Yet some people never discover that learning disabilities are responsible for their lifelong difficulties in such areas as reading, math, written expression and in comprehension. Others aren’t identified as having LD until they are adults. Many individuals with LD suffer from low self-esteem, set low expectations for themselves, struggle with underachievement and underemployment, have few friends and, with greater frequency than their non-LD peers, appear to end up in trouble with the law.
Learning disabilities are perhaps best described as unexpected, significant difficulties in academic achievement and related areas of learning and behavior in individuals who have not responded to high-quality instruction and for whom struggle cannot be attributed to medical, educational, environmental or psychiatric causes. Early recognition that children may be at risk for LD can prevent years of struggle and self-doubt. As they grow older, learning about the specific nature of their LD, accepting that LD is not who they are but what they have and orchestrating the types of services, accommodations and supports they need to be successful will help them overcome barriers to learning and become independent, self-confident and contributing members of society.
Dyslexia is the term associated with specific learning disabilities in reading.
Dyscalculia is the term associated with specific learning disabilities in math.
Dysgraphia is the term associated with specific learning disabilities in writing. It is used to capture both the physical act of writing and the physical act of writing and the quality of written expression. Features of learning disabilities in writing are often seen individuals who struggle with dyslexia and dyscalculia.
Associated Deficits and Disorders
While not designated as specific subtypes of LD, there are a number of areas of information processing that are commonly associated with LD. Weaknesses in the ability to receive, process, associate, retrieve and express information can often help explain why a person has trouble with learning and performance. The inability to process information efficiently can lead to frustration, low self-esteem and social withdrawal, and understanding how these areas of weakness impact individuals with LD.
Auditory Processing Deficit (or Auditory Processing Disorder) is the term used to describe a weakness in the ability to understand and use auditory information.
Visual Processing Deficit (or Visual Processing Disorder) is the term used to describe a weakness in the ability to understand and use visual information.
Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities is the term used to describe the characteristics of individuals who have unique learning and behavioral profiles that may overlap with dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia but that differ in significant ways. Most notably, these individuals often have strengths in the areas of verbal expression, vocabulary, reading, comprehension, auditory memory and attention to detail.
Executive Functioning Deficits is the term used to describe weaknesses in the ability to plan, organize, strategize, remember details and manage time and space efficiently. These are hallmark characteristics in individuals with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and are often seen in those with LD.
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a brain-based disorder that results in significant inattention, hyperactivity, distractibility or a combination of these characteristics. It is estimated that as many as one-third of those with LD also have ADHD, and like learning disabilities, this disorder is linked both to heredity (genetics) as well as to brain structure and function. Unlike LD, features of this disorder can be attributed to neurochemical imbalances that can be effectively treated with a combination of behavioral and, as needed, pharmacological therapies.
A publication of the National Center for Learning Disabilities