Learning Disabilities Defined
Sometimes, children do not perform according to their expected levels of achievement in school, even though they have average or above average intelligence. Many times, these children are diagnosed as having learning disabilities (also known as LDs) that are preventing them from accomplishing their academic goals. It is estimated that about 2.6 million students have one or more LDs, according to IDEA Data.
LDs are not the same thing as mental deficiency or autism, and they have nothing to do with a person's level of intelligence. They are also not linked to any physical impairments such as blindness or deafness. LDs are actually a group of neurological disorders that affect the brain's ability to communicate, receive, store, and process information. These problems handling information can affect a person's ability in reading, writing, spelling, math, speaking, listening, and reasoning.
Although it is not known exactly what causes LDs, experts have theorized that they may be brought about by genetics (LDs seem to run in families), problems during pregnancy or birth, or events after birth such as head injuries or exposure to toxic substances. As there is no cure for LDs, they continue on into adulthood and can cause problems in the home or on the job. However, even though LDs will not disappear, they can be overcome. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees that people of all ages with LDs cannot be discriminated against and are entitled to various forms of assistance in school and the workplace.
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), the specific types of LDs are:
- Auditory Processing Disorder. This disorder affects a person's ability to interpret information that they hear, such as having trouble predicting how someone will end a sentence. It usually shows up as having problems with reading and language development.
- Dyscalculia. With this disability, people experience trouble with math skills, such as adding and subtracting, telling time, or counting money. For example, they may not be able to count by twos, threes, or fours.
- Dysgraphia. This disability involves difficulty with written communication such as spelling, composition, and handwriting. The symptoms of this disability can be unreadable handwriting or difficulty organizing thoughts into the correct sequence when writing.
- Dyslexia. People with this disability have trouble learning to read, write, and spell because, for example, they may write or pronounce words and letters backwards.
- Dyspraxia. Dyspraxia involves problems with fine motor skills. People with this disability have trouble with coordination or physical agility. For example, they may not be able to use scissors or button their clothes properly.
- Visual Processing Disorder. With this disorder, people have trouble deciphering information that they see. They may have difficulty with math, reading, and writing because, for example, they cannot tell the difference between letters such as h and n.
According to the NCLD, about one third of people with learning disabilities may also have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), in which they have trouble concentrating and staying on task.
If you think you or a child may have an LD, you should ask for an assessment test from a school psychologist or a learning specialist, who can be found with help from the NCLD. If you are diagnosed with a disability, you have the right to receive a variety of intervention and treatment methods either in the classroom or the workplace.
Some of the treatments for LDs include:
- Classroom adjustments such as modified assignments and adapted testing procedures
- Classroom assistants such as notetakers and readers
- Special equipment such as word processors with spell-checkers or books on tape
- Direct instruction including tutoring and scripted lesson plans
- Mastery methods, which involve the person with disabilities learning at his or her own pace, practicing, and gaining basic skills before advancing to the next level
- Special education such as individual education plans (IEPs), placement in a resource room, or enrollment in a special school