Learning disabilities: An overview
Learning disabilities: What are they and what should you watch for?
Facts about LD:
- Difficulty with basic reading and language skills are the most common LD.
- LD may be inherited.
- LD affect girls as frequently as they do boys.
- Kids don't outgrow or get cured of LD.
- With support and intervention, kids with LD can be successful in learning and life.
By Jan Baumel, M.S.
You wonder why different professionals come to different conclusions about whether or not your child has a learning disability (LD). Why did the private assessment results say that your child has LD, but the public school disagreed?
What is a learning disability?
A learning disability affects the way kids of average to above average intelligence receive, process, or express information and lasts throughout life. It impacts the ability to learn the basic skills of reading, writing, or math.
The Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities (CCLD), a coalition of national organizations within the learning disabilities community, defines LD as "a neurobiological disorder in which a person's brain works or is structured differently."
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), used by psychologists and medical doctors, doesn't list "learning disability," but describes disorders in reading, mathematics, and written expression. Academic achievement, as measured by standardized tests, must be substantially below expectations for the child's chronological age, intelligence, and age-appropriate education.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that provides for special education, defines "specific learning disability" as a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using spoken or written language. Skills of listening, speaking, reading, writing, and/or mathematics may be negatively affected.
What a learning disability is not
- Attention disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities often occur at the same time, but they're not the same.
- Learning disabilities are not the same as mental retardation, autism, hearing or visual impairment, physical disabilities, emotional disorders, or the normal process of learning a second language.
- Learning disabilities aren't caused by lack of educational opportunities, such as frequent changes of schools, poor school attendance, or lack of instruction in basic skills.
What should you look for?
Most kids have some problems in school at one time or another. Some struggle with a specific subject while others have trouble relating to a certain style of teaching. Sometimes learning disabilities are blamed on lack of motivation, immaturity, or behavior problems. But if your child has significant ongoing problems with the "3 R's" — basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic — then she may have a learning disability.
Because each child has a unique set of strengths and challenges, you'll want to talk with the teacher, other school staff, family members, and your child to get their input. As you think about the following factors, ask yourself if your child has shown these characteristics to a greater degree than normal for her age, over a period of time, and in different environments, e.g., school, home, child care settings, community.