Learning Disability

Learning disabilities are disorders that affect one's ability to understand or use spoken or written language, do mathematical calculations, coordinate movements or direct attention. Although learning disabilities occur in very young children, disorders are usually not recognized until a child reaches school age. Research shows that 8 to 10 percent of American children under the age of 18 have some type of learning disability.

Learning disabilities affect one's ability to interpret what one sees and hears, or to link information from different parts of the brain. These limitations can show up as specific difficulties with spoken and written language, coordination, self-control or attention. Such difficulties extend to schoolwork and can impede learning to read or write, or to do math. Learning disabilities do not reflect IQ (intelligence quotient) or how smart a person is.

Learning disabilities can be lifelong conditions that, in some cases, affect many parts of a person's existence: school or work, daily routines, family situations and, sometimes, even friendships and play. In some people, many overlapping learning disabilities may be apparent. Others may have a single, isolated learning problem that has little impact on other areas of their lives.

Not all learning problems fall into the category of learning disabilities. Many children are simply slower in developing certain skills. Because children show natural differences in their rate of development, sometimes what seems to be a learning disability may simply be a delay in maturation

To be diagnosed as a learning disability, a child's condition must meet specific criteria.

Dyslexia is a reading and language-based learning disability,. With this problem, a child may not understand letters, groups of letters, sentences or paragraphs. At the beginning of first grade, children may occasionally reverse and rotate the letters they read and write. This may be normal when he or she is first learning to read. By the middle of first grade (and with maturity) these problems should disappear. However, a young student with dyslexia may not overcome these problems. The difficulty can continue as the student grows. To him, a "b" may look like a "d." He may write on when he really means no. Your child may reverse a 6 to make 9. This is not a vision problem, rather it is a problem with how the brain interprets the information it "sees."

Dysgraphia is a term for problems with writing. An older child may not form letters correctly, and there is difficulty writing within a certain space. Writing neatly takes time and effort; yet despite the extra effort, handwriting still may be hard to read. A teacher may say that a learning-disabled student can't finish written tests and assignments on time, and supervisors may find that written tasks are always late or incomplete.

Dyscalculia is a term for problems concerning math. A child may do well in history and language, but he may fail tests involving fractions and percentages. Math is difficult for many students, but with dyscalculia, a child may have much more difficulty than others his age. Dyscalculia may prevent your child from solving basic math problems that others his age complete with no difficulty.

Information-processing disorders are learning disorders related to a person's ability to use the information that they take in through their senses - seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching. These problems are not related to an inability to see or hear. Instead, the conditions affect the way the brain recognizes, responds to, retrieves, and stores sensory information.

Language-related learning disabilities are problems that interfere with age-appropriate communication, including speaking, listening, reading, spelling, and writing.

Learning Disability. Last reviewed 12/31/1969
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Families and Advocates Partnership for Education
  • Learning Disabilities Association of America
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities
  • National Institute of Health - Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
  • University of Maryland Medical Center; Learning Disabilities
  • University of Michigan Health System: Learning Disabilities: Your child
  • United States Department of Education; Jessup, Maryland: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services