Facts about learning disabilities

A learning disability is a permanent disorder that affects the way individuals with normal or above normal intelligence receive, store, organize, retrieve and use information. The primary characteristic of a learning disability is a significant difference between a child’s achievement in some areas and his or her overall intelligence. A learning disability is often inconsistent.  It may present problems one day but not another. It may cause problems through only one phase of a person’s schooling or in one specific academic area.

Following are two learning disability models, equally valid but different.

One learning disability model defines LD as deficits in one or more of the following area:

  • Difficulty with basic reading skills, reading comprehension, math computation, math reasoning, written expression, spelling, writing, listening comprehension, oral expression and problem solving.
  • Poor organization and time management skills.
  • Slow to start and complete tasks.
  • Short attention span and difficulty controlling behavior.
  • Difficulty following oral and written instructions.
  • Inability on a day-to-day basis to remember what has been taught.
  • Poor social skills due to inconsistent perceptual abilities.

Another learning disability model distinguishes four stages of information processing used in learning:

  • Input - Visual perception or auditory perception disabilities can affect the way one receives information.
  • Integration - Integration disabilities involve (1) the inability to sequence letters, thoughts, numbers, etc. correctly; or (2) the inability to infer meaning from abstract thoughts, stories, words that sound the same, etc.; or (3) the inability to organize the information once it has been received, sequenced and understood.  Students with an integration/organization disability find it difficult to make bits of information cohere into concepts.
  • Memory - Memory disabilities primarily affect short-term memory, but can also affect long-term memory.
  • Output - Output disabilities can be manifested as language disabilities or motor disabilities.  (1) A child with a language disability may speak normally when initiating conversation, but respond hesitantly in demand situations – pause, ask for the question to be repeated, give a confused answer, or fail to find the right words. (2) Motor disabilities are of two types: poor coordination of large muscle groups, which may result in stumbling, falling, difficulty in running, climbing buttoning, tying shoelaces and bumping into things.   The most common type of fine motor disability is difficulty in coordinating the muscles needed for writing.

The IDEA definition of Learning Disability: A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using languages, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

Specific Language from IDEA on Eligibility: A child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability in one or more of the following areas: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, and mathematics reasoning.  At least one team member other than the child’s regular teacher shall observe the child’s academic performance  in the regular classroom setting.  There must be a written report as to whether the child has a specific learning disability, the basis for making the determination; the relevant behavior noted during the observation, and the relationship of that behavior to the child’s academic functioning, any relevant medical findings, whether there is a severe discrepancy between achievement and ability that is not correctable without special education and related services, and the determination of the team concerning the effects of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage.  Each team member shall certify in writing whether the report reflects his or her conclusion and submit a separate statement presenting their conclusion if they disagree.

What causes learning disabilities?  Scientists are not sure.  However it could be slow maturation; a nervous system disorder; injuries before birth or during early childhood; premature birth; environment; or genetic causes.

What are early warning signs of learning disabilities?

Lags in development milestones
Difficulty discriminating size, shape, color
Difficulty with time concepts
Distorted concept of body image
Reversals in writing and reading
Poor visual-motor coordination
Difficulty copying accurately from a model
Slowness in completing work
Poor organizational skills
Easily confused by instruction
Difficulty with abstract reasoning and/or problem solving
Disorganized thinking
Impulsive behavior
Low tolerance for frustration
Poor peer relationships
Overly excitable
Poor social judgment
Poor performance on group tests
Failure to see consequences for his actions
Lack of hand preference or mixed dominance
Difficulty with sequencing

Does research support the concept that individuals with learning disabilities have deficient or ineffective social skills as well as academic skills?  Yes.  Research indicates that individuals with learning disabilities: 

  • Are more likely to choose socially unacceptable behaviors in social situation.
  • Are less able to solve social problems.
  • Are less likely to predict consequences for their behavior.
  • Are less likely to adjust to the characteristics of their listeners in discussions or conversations.
  • Are less able to accomplish complex social interactions successfully.
  • Are more likely to be rejected or isolated by their peers.
  • Are more often the objects of negative and non-supportive statements, criticisms, warnings and negative nonverbal reactions from teachers.
  • Are less adaptable to new social situations.
  • Have less tolerance for frustration and failure.
  • Have difficulty interpreting or inferring the language of others.

Why is a learning disability called the hidden handicap? 
Because there is no outward appearance of the disability.

Who coined the phrase learning disability? 
Dr. Samuel Kirk in 1962.

How many people have learning disabilities?
Many experts believe there are between 5 to 10 million children with some type of learning disability.  Percentage of incidence ranges from 4% to 30%, but is thought to be 6%.

The 22nd Annual Report to Congress, 2000, indicates that of all students in the USA that have IEPs, 50.7% are said to have learning disabilities.

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