Learning Disabilities, also referred to as Specific Learning Disabilities and Learning Disorders, are defined in several ways, depending on the profession using the term. Medical professionals use the Diagnostic Statistical Manual-5th Edition (DSM-5, 2013), whereas school psychologists and educators use Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004), as the guiding definition. Both are similar and emphasize learning difficulties in one or more specific academic areas: mathematics, reading, writing, and spelling.
Diagnostic Statistical Manual -5th ed. (2013), https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/specific-learning-disorder/what-is-specific-learning-disorder
United States Department of Education, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA, 2004), https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/a/300.8
For the purpose of homeschooling, we can define a learning disability as follows: A learning disability may be present when a child has average to above average intelligence, has received ample instruction in the area of academic weaknesses and doesn’t have any other factors that inhibit learning success (i.e. illness, physical disabilities, emotional/behavioral issues, or extenuating environmental circumstances preventing sound learning).
Learning disabilities cover a wide range of learning difficulties and may present in a variety of ways such as: Difficulty processing information by visual and auditory means, which may impact reading, spelling, writing, and understanding or using language; difficulty prioritizing, organizing, doing mathematics, and following instructions; difficulty storing or retrieving information from short or long term memory; impaired ability to use spoken language; and clumsiness or difficulty with handwriting. All these difficulties may range from mild to severe.
In federally funded public-school settings, a child may be identified as having a reading disability, but it may not be labeled dyslexia, likewise a math disability may not be labeled dyscalculia. Primarily, using more general terms facilitates easier placement when working with the IEPs and instructional decisions. However, professionals outside of school systems frequently use the following terms to specifically identify a student’s learning weaknesses to recommend intentional remediation strategies.
There are several learning disorders that may or may not coincide with dyslexia, such as dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and dysnomia. Dys is a Greek prefix that refers to an impairment. It is possible for a child to have one of the following disorders, but not have trouble in reading, however, a child with a severe case of dyslexia may have difficulty in several of the following areas.
Dyslexia=impairment in reading
Dysgraphia=impairment in letter writing, handwriting and spelling
Dyscalculia=impairment in ability to work with numbers and math
Dysnomia=impairment in ability to recall names of people, places and things
Dyspraxia=impairment in fine or gross motor movements, clumsiness, poor coordination
Reading Comprehension disability=difficulty in reading, processing and understanding the meaning of written text. This may be caused by poor decoding skills, inability to sustain attention while reading, or a delay in language skills. If a student’s basic reading skills are deficient, he will expend excessive time decoding words and thus, the meaning lost in the process.
Learning Disability Association of American, https://ldaamerica.org/parents/
The following are general signs to look for that may indicate your child has a learning disability. You may also click on links to specific types of learning disabilities.
Most common symptoms:
- short attention span,
- poor memory,
- difficulty following directions,
- inability to discriminate between/among letters, numerals, or sounds,
- poor reading and/or writing ability,
- eye-hand coordination problems; poorly coordinated,
- difficulties with sequencing, and/or
- disorganization and other sensory difficulties
Other symptoms to look for:
- performs differently from day to day, inconsistent performance
- responds inappropriately in many instances, misses context clues such as body language
- distractible, restless, impulsive,
- may have issues with anxiety,
- says one thing, means another,
- difficult to discipline,
- doesn’t adjust well to change,
- difficulty listening and remembering,
- difficulty telling time and knowing right from left,
- difficulty sounding out words,
- reverses letters,
- places letters in incorrect sequence,
- difficulty understanding words or concepts, and/or
- delayed speech development; immature speech.
Learning Disabilities Association of America, https://ldaamerica.org/symptoms-of-learning-disabilities/
- Provide structure as best as possible within your family. Structuring the entire family along with your LD child will provide the child with the guidance she needs.
- List jobs appropriate for age. Start with short work periods, then increase the time as her interest grows.
- Color-code all personal belongings, make a chart so they can follow the colors and hang it on his wall.
- Put a chart with words and pictures in the bathroom for times and chores.
- Always be prepared to redirect the child. Never take for granted that the child remembers, but try not to hang over him while he is doing the responsibility. Present the task in short directions and have the child repeat them.
- Make sure you have facial contact with the child when communicating with him.
- Allow sufficient time for the child to process and respond to the given task. Remember to give one step at a time.
- Give multiple forms of instructions, i.e., visual, auditory, written (charts), tactile.
- Make sure your child sits close to the instructor or audio instruction.
- Alert the child to important information, i.e., “This is important. Please listen carefully.”
Visual and Visual Motor Issues
- Make a window in a piece of cardboard and have the child track words through this window.
- Allow the child to point to the words.
- Underline important concepts.
- For directionality, use a green line to start on the left side and a red dot to stop on the right side.
- Visual sensitivity may work well with yellow paper.
- Encourage the child to memorize and recite the material.
- Have realistic expectations of the child’s handwriting and neatness and do not demand speed.
- Provide alternative test methods for the child, i.e., having the student answering orally, highlighting instead of writing answers.
- Limit copying from the board.
Expressive Language Issues
- Encourage letter writing to friends, relatives.
- Keep a daily journal with your child. Have them write feelings or happenings to you and you write back the next day.
- Have the child relate daily activities. Encourage complete sentences if possible.
- Have fun. Do a “nonsense” story. Make up the first sentence and have the child do the next.
- Use puppets to act out stories.
Receptive Language Issues
- Go for walks and trips. Name trees, flowers, and animals to the child.
- Reading to the child helps with receptive language. Ask what, when, and where questions about the story.
- Read a story and ask the child to draw a picture of the story and about the picture.
- Always have the child repeat directions back to you.
- Explain words and phrases that have hidden meanings (idioms, puns, metaphors).
- Paraphrase using simple language.
TIP: Remediation vs Compensation
In elementary grades, intensely focus on remediation of deficit areas such as reading, math, grammar, spelling and writing to teach basic skills. As your child matures, decide how to best prepare him/her for life, work and independence. Some people will never become good spellers or develop beautiful handwriting, so it is imperative to teach compensating skills to accommodate for their weaknesses. Calculators, dictionary apps, spell checkers, and voice activated programs are commonly used forms of assistive technology that help people with learning disabilities navigate everyday life. Therefore, a solid educational program will incorporate both remediation and compensating skills to prepare students for a full productive life.
National Center for Learning Disabilities, https://www.ncld.org/
Council for Exceptional Children, https://www.cec.sped.org/
Learning Disabilities Association of America, https://ldaamerica.org/
Learning Ally, formerly Reading for the Deaf and Blind, has the largest library of human-read audiobooks https://learningally.org/
Reading Rockets offers resources, expert advice, and support strategies for struggling readers. https://www.readingrockets.org/
F.A.T. City Workshop: How Difficult Can This Be?, by Richard Lavoie is a dated video workshop on learning disabilities that you can find on the internet (free). I’ve used this for two decades in university classrooms as well as professional development for practicing teachers as a very effective tool for understanding learning disabilities and the daily struggles of children with LD. If you have a spouse that is having a difficult time understanding why their child is not learning or progressing as they should, please find this and watch it together. It is an eye opener!
Follow links to the specific disabilities to locate further resources and curriculum suggestions.