Learning Disabilities, also referred to as Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) 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), What is a Specific Learning Disorder
United States Department of Education, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA, 2004), Learning Disabilities
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 , may range from mild to severs, 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.
Council for Exceptional Children, Who Are Exceptional Learners
Learning Disabilities of America, What Are Learning Disabilities
In federally funded public-school settings, a reading disability, may not be identified dyslexia, likewise a math disability may not be identified as 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. It’s always best to know exactly what you are dealing with.
There are several learning disorders that may or may not coincide with dyslexia: dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and dysnomia. 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 as a result of 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 spend excessive time decoding words and loosing the meaning in the process.
Source: Learning Disabilities Association of America, Parents’ Questions
If your child persistently exhibits many of the following symptoms, this indicates a possible learning disability and requires an evaluation with extensive testing. For specific characteristics of each type of learning disability, follow the links at the bottom of the page.
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 depression or 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.
Source: Learning Disabilities Association of America, Symptoms of LD
Diagnosis of a learning disability should come from a thorough evaluation that includes a variety of assessments such as intelligence, achievement, and language based tests. However, the suspected learning disability (links at bottom of page) determines specific test selection by the evaluator. A good evaluation requires parents be informed, prepared, and knowledgeable as to what the results mean and how to use the information to assist your child in learning. The following links will help facilitate this.
- Evaluation process
- Assessment and testing information
- Details on Intelligence tests
- Misconceptions of IQ and preparing your child for testing
- 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. See Accommodations versus Modifications
- Limit copying from the board.
- Occupational therapy strategies
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.
- Speech therapies strategies
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.
Source: Learning Disabilities Association of America, Tips for Parents
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.
Learning Ally, formerly Reading for the Deaf and Blind, has the largest library of human-read audiobooks.
Reading Rockets offers resources, expert advice, and support strategies for struggling readers.
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 specific disabilities for checklists, diagnosis, strategies, and curriculum suggestions. Dyslexia Dysgraphia Dyscalculia Processing Disorders Speech/Language Disorders Other learning disorders