What Is a Learning Disability?
A learning disability (LD) is cognitive disorder that restricts a person’s ability to read, write, do math, or accurately process nonverbal information such as facial expressions or visual charts and graphs. A key characteristic of an LD is a gap – often a significant one – between the individual’s overall intelligence and their area of processing difficulty. Some people are both intellectually gifted and learning disabled and referred to as “twice exceptional.” It is possible to have more than one type of LD, and other conditions such as ADHD often co-occur with learning disabilities. An LD is usually inherited. While a person does not outgrow an LD, it is possible to develop compensating strategies that minimize the disorder’s impact over time. LD’s are equally common in males and females. Approximately 8% of the population is diagnosed with a learning disability.
Subtypes of Learning Disabilities
- Specific Learning Disorder
- Dyslexia (Reading Disorder)
- Dyscalculia (Math Disorder)
- Dysgraphia (Writing Disorder)
- Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD)
- Inability to discriminate between letters, numerals and sounds
- poor reading and/or writing ability
- difficulties with sequencing
- difficulty following directions
- difficulty memorizing math facts
- difficulty listening and remembering reverses letters
- difficulty comprehending what is read
- hyperverbal; difficulty getting to the point
Diagnosis and Treatment
Learning disabilities are usually diagnosed by psychologists or school psychologists. This is an educational assessment that typically includes an IQ/cognitive testing as well as achievement testing (e.g., reading, math, writing). Many U.S. schools have replaced widespread use of the “discrepancy formula” – a significant gap between IQ and achievement – to diagnose LD’s with practices designed to identify students with learning disabilities. A common approach (“Response to Intervention” or RTI) identifies children who have chronic difficulty learning these basic skills when presented with effective instruction over time. Treatment can include remediation, which is designed to reteach skills in a different manner than what the person originally received. One example is intensive phonetic, multisensory reading instruction such as the Orton-Gillingham method. Treatment can also include using technology to help the person compensate for their weaknesses. For example, some dyslexics listen to “audio books” while reading to bypass their decoding difficulties.
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