What is a Learning Disability?

Student and supporterThere are a wide variety of learning disabilities. Each one is called a specific learning disability because each one affects an individual in a different way. One person may manifest several different specific learning disabilities. However, for convenience, we usually talk about learning disabilities as a group.

LDs come in many forms and their effects are different from person to person. They relate to:

• Getting information into the brain (Input)
• Making sense of this information (Organization)
• Storing and retrieving information (Memory)
• Getting information back out (Output)

Though it is difficult to attribute learning disabilities to any specific cause, we know that they can be related to genetic, congenital or acquired neuro-biological factors. They are not caused by cultural or language difference, inadequate or inappropriate instruction, socio-economic status or lack of motivation.

What do LDs affect?

No two LDs are the same. LDs vary greatly in form and intensity, and can affect one or more of the following areas.

Daily life:
People with LDs may experience problems in any of the following areas:
• Organizing
• Managing time
• Planning & decision making
• Problem solving
• Learning to drive
• Seeing the “whole picture” or knowing what details are important
• Finding their way in an unfamiliar environment
• Interpreting graphs, charts and maps
• Following multi-step instructions
• Finding things on a cluttered desk

Social Life:
People with LDs may experience problems with social situations in any of the following areas:
• Interpreting facial expressions
• Understanding body language
• Understanding tones of voice
• Taking turns in conversations

People with LDs may experience problems with reading (sometimes called dyslexia) in any of the following areas:
• Breaking words down into their individual sounds
• Recognizing words
• Reading fluently
• Understanding what is read

People with LDs may experience problems with writing (sometimes called dysgraphia) in any of the following areas:
• Handwriting
• Putting thoughts on paper
• Organizing written work
• Spelling and grammar

People with LDs may experience problems in math (sometimes called dyscalculia) in any of the following areas:
• Learning number facts
• Doing arithmetic and calculation
• Using symbols in math
• Understanding visual–spatial relationships

Frequently learning disabilities co-exist with other conditions such as attentional behavioural and emotional disorders, sensory impairments or other medical conditions.

To achieve success, persons with learning disabilities require specialized interventions in home, school, community and workplace settings. These interventions can vary from person to person and must be appropriate to each person’s strengths and needs. Some of these include:

  • specific instruction on how to perform a task
  • development of strategies that can compensate for an area of weakness
  • development of self-advocacy skills