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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines a specific learning disability as “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations.” This disability category includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia (a type of language disorder).
However, as IDEA’s definition notes, “Specific Learning Disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; of intellectual disability; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.” This clause helps to distinguish learning disabilities from the other disability categories specified by IDEA. Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) is by far the largest category of disability within the Individuals for Disabilities Education Act. Nearly half of all disabled children are labeled in the category of SLD.
According to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (known as NICHCY), specific learning disabilities commonly affect skills in the areas of:
- Reading (called dyslexia)
- Writing (called dysgraphia)
- Math (called dyscalculia)
Signs that a child might have a learning disability tend to appear in elementary school. For example, difficulty learning the alphabet, problems with following directions, trouble transforming thoughts into written words and misreading math problems are all possible indicators of a specific learning disability.
It’s clear from reading the above traits that students with learning disabilities can face a number of educational challenges. Oklahoma’s State Department of Education alludes to several of these challenges in their online fact sheet on specific learning disabilities; they include:
- Difficulty reading out loud
- Poor reading comprehension
- Struggling to write papers and essays
- Trouble understanding lectures
- Difficulty holding a pencil
Tips for Teachers and Parents
Don’t let the term “learning disabilities” mislead you, teachers and parents. Rooted within this term is a common assumption that children with learning disabilities can’t learn. NICHCY proposes otherwise, stating, “Children with learning disabilities are not ‘dumb’ or ‘lazy.’ In fact, they usually have average or above average intelligence. Their brains just process information differently.”
Indeed, the more politically-correct phrase “learning differences” offers a more accurate snapshot that captures the essence of learning disabilities. Supplied with the appropriate special education services, students with learning disabilities can flourish academically. Take a student with dysgraphia for example. He or she may have A-worthy ideas for a paper inside his or her head, but without accommodations those ideas will probably not earn the grade they deserve. One potential accommodation for such a scenario entails using speech-to-text technology to write papers.
Overall, the best educational accommodations for students with specific learning disabilities stem from assessing a child’s particular case and identifying his or her strengths and weaknesses. This evaluation is worked into the individualized education program (IEP) process.
Parents, are you concerned that your youngster might possess a learning disability? NICHCY notes you can ask your school to evaluate your son or daughter to diagnosis any learning disabilities. If your child has a specific learning disability, the IEP process will begin to unfold.