• Shakira Rouse

What is a Learning Disability?

Let's get back to the basic and make sense of this word "Learning Disability". Learning disability (LD) is a compound word that frequently discussed but rarely understood. In my field of work this word comes up a lot in my presentations and conversations with others. One thing that I have noticed is the perplex look on people faces when I asked them " do you know what a learning disability is?" To be honest, most people don't and a lot of the definitions go over people's heads, like it did for me. For years, I heard this word but never knew what it meant in relation to me, or what exactly was a learning disability? Before I answer that question it is important to set the foundation on learning.


The Foundation of learning


One of the greatest piece of advice I received in my career was " if you want to help students that learn differently, you need to understand how the average students learns." I took these words to heart and began researching and learning (no pun intended) how the brain learn.


In today's busy world there is a lot of information in our environment. All this information enters our mind through our senses, and through a series of fast and complex communication system in the brain sorts, and stores all the information. Think of an office filled with thousands of sheets of paper, and inside that office there is a worker organizing each paper, storing them in specific filing cabinets, and when information is needed it goes back into the filing cabinet and brings the correct document.


What is a Learning Disability?


For years, professionals have been debating on a clear cut definition of a learning disability. The definition I use, is a neurological disorder that impacts a person's acquisition and use of language, reading, writing, speaking, reasoning and math skills ( Hammil, Leigh, McNutt & Larsen 1981).

A simpler way to understand LD is learning differently, essential it means those with LD their brains are wired differently and therefore process information different from the average individual.


LD are not a visible disability, therefore it is not always evident that someone may be experiencing difficulties. In fact, main cases can go undetected for years. As well as the symptoms are not always evident and can be mistaken for laziness, careless or lack of effort in students. As science and technology advance researchers are able to examine brain function more in depth and expand our knowledge on neuroscience in regards to learning. It is a common misconception that those with LD have lower intelligence, this FALSE and far from the truth. Individuals with LD are of average or above average intelligence, in fact, LD are the most common disability among individuals today. In an average classroom 3-4 students have a LD.


What are the signs of a Learning Disability?


The signs of a learning disability will vary from person to person. As well as they will be different at various stages of an individual's life. The most common signs are: an achievement gap and consistent mistake and/or an consistent inconsistency of performance. An achievement gap is when the individual abilities in one area are average or above average but in another area below sub-average. A common example I tell my clients is a student to display strong math skills but be below grade level in reading and writing. Consistency in mistake refers to there is usually a pattern to the mistakes. This can look like the learner frequently miss pronouncing words with a certain letter, or letter combination. These could be some of the signs in a child that may be displaying indications of a reading disability, as an adult this can change to poor handwriting to cover spelling mistakes, or reluctant to read unfamiliar text.


What are the types of Learning Disability?


Learning Disability is an umbrella term to group various disorder that impact acquisition and processing of information. Besides these neurological disorders are linked to specific skills they various kinds of learning disabilities can fall into the seven categories:


Dyslexia, a common learning disability impacting reading skills. Specific areas that can be impacted are: fluency in reading, decoding, comprehension, recall, writing and spelling.


Dysgraphia, impacts a person's hand writing ability and task focusing on their fine motor skills.


Dyscalculia, is a learning disability that impacts a persons ability to understand numbers, make calculations and grasp math facts.


Oral/written language, when are person demonstrates difficulty in understanding something that they read or was just spoken to them.


Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities: a learning disability that impacts other skills not related to language (i.e. reading and writing). This consist of difficulty with: visual, spatial, organization skills, processing non-verbal cues, written expression, some math skills.


What causes learning disabilities?


Learning disabilities are hereditary.


How do you test for Learning Disability?


Testing for a learning disability isn't as simple as walking into a doctors office and asking for a prescription. Since learning disability is classified as a neurological disorder, it has be diagnose by a psychologist qualified to perform a psychoeducational assessment. A psychoeducational assessment is conducted one on one through a series of variety of tools to access a child/ adults academic skills identifying their strengths and areas of need. When there is suspicion of a learning disability, teachers are also likely to conduct an informal assessment. This informal assessment could consist of gather samples of students work, conduct mini assessments, completion of a checklist which can be completed by the teacher, parents and sometimes the student themselves.


Can adults have a learning disability?


Learning Disabilities are a condition that impacts a persons lifespan. This means that children with learning disabilities grow up to become adults with LDs as well. The only difference is how a LD will play out in different areas of their lives. For example, a child that has dyscalculia may have trouble with calculations in addition and subtraction. It is likely they will also have a difficult time managing money as an adult.


How do children and adults get help with a learning disability?


As mentioned, there is no cure for LD. Students with LD are provided assistance through intervention or prevention. If an LD is detected early in a child methods of prevention may be used in order to prevent the condition from further developing. In most cases, various methods of intervention are provided. Remedial programs, one on one instruction, support accommodation, or assistive technology etc. are some examples of ways intervention is used to help support students. It is important to note that, while educators and schools do their best to assist all students, these services are not obligated for all students and only those with an Individual Education Pan (IEP)/ Individual Program Plan (IPP) will have priority access to these supports and services.


How to Help Someone You Love


Everyone should be treated with love, compassion, and kindness. Supporting someone with an LD can be a challenge, but also be aware it is a hard to challenge for them learning to understand and cope with their learning challenges. Here are a few tips to help navigate your love one to success:

  • Have patience

  • Use analogies when explaining information and K.I.S.S ( Keep It Simple Silly)

  • Be informed – Know your rights (as a parent/ guardian) and the students

  • Seek help from a professional

As the human mind can be complex, but it does not mean learning disabilities have to be a complicated topic. I vow to share my knowledge with you to help everyone achieve success. We are on this journey together. There are #NoLimits to what you can achieve

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