Learning Disabilities: An Overview

By: LD OnLine (2008)

Learning disabilities (LD) come in several forms. Learn more about them, how they're identified, and what types of instruction support students with LD.  learning disabilities

What is a learning disability?

Some individuals, despite having an average or above average level of intelligence, have real difficulty acquiring basic academic skills. These skills include those needed for successful reading, writing, listening, speaking and/or math. These difficulties might be the result of a learning disability.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law, defines a learning disability as a condition when a child's achievement is substantially below what one might expect for that child. Learning disabilities do not include problems that are primarily the result of intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance, or visual, hearing, emotional or intellectual disabilities. 

Many children with LD have struggle with reading. The difficulties often begin with individual sounds, or phonemes. Students may have problems with rhyming, and pulling words apart into their individual sounds (segmenting) and putting individual sounds together to form words (blending). This makes it difficult to decode words accurately, which can lead to trouble with fluency and comprehension. As students move through the grades, more and more of the information they need to learn is presented in written (through textbooks) or oral (through lecture) form. This exacerbates the difficulties they have succeeding in school.

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Dyslexia and the Brain

Dyslexia and the Brain: What Does Current Research Tell Us?

By: Roxanne F. Hudson , Leslie High , and Stephanie Al Otaiba (2007)

The identification of a child with dyslexia is a difficult process, but there are ways that parents and teachers can learn more about the reading difficulty and support the child’s learning. Developmental dyslexia and how it relates to brain function are complicated topics that researchers have been studying since dyslexia was first described over a hundred years ago.

W. Pringle Morgan (cited in Shaywitz, 1996), a doctor in Sussex, England, described the puzzling case of a boy in the British Medical Journal: "Percy … aged 14 … has always been a bright and intelligent boy, quick at games, and in no way inferior to others of his age. His great difficulty has been – and is now – his inability to read" (p. 98).

Almost every teacher in the United States has at least one student who could fit the same description written so many years ago. This situation leads many school personnel to wonder why their articulate, clearly bright student has so many problems with what appears to be a simple task – reading a text that everyone else seems to easily comprehend.

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Twelve Myths We Tend to Believe About Dyslexia

1. People with dyslexia see words backward, such as “dog” for “god” or “was” for “saw”.

This myth is incorrect. Dyslexia is not caused by a vision problem. Many people have a lifelong confusion over left and right. Plus, they have difficulty sounding out the words in the first place and may simply mix up the words. They do not see things backwards.

2. Dyslexia is a medical diagnosis.

Physicians do not test for dyslexia and it is not classified as a medical term. Physicians are not trained to test for reading, spelling, and writing difficulties and there is not a pill or medical procedure to help with those types of issues. 

3. Dyslexia cannot be diagnosed until third grade.

False. Professionals conducting cognitive testing can accurately diagnose reading problems as early as five years old.

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Seven Secret Fears About Your Dyslexic Child

Dyslexia Insight #4: Seven Secret Fears About Your Dyslexic Child

By: Ben Foss, Contributing Writer,
Published Date: September 3, 2013

The hardest part about dyslexia is the loneliness. The same is true if you’re the parent of a dyslexic child. Feeling cut off from your friends, your school or, worse, your child, is tremendously painful.

People tend to focus on the functional challenges: spelling tests, chapter books, standardized tests. But it’s the secret fears about how dyslexia will play out that hold us back the most. In writing my book, a plan to help parents of dyslexic kids avoid some of the pitfalls that my parents and I faced, I documented and debunked some of the most common fears. Talking about them with a community you can trust is like putting sunlight on a muddy road. With enough time, the fear will evaporate like the water in the mud and you can begin focusing on how to move forward.

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fMRIs show that dyslexia isn't a matter of IQ

Published: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - 14:36 in Psychology & Sociology


About 5 to 10 percent of American children are diagnosed as dyslexic. Historically, the label has been assigned to kids who are bright, even verbally articulate, but who struggle with reading -- in short, whose high IQs mismatch their low reading scores. When children are not as bright, however, their reading troubles have been chalked up to their general intellectual limitations. Now a new brain-imaging study challenges this understanding of dyslexia. 

"We found that children who are poor readers have the same brain difficulty in processing the sounds of language whether they have a high or low IQ," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist John D. E. Gabrieli, who worked on the study with Fumiko Hoeft, Hiroko Tanaka, Jessica M. Black, Leanne M. Stanley, Shelli R. Kesler, and Allan L. Reiss of the Stanford University School of Medicine; Charles Hulme at York University in the UK; and Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli, also at MIT.

"Reading difficulty is independent of other cognitive abilities." The findings, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, could change the ways educators help all poor readers.

The study involved 131 children, about 7 to 17 years old. According to a simple reading test and an IQ measure, each child was assigned to one of three groups -- typical readers with typical IQs; poor readers with typical IQs; and poor readers with low IQs. All were shown word pairs and asked whether they rhymed. Spellings didn't indicate sound similarities. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, the researchers observed the activity in six brain regions important in connecting print and sound.

The results: Poor readers in both IQ groups showed significantly less brain activity in the observed areas than typical readers. But there was no difference in the brains of the poor readers, regardless of their IQs. "These findings suggest the specific reading problem is the same whether or not you have strong cognitive abilities across the board," says Gabrieli.

The study could have an important impact on both the diagnosis and education of poor readers. The revised definition of dyslexia proposed for the upcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V), psychiatry's diagnostic bible, "currently lacks neurobiological evidence for the removal of 'severe discrepancy' [between IQ and reading ability]," says Stanford's Fumiko Hoeft. "Our study will be the first to provide such evidence."

Meanwhile, educators commonly offer reading- and language-focused interventions to bright dyslexics, to bring their reading up to the level of their expected achievement. But they may consider such specific remediation futile for less-"smart" children. If teachers understand that the same thing is going on in the brains of all poor readers, they may see that all those children could benefit from the same interventions. Since it's hard to learn much if you can't read, that's good news for a lot of kids.

 

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