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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Schools in Which All Kinds of Minds Can Grow

By: Mel Levine (2006)

As we discover more about how students learn and how different minds learn differently, our schools have a golden opportunity to increase the percentage of their students who experience true academic success.

Armed with these new insights into brain function, educators can help all children and adolescents develop their unique strengths while overcoming the negative effects of their weaknesses. In doing so, they will have created schools for all kinds of minds. Let us consider some prominent features of such optimal educational environments:

  • Teachers would be well trained in how learning works and would be knowledgeable about the specific brain functions that are critical for the age group and/or subject matter they teach.

  • Teachers would have learned about the revealing signs of specific differences in learning, how to identify these in the classroom and how to manage students with learning problems more effectively.

  • Teachers would be trained to "diagnose" students' strengths and special affinities (areas of strong interest), so as to make sure that these positive qualities are being recognized, celebrated, and enhanced. 

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