What are Learning Disabilities? Can children with learning disabilities learn?


Does your child have a learning disability?  If so, do you know exactly what having a learning disability means in relation to your child’s learning?  Probably the most important thing to realize about learning disabilities is that it means your child CAN learn.  He may even be intellectually gifted and have a learning disability.

A child may also have a low IQ, but he is not “mentally impaired” if he is diagnosed with a learning disability.  This is very important for you to know because many times a child with a learning disability is treated as if he cannot learn, but being able to learn is a fundamental difference between being diagnosed as mentally impaired versus having a learning disability.  Even then, children who are diagnosed as mentally impaired have an ability to learn as well.

I believe every child CAN learn if taught according to the child’s learning style using multi-sensory instruction, and at his or her own learning pace.  Not every child will be able to learn Algebra or understand British Literature, but most children can learn to read, write, and perform basic math calculations.

So, what exactly is a learning disability?  The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), defines Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) 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 an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

According to the IDEA federal laws, Specific Learning Disabilities are NOT “learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.”  [34 Code of Federal Regulations §300.7(c)(10)]

In other words, learning disabilities are NOT caused by a physical area of interference with learning, which would include ocular motor deficiencies (requiring vision therapy), Attention deficits (requiring medication), bipolar disorder (requiring medication), scotopic sensitivity (requiring colored glasses or pages), etc.  Learning disabilities are neurological in origin and cannot be medicated or treated by some external device such as glasses, hearing aids, augmented speech devices, etc.

A child with learning disabilities may have difficulty with short-term memory (holding information in his head long enough to manipulate it or work with it), long-term memory (getting info into storage for access at a later time), executive functioning (planning, sequencing, organizing, etc.), memory recall, a slow processing speed when thinking, difficulty in reading (dyslexia), math (dyscalculia), writing (dysgraphia), etc.

There are so many possibilities for difficulties, which makes it difficult for you to determine where your child’s problem lies through observation.  You may be able to determine your child has difficulty conveying what he has learned, but you won’t be able to observe the neurological processes in his brain to see whether the difficulty is an information retrieval problem, a long-term memory problem, a communication-based problem, etc.  Therefore, it is immensely helpful to have an independent neuropsychological evaluation by a qualified practitioner to determine the root causes of your child’s learning struggles.  It’s virtually impossible to actually overcome your child’s learning difficulties if you don’t know the root causes of his neurological difficulties. If you have the specifics on your child’s areas of difficulty, you can target programs to meet his or her specific learning needs.

Having an evaluation can also help you know your child’s strengths and how to teach your child.  The Learning Abled Kids’ website provides information on various disabilities, but always keep in mind that this is not professional advice and no one can ‘evaluate’ your child without individualized testing and working with your child.  The information provided here can be helpful, but you must always keep in mind–Your child is uniquely gifted with his strengths and weaknesses, so it is up to you to have your child evaluated to determine how to precisely meet his needs.

Helpful Reading List:

Learning Disabilities: A to Z: A Parent’s Complete Guide to Learning Disabilities from Preschool to Adulthood

Help for the Struggling Student: Ready-to-Use Strategies and Lessons to Build Attention, Memory, and Organizational Skills

Complete Learning Disabilities Handbook: Ready-to-Use Strategies & Activities for Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities

Smart but Stuck: Emotional Aspects of Learning Disabilities and Imprisoned Intelligence

Teaching Learning Strategies and Study Skills To Students with Learning Disbilities, Attention Deficit Disorders, or Special Needs

Look for other Learning Disabilities books

Best Wishes for Success!