What is a Specific Learning Disability?

Specific Learning Disability [formerly termed a Learning Disability] SLD is the term currently used to describe a neurological condition that interferes with an individual's ability to store, process or produce information. Such disabilities affect both children and adults. The impairment can be quite subtle and may go undetected throughout life. But learning disabilities create a gap between a person's true capacity and his day-to-day productivity and performance.

Specific Learning Disabilities refer to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulty in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, due to central nervous system (neurological) dysfunction and may occur across the life-span. An individual can have marked difficulties at some tasks while excelling at others. Some common Specific Learning Disabilities include dyslexia (difficulty with words), dyscalculia (difficulty with numbers) and dysgraphia (difficulty with written expression).  

Specific Learning Disabilties may be manifested in some of the following ways: 

Visual Problems (difficulty that the brain has with handling information that the eyes see. These are not conditions that will be eliminated by the use of glasses or contact lenses)

  • Poor visual memory (not remembering faces, words, people's names, reversals in writing ( 41 instead of 14),
  • Visual perception (difficulty in seeing the difference between similar objects such as b and d)
  • Figure ground discrimination (inability to find the signature place on an application form)
  • Visual tracking (inability to follow a line on a page)

Auditory Problems (related to the processing of information that we hear)

  • Auditory memory (difficulty in remembering what has been said, information or instructions)
  • Auditory discrimination (trouble noting differences between similar sounds or words- for example, bee and pea or seventeen for seventy)
  • Auditory sequencing (confusion with number sequence, lists, or directions)
  • Auditory figure ground (difficulty hearing sounds over background noises)

Motor Problems (related to various motor functions of the body)

  • Eye hand co-ordination (difficulties with handwriting)
  • Fine motor/muscle control (difficulty using pencil, pen, scissors)
  • Large motor/muscle control (clumsiness, difficulties in certain physical activities)

It is estimated that 10-15% of the general population have Specific Learning Disabilities. Because of the very nature of the disability and because most children spend at least ten years of their lives in school, the most frequently noted signs are related to school performance. However, it is important to remember that a specific learning disability is not confined to school hours and may be identified during the preschool years.

In most cases, parents rarely realize that anything is amiss until the child enters school. In some cases, the parents may have suspected for some time that something was different about this child. If parents, teachers, and other professionals discover a child's learning disability early and provide the right kind of help, it can give the child a chance to develop skills needed to achieve in school and to lead a successful and productive life.

A recent US National Institutes of Health study showed that 67% of young students who were at risk for reading difficulties became average or above average readers after receiving intensive reading support and remediation help in the early grades.



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