What is a Learning Disability?
Although there is no single, clear definition of a Learning Disability, professionals agree that individuals with learning disabilities do not perform as well as they should, based on tests and academic performance.
Individuals with a learning disability usually have average to above-average intelligence with much lower scores in one or more areas of reading, math, written expression, language, attention or perception. Terms such as Dyslexia (reading) and Dyscalculia (math) refer to specific learning disabilities.
The academic difficulties that individuals demonstrate are not related to inadequate instruction, economic or cultural disadvantage, mental retardation or other physical disabilities. The National institute of Health estimates that one in seven Americans has some type of learning disability. Common characteristics typically associated with learning disabilities include disorganization, poor planning, memory deficits, frustration and difficulty with specific academic skills.
Fortunately, a learning disability is not "terminal," and professionals have identified effective intervention strategies to instruct students diagnosed with learning disabilities.
Diagnosing a Learning Disability
When parents, teachers or other professionals are concerned with the possibility of a learning disability, the first stage of an evaluation is usually a screening. At this step, professionals review current levels of performance and behaviors. Professionals then conduct an evaluation that includes at minimum a formal academic assessment, developmental history and cognitive testing. Based on the strengths and weaknesses of this evaluation a diagnosis may be made with specific recommendations for the individual's progress.
Social and Emotional Difficulties
Individuals with learning disabilities often face affective challenges as they strive to work with their disabilities. Some students may feel embarrassed by their struggle, anxious about their performance, frustrated by others’ expectations, depressed because of failure and have a tendency to give up. Generally individuals with learning disabilities may have problems with low self-esteem, understanding their emotions and misinterpreting social relationships.
Federal guidelines exist to ensure that students with learning disabilities are receiving specific instruction and remediation that is appropriate to their needs and level of development. In 1975, a federal law was passed (PL 94-142) which required schools to provide all students, with and without disabilities, a free and appropriate education, including special education, to meet the specific needs of students.
In 1990, this law was amended (F.L.105-17) and emphasized the importance of including all students in school settings with non-disabled peers. After reauthorization in 1997, P.L. 105-17 stressed a more effective use of an individualized Education Plan to document and monitor the progress of a student diagnosed with a disability of any type, including a learning disability. Individuals with learning disabilities should be aware of their federally mandated rights in schools and in the workplace.
The good news is that learning disabilities can be managed with counseling and effective intervention strategies. Those who are concerned that they or a loved one may have a learning disability should seek professional help for testing and counseling.