What is a Learning Disability?

Individuals with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence, but the disability creates a gap between ability and performance.

Without early and adequate identification and intervention, learning disabilities can lead to serious consequences for individuals and society – including loss of self esteem, school drop-out, juvenile delinquency, illiteracy, and other critical problems.

Neurological in origin, learning disabilities impede a person’s ability to store, process and/or produce information.
Learning disabilities can affect one’s ability to read, write, speak, or compute math, and can impair socialization skills.
Individuals with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence, but the disability creates a gap between ability and performance.

Without early and adequate identification and intervention, learning disabilities can lead to serious consequences for individuals and society – including loss of self esteem, school drop-out, juvenile delinquency, illiteracy, and other critical problems.

Learning disabilities typically affect five areas:

  • Spoken Language: delays, disorders, and deviations in listening and speaking
  • Written language: difficulties with reading, writing, and spelling
  • Math: difficulty in performing arithmetic operations or in understanding basic concept
  • Reasoning: difficulty in organizing and integrating thoughts
  • Memory: difficulty in remembering information and instructions

Does your child show signs of a learning disability?

The first thing parents should do if they suspect a learning disability is meet with the child’s teacher and school counselor. They can share information about how the student is grasping content and interacting with peers. They will relay the child’s strengths and weaknesses.

Parents can ask the school to conduct an evaluation for learning disabilities by submitting a written letter of request, typically addressed to the guidance counselor. A comprehensive evaluation will reveal a significant difference between his or her ability and what is actually achieved. Then a determination can be made whether the child qualifies for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Act. If this is the case an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) can be developed to help the child receive appropriate services through school.

Either (1) or (2) or both

  (1)  Six or more of the following symptoms of inattention have persisted for at least six months to a degree that is maladaptive and not consistent with developmental level:


    • – Often fails to give close attention to details, or makes careless errors
    • – Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
    • – Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
    • – Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores or duties (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
    • – Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
    • – Often avoids, dislikes or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework)
    • – Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., toys, school assignments, pencils, books or tools)
    • – Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
    • – Is often forgetful in daily activities

(2)  Six or more of the following symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity have persisted for at least six months to a degree that is maladaptive and not consistent with developmental level:


  • – Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms
  • – Often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations where remaining seated is expected
  • – Often inappropriately runs about or climbs excessively – older children may have feelings of restlessness
  • – Often has difficulty playing or participating in leisure activities in a quiet manner
  • – Often “on the go” or acts as if “driven by a motor”
  • – Often talks excessively



– Often blurts out answers before questions have been completed

– Often has difficulty awaiting turn

  • – Often interrupts or intrudes on others
  • Most symptoms that caused impairment were present before 7 years of age and impairment from the symptoms is present in two or more settings (i.e., school and home).


Clear evidence of clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning. The symptoms do not occur exclusively due to a pervasive development disorder, schizophrenia, or other psychotic disorder and are better accounted for by another disorder (depression, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, or a personality disorder).

Diagnosis must be made by a qualified clinician and can be:

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Combined Type if both criteria 1 and 2 are met for the past 6 months

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominantly Inattentive Type if 1 is met but not 2

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type if criteria 2 is met but 1 is not

The diagnostic criteria for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in DSM-5 are similar to those in DSM-IV. The same 18 symptoms are used as in DSM-IV, and continue to be divided into two symptom domains (inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity), of which at least six symptoms in one domain are required for diagnosis.

However, several changes have been made in DSM-5:
1) Examples have been added to the criterion items to facilitate application across the life span

2) The cross-situational requirement has been strengthened to “several” symptoms in each setting

3) Onset criterion has been changed from “symptoms that caused impairment were present before age 7 years” to “several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were present prior to age 12

4) Subtypes have been replaced with presentation specifiers that map directly to the prior subtypes

5) Co-morbid diagnosis with autism spectrum disorder is now allowed. (previously, there was little research on how these two disorders co-occur)

6) Symptom threshold change has been made for adults (5 symptoms versus six for children)7) ADHD was placed in the neurodevelopmental disorders chapter.

7) ADHD was placed in the neurodevelopmental disorders chapter.

According to research compiled by the National Institutes of Health, approximately 15-20% of children and adults in the United States (over 39 million people) have a neurological impairment called a learning disability.

Learning disabilities affect a person’s ability to process, store, retrieve, and/or produce information. It can affect an individual’s ability to listen, think, speak, write, spell, read, compute math, and/or relate to others in social situations. While this impairment is considered a handicap, it is often considered a “hidden handicap,” as children with learning disabilities do not always have a physical difference. It is this very fact that often leads to the extreme frustration which individuals with learning disabilities face every day. Appearing “normal,” society expects that they function without difficulty. When this does not occur, we often term these children “lazy,” “unmotivated,” “dumb,” or “spacey.” However, children with learning disabilities possess average to above average intelligence, and the learning disability creates a discrepancy between their potential and their achievement.

Without understanding, increased awareness, and the appropriate interventions from parents and professionals, learning disabilities can have serious consequences not only for the child, but also for society. The loss of self-esteem that is created by a lack of success in school and life is a major concern itself. However, learning disabilities left untreated and misunderstood are highly correlated statistically with illiteracy, juvenile delinquency, increased school drop out rates, substance abuse and other societal problems. The following facts indicate the importance of early identification and education of children with learning disabilities.

  1. 2.9 million children in the United States have a diagnosed learning disability
  2. More than 60,000 children in the state of Missouri have diagnosed learning disabilities
  3. 50-80% of adults with severe literacy problems have a learning disability
  4. 40-70% of juvenile delinquents tested in regional studies are LD; when offered remedial services, their recidivism rates dropped to below 2%
  5. Adolescents who have learning disabilities are at increased risk for drug and alcohol abuse and an estimated 17-60% of adolescents in treatment for substance abuse had learning disabilities
  6. 35% of students who have been identified as having LD drop out of high school – how many have not yet been identified?
  7. 62% of students with LD were not fully employed one year after graduating from high school
  8. LD and substance abuse are the most frequently cited impairments that inhibit a welfare client’s ability to gain and retain employment and fiscal independence

The above information was taken from information published by the National Center for Learning Disabilities

The following are some commonly seen symptoms which may be observed in individuals who have learning disabilities. Factors to consider are the frequency, intensity, and duration of the behaviors.


  • Problems with pronunciation
  • Difficulty discriminating between sounds
  • Limited and/or slow growing vocabulary
  • Lack of interest in telling stories
  • Difficulty expressing wants or needs
  • Does not enjoy being read to aloud
  • Easily confused by instructions
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Reversals in writing and reading


  1. Poor track record for task completion
  2. Poor performance on group tests
  3. Unable to remember daily routines or the names of teachers/peers
  4. Problems learning to categorize similar items
  5. Difficulty making choices
  6. Difficulty discriminating size, shape, or color
  7. Overly distractible
  8. Difficulty learning left to right
  9. Difficulty with tasks requiring sequencing
  10. Difficulty with time concepts
  11. Difficulty with abstract reasoning and/or problem solving
  12. Disorganized thinking
  13. Poor short-term or long-term memory
  14. Difficulty copying correctly from a model

Motor Coordination

  1. Messy Eater
  2. Clumsiness
  3. Reluctance to draw or trace
  4. Difficulty with self-help skills i.e. lacing/tying shoes, fastening clothes
  5. Awkward when climbing, jumping or running
  6. Struggles with stacking or building
  7. Poor visual-motor coordination


  1. Impulsive behavior
  2. Low tolerance for frustration
  3. Trouble making friends
  4. Resistance to change
  5. Overly withdrawn or aggressive
  6. Invades personal space of peers
  7. Sudden, extreme mood swings
  8. Sensitivity to sensory input
  9. Failure to see consequences to actions

If you observe one or more of these symptoms in your child, talk with his or her classroom teacher and/or call our office at 314-966-3088.

When a concern arises about a child’s development, academic progress or social/emotional functioning, an evaluation aids in gaining an understanding of the child’s needs.

An evaluation also helps to determine the appropriate level and type of intervention and support that may be needed. The LD evaluation may be initiated by either the parent or may be recommended by the school. If you believe or have had the recommendation to have your child evaluated, please call us today at 314-966-3088. We can help!

ACCOMMODATIONS:  Techniques and materials that allow individuals with various disabilities to complete school or work tasks with greater ease and effectiveness. Examples include spellcheckers, tape recorders, and extended time for completing assignments.

ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY:  Equipment that enhances the ability of students and employees to be more efficient and successful. For individuals with disabilities, computer grammar checkers, an overhead projector used by a teacher, or the audio/visual information delivered through a CD-ROM would be typical examples.

ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER (ADHD):  A severe difficulty in focusing and maintaining attention. Often leads to learning and behavior problems at home, school, and work. Also called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

AUDITORY PROCESSING DISORDER:  Difficulty with processing sounds, reading comprehension and language.

BEHAVIORAL INTERVENTION PLAN (BIP):  A plan put in place to address a student’s problem behavior in school. It includes program modifications, positive behavioral interventions, strategies and support.

BRAIN IMAGING TECHNIQUES:  Noninvasive techniques for studying the activity of living brains. Includes brain electrical activity mapping (BEAM), computerized axial tomography (CAT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

BRAIN INJURY:  The physical damage to brain tissue or structure that occurs before, during, or after birth that is verified by EEG, MRI, CAT, or a similar examination, rather than by observation of performance. When caused by an accident, the damage may be called Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

COLLABORATION:  A program model in which the LD teacher demonstrates for or team teaches with the general classroom teacher to help a student with LD be successful in a regular classroom.

DEVELOPMENTAL APHASIA:  A severe language disorder that is presumed to be due to brain injury rather than because of a developmental delay in the normal acquisition of language.

DEVELOPMENTAL DELAY:  A disability category used to provide early services for children ages 3 through 9 suspected of having a disability. The child will have significant delays in one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, social or emotional or communication development.

DIRECT INSTRUCTION:  An instructional approach to academic subjects that emphasizes the use of carefully sequenced steps that include demonstration, modeling, guided practice, and independent application.

DYSCALCULIA:  A severe difficulty in understanding and using symbols or functions needed for success in mathematics.

DYSGRAPHIA:  A severe difficulty in producing handwriting that is legible and written at an age-appropriate speed.

DYSLEXIA:  A severe difficulty in understanding or using one or more areas of language, including listening, speaking, reading, writing, and spelling.

DYSNOMIA:  A marked difficulty in remembering names or recalling words needed for oral or written language.

DYSPHASIA/APHASIA:  A difficulty with language and problems with reading comprehension and processing spoken language.

DYSPRAXIA:  A severe difficulty in performing drawing, writing, buttoning, and other tasks requiring fine motor skill, or in sequencing the necessary movements.

IDEA DISABILITY CATEGORIES:  These include autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impaired (includes asthma, ADHD, diabetes, epilepsy, lead poisoning, Tourette syndrome), specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment and developmental delay.

INDIVIDUAL EDUCATION PROGRAM:  An IEP is developed after a child is identified as needing a unique education plan. The program is designed to meet a student’s unique needs. Download in IEP checkllist for parents here.

LEARNED HELPLESSNESS:  A tendency to be a passive learner who depends on others for decisions and guidance. In individuals with LD, continued struggle and failure can heighten this lack of self-confidence.

LEARNING MODALITIES:  Approaches to assessment or instruction stressing the auditory, visual, or tactile avenues for learning that are dependent upon the individual.

LEARNING STRATEGY APPROACHES:  Instructional approaches that focus on efficient ways to learn, rather than on curriculum. Includes specific techniques for organizing, actively interacting with material, memorizing, and monitoring any content or subject.

LEARNING STYLES:  Approaches to assessment or instruction emphasizing the variations in temperament, attitude, and preferred manner of tackling a task. Typically considered are styles along the active/passive, reflective/impulsive, or verbal/spatial dimensions.

LOCUS OF CONTROL:  The tendency to attribute success and difficulties either to internal factors such as effort or to external factors such as chance. Individuals with learning disabilities tend to blame failure on themselves and achievement on luck, leading to frustration and passivity.

METACOGNITIVE LEARNING:  Instructional approaches emphasizing awareness of the cognitive processes that facilitate one’s own learning and its application to academic and work assignments. Typical metacognitive techniques include systematic rehearsal of steps or conscious selection among strategies for completing a task.

MINIMAL BRAIN DYSFUNCTION (MBD):   A medical and psychological term originally used to refer to the learning difficulties that seemed to result from identified or presumed damage to the brain. Reflects a medical rather than educational or vocational orientation.

MULTISENSORY LEARNING:  An instructional approach that combines auditory, visual, and tactile elements into a learning task. Tracing sandpaper numbers while saying a number fact aloud would be a multisensory learning activity.

NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL EXAMINATION:  A series of tasks that allow observation of performance that is presumed to be related to the intactness of brain function.

PERCEPTUAL HANDICAP:  Difficulty in accurately processing, organizing, and discriminating among visual, auditory, or tactile information. A person with a perceptual difficulty may say that “cap/cup” sound the same or that “b” and “d” look the same. However, glasses or hearing aids do not necessarily indicate a perceptual handicap.

PREREFERRAL PROCESS:  A procedure in which special and regular teachers develop trial strategies to help a student showing difficulty in learning remain in the regular classroom.

RESOURCE PROGRAM:  A program model in which a student with LD is in a regular classroom for most of each day, but also receives regularly scheduled individual services in a specialized LD resource classroom.

SELF-ADVOCACY:  The development of specific skills and understandings that enable children and adults to explain their specific learning disabilities to others and cope positively with the attitudes of peers, parents, teachers, and employers.

SPECIFIC LANGUAGE DISABILITY (SLD):  A severe difficulty in some aspect of listening, speaking, reading, writing, or spelling, while skills in the other areas are age-appropriate. Also called Specific Language Learning Disability (SLLD).

SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITY (SLD):  The official term used in federal legislation to refer to difficulty in certain areas of learning, rather than in all areas of learning. Synonymous with learning disabilities.

SUBTYPE RESEARCH:  A recently developed research method that seeks to identify characteristics that are common to specific groups within the larger population of individuals identified as having learning disabilities.

TRANSITION:  Commonly used to refer to the change from secondary school to postsecondary programs, work, and independent living typical of young adults. Also used to describe other periods of major change such as from early childhood to school or from more specialized to mainstreamed settings.

VISUAL PROCESSING DISORDER:  A marked problem with interpreting visual information which causes problems with reading, math, discerning pictures and symbols.

Below are a select list of titles available at the LDA library for your reference. Simply stop by the office to check out one of these or many other great references!

Raising Resilient Children – Books and Goldstein

Raising a Thinking Child – Myrna Shure

Smart Kids with School Problems – Priscilla Vail

Touchpoints – Brazelton

It’s So Much Work To Be Your Friend – Rick Lavoie

I Can Problem Solve – Murna Shure

The Hurried Child – David Elkind

The Motivation Breakthrough – Rich Lavoie

The Out of Synch Child – Carol Kranowitz

Lost At School – Ross Greene

Overcoming Dyslexia – Sally Shaywitz

Failure to Connect – Jane Healy

Endangered Minds – Jane Healy

Or view selected video, “Fat City”, by Rich Lavoie