Specific Learning Disabilities

Disabilities in Reading and Math Are Common

Teacher helping student use computer
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Specific learning disabilities are a group of disabilities outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The term refers to a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes used to understand language (either written language or spoken language). 

Please note that the term "learning disability" is sometimes used interchangeably with the term "learning disorder"—these are the same. 

Examples of Learning Disabilities

An individual can have one learning disability or multiple learning disabilities. Early detection and intervention are key to prevent a learning disability from negatively impacting a student in class. The following learning disabilities commonly affect students:

Learning disabilities may include several types of disorders. Dyslexia, for example, is included with learning disabilities in reading under the IDEA. Dysgraphia is included with learning disabilities in writing, and dyscalculia is included in learning disabilities in math.

Conditions That Can Make Learning More Difficult

Learning disabilities may also involve disorders or syndromes such as developmental aphasia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or Tourette syndrome, which may not be classified as learning disabilities but can affect a child's learning. ADHD is arguably among the most well known of these disorders. It can cause children to have trouble focusing or sitting still. Like other disorders, ADHD affects children in different ways.

Not all children with ADHD may experience learning difficulties as a result.

The Role of Other Disabilities

Specific learning disabilities are not typically diagnosed when other primary disabling conditions such as visual impairments, hearing impairments, motor disabilities, mental retardation, or emotional disturbances are present. In addition, students whose academic weaknesses are caused by environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage are not typically diagnosed with learning disabilities unless there is evidence the disability is not related to these factors, and the child has received appropriate educational intervention.

Moving Forward

If you suspect your child has a learning disability, consult your child's teacher, school administrator, counselor, or pediatrician to have your child evaluated. By ordering tests for your child to take and reviewing a portfolio of your child's work, the school faculty may be able to determine that a learning disability is present or not.

It's important to remember, however, that all children have strengths and weaknesses. Just because a child is weak in one area does not mean that she has a learning disorder. Moreover, all children develop at different paces. Children may not be as advanced in a certain area as their brothers or sisters were. This does not mean they have a learning disorder.

If a child does indeed have a learning disability, the good news is that there is a lot of help available. Consultations with the right professionals can help your child manage the disability well. In fact, many people with learning disorders go on to college, earn advanced degrees and become successful adults.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Part A. General Provisions Subchapter I Section 1401 Definitions.

  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington D.C.: 2013.

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.