Specific Learning Disability: Definition & Types

Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

Specific learning disabilities are more common than you may think, with some occurring in as many as 1 in every 5 children. Learn more about specific learning disabilities, how they can manifest and how you can recognize them in your students.

What Is a Specific Learning Disability?

Have you ever been so tired that you lose track of what you are doing? Maybe you've been on the job too long and you keep counting out the wrong change. Or perhaps you've been flipping through a magazine before bed and realize that you've been reading the same sentence over and over without comprehending it. If you have a specific learning disability, mistakes like this happen all the time and, as you can imagine, they can be extremely frustrating and discouraging.

A specific learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the neural processes involved in using or comprehending language. In other words, the brain connections dealing with spoken and written language do not work the way they're supposed to. These missed or disrupted connections can create difficulties with speaking, listening, reading, writing, spelling, reasoning or mathematical computations.

We should note, however, that specific learning disabilities do not include scholastic difficulties that result from physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities or emotional disturbances. These are each listed as separate categories under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally passed in 1975.

Recognizing Specific Learning Disabilities

As a classroom teacher, it's important to be able to recognize students with specific learning disabilities. These students have average to above-average intelligence but tend to flounder in a general education classroom. Without intervention, their academic achievement can't reach the level expected for their intellect. Their learning difficulties can manifest in a variety areas, including:

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