X. What is a learning Disability?


Disability/Ability/no learning


LD is a disorder that affects people's ability to either interpret what they see and hear, or to transmit information from one part of the brain to the other or

to transmit information to the outside world…..


The acquisition and transmission of knowledge is a critical factor in functioning. 


For example, an individual may take in visual information (occipital lobe) but in order to talk about what they see, the material must go through a series of processes.  These processes involve a number of areas of the brain. Eventually, the individual must be able to remember what the object is they want to talk about and then say the name of the object (temporal lobe).


A. Individuals who have difficulty with even one of these processes can have significant difficulty functioning. 


Limitations can show up in many ways--as specific difficulties with spoken and written language, coordination, self-control, or attention. Such difficulties extend to schoolwork and can impede learning to read, or to write, or to do math.


Learning disabilities are lifelong conditions that affect many parts of a person's life:


School or work,

Daily routines,

Family life, and

Sometimes friendships and play 


Some individuals may learn to ameliorate the effect of these limitations.


However, in some individuals, overlapping learning disabilities are present. For these individuals ameliorating difficulties may be difficult and sometimes impossible.


The same situation may occur if the Learning disability is severe.


In these cases, accommodations are the only means the individual has of functioning adequately.


Other people may have a single, isolated learning problem that has little impact on other areas of their lives.


Or the individual’s intelligence may be high enough to compensate for the problem….


Einstein, for example…

                                                Or Edison



Students who have an IQ above 120 (Superior Range) often remain undiagnosed because they learn to compensate for their difficulties.  Only when thy have to work with voluminous complex material does the difficulty become apparent. 


In some cases the student can do the work, but the amount of information the student has to process becomes prohibitive (information overload).  This problem is most apparent in professional schools where the curriculum cannot be manipulated, for example, in medical or dental school.


B. How does a learning disorder differ from a learning disability?


Learning Disability is a legal term.  Medical professionals cannot diagnose a learning disability, per say.  However, medical professionals can diagnose a learning disorder.  Individuals with learning disorders are usually considered to have a learning disability.


C. Are students with Learning Disabilities supported academically?


In public schools, students who are labeled with a learning disability are given an Individualized Educational Program (IEP).  In this program, students who have a documented disability receive special accommodations to help them succeed.  These accommodations differ according to the type and intensity of difficulty.


In severe cases the curriculum is adjusted to help the individual compensate.


By in large, the most common accommodation is extended time.  By definition extended time is either time and a half or double time.  Often the student is tested in an environment with limited distractions.



D. Do all students who have a Learning Disability get accommodations?


Legally, in order to receive accommodations the student must have a functional limitation.  That is, the disability must prevent them from participating in a major life function.  Major life functions are listed on page___.


E. Is ADHD a learning disorder or a learning disability?


Oh, you wish it were so easy!  The answer is… neither.  Attentional difficulties required special legislation.  Students who have attentional issues are covered under Chapter 504.  Attentional difficulties are covered by special legislation. 


There are a number of reasons for this.  The primary reason is that individuals with ADHD can ameliorate and sometimes even eliminate the attentional difficulty with medication.  There is no medication that can be used to ameliorate a learning disability.


F. What is the difference between an accommodation and remediation?


Students who learn to cope with their learning difficulties learn remediation techniques. These techniques do not require any specific changes on the part of the teacher.


Sometimes students cannot learn any specific technique that will allow them to compensate for their difficulty.  In this case the student is afforded an accommodation.  Extended time is an accommodation.


G. Why is extended time necessary?


Often the primary difficulty in the learning is related to the time the individual needs to process information.  Psychologists call this processing speed.  It is very difficult, if not impossible, to learn remediation techniques for this difficulty.  Medication is of limited usefulness.  Consequently, the accommodation of extended time is afforded to students who have this difficulty.


H. How is processing speed measured?


Processing speed is divided into several areas.  It may change depending on what part of the cerebral cortex is involved in working with the material. It is affected by other learning disabilities and by the individual’s intellectual level.  Therefore, processing speed may change for a specific individual depending on the subject and material.  For example, an individual may have difficulty with reading but not with math.


Sometimes verbal processing speed is hampered not by the ability of the cerebral cortex to work quickly, but because of other issues such as difficulty with sound/symbol relationships (sounding out words) present a difficulty.  In order for an individual to be given accommodations on standardized tests such as the SATs, testing must identify the exact nature of the difficulty.


Other reasons for the difficulty must be ruled-out.  These rule-outs include:  poor study skills, English as a second language, and physical problems.


Individuals with attentional issues often have difficulty with processing speed because they are distracted, and therefore, they must continually call their attention back to the material in order to conceptualize and understand what is presented.


Processing speed may be affected by medication, fatigue, and mental illness such as anxiety or depression.  Organic processes such as kidney function, diabetes and blood pressure affect this function.


I. What is working memory?


Working memory involves the individual’s ability to hold and manipulate data mentally, that is, without writing it down or seeing it.   In a busy office a secretary’s ability to hold information is vital.  The secretary must be able to answer the phone, answer a question from the administrator as they wiz by and sign a postal form as the postman walks in without forgetting she STILL has a person on hold.  Secretaries who are not good with working memory often leave an individual on hold for long periods of time……


Psychologists also call this process simultaneous processing, although sometimes the definitions of these functions have more discrete definitions.


Simultaneous processing technically involves working with two processes at once, taking notes, for example.


J. Are attentional difficulties related to working memory?


Often individuals who have difficulty paying attention for any length of time (sustained attention) have difficulty with working memory.


K. How do learning disorders affect learning?


Students with academic skills disorders are often years behind their classmates in developing reading, writing, or arithmetic skills. While there are many diagnoses in this category, the most common include:

·         Developmental reading disorder

·         Developmental writing disorder

·         Developmental arithmetic disorder

Developmental Reading Disorder -- This type of disorder, also sometimes known as dyslexia, is quite widespread.  Dyslexia is technically the inability to hold letters stable. For some individuals this is very challenging.  They confuse was with saw, or through with though.  As the individual becomes more competent as a reader, this problem becomes less of an issue.  This is because the individual can decipher the word by the context of the passage or sentence and instable letters tend to affect the reading process less severely.   However, the public understanding of dyslexia incorporates a number of issues relating to reading.  

A person can have problems in any of the tasks involved in reading. However, scientists found that a significant number of people with reading difficulty share an inability to relate sounds in spoken words with the symbols that represent them (sound symbol relationships).  They have difficulty with fone vs. phone. 


Other symptoms of this difficulty include trouble with rhyming games, such as rhyming. Scientists consider these skills fundamental for verbal learning. Remedial techniques can help many children with dyslexia acquire these skills.


There are many skills that contribute to reading comprehension.  In order to read effectively the individual must have a basic knowledge of vocabulary.  Vocabulary is a critical skill and is rarely related to a learning disability.


The individual also needs to be able to group words together in order to create meaningful relationships. 


Then the individual needs to hold and relate the phrases to create meaningful ideas.


Finally, the individual must be able relate new ideas to already learned and stored material in order to understand or remember the new concepts. Association is a critical factor in learning.


The nature of reading disabilities presents differently as a student progresses in school.  The focus of reading shifts from word identification to comprehension.


The reading process identified here is simplistic.  Reading is a very complicated skill.  The number of steps involved in the reading process creates a challenging problem when a student is having difficulty.  Without identifying the specific nature of the problem, overcoming the reading problem can be very frustrating. 


The complexity of this process explains why asking a student to persist by reading more only creates more frustration on the part of both the student and the teacher.  Without identifying and addressing the specific nature of the difficulty the student is unlikely to progress very quickly.


Developmental Writing Disorder -- Writing, too, involves several brain areas and functions. The brain networks for vocabulary, grammar, fine motor coordination, and memory, and working memory are important components of functioning in this arena. Developmental writing disorder may result from problems in any of these areas.


Students who have difficulty in this area often request a note taker.  This may simply be related to the student’s inability to write quickly (a physical limitation).  In cases where this is the problem, a computer may be used to overcome the difficulty. 


In other cases the individual has difficulty holding the material and then transferring it to paper.  In these cases the student may benefit from dictating material and then typing it. 


Like a reading disorder, individuals with a Writing Disorder need to understand the exact nature of the difficulty in order to understand how to ameliorate the problem.


Developmental Arithmetic Disorder – Like other areas, arithmetic is a complex process.  Even simple problems involve a series of steps.  In order solve: 25 divided by 3 equals _____?


The student must first recognizing numbers and symbols.  Next memorized facts such as the multiplication table, aligning numbers, and understanding abstract concepts like place value and fractions must be utilized. Problems with numbers or basic concepts are likely to show up early. Disabilities that appear in the later grades are more often tied to problems in reasoning, abstraction and spatial reasoning.


L. Complex learning problems….


Many aspects of speaking, listening, reading, writing, and arithmetic overlap and build on the same brain capabilities. So it's not surprising that people can be diagnosed as having more than one area of learning disability.  This is particularly true of individuals with Reading Disorders.


Verbal skill areas are complex.  The ability to understand language is basic to learning speech. Therefore, any disorder that hinders the ability to understand language also interferes with speech development.  Speech difficulties hinder learning to read and write. A single gap in the brain's operation can disrupt many types of activity.