When Sara was in the first grade, her teacher started teaching the students
how to read. Sara's parents were really surprised when Sara had a lot
of trouble. She was bright and eager, so they thought that reading would
come easily to her. It didn't. She couldn't match the letters to their
sounds or combine the letters to create words.
Sara's problems continued into second grade. She still wasn't reading,
and she was having trouble with writing, too. The school asked Sara's
mom for permission to evaluate Sara to find out what was causing her problems.
Sara's mom gave permission for the evaluation.
The school conducted an evaluation and learned that Sara has a learning
disability. She started getting special help in school right away.
Sara's still getting that special help. She works with a reading specialist
and a resource room teacher every day. She's in the fourth grade now,
and she's made real progress! She is working hard to bring her reading
and writing up to grade level. With help from the school, she'll keep
learning and doing well.
are Learning Disabilities?
Learning disability is a general term that describes specific kinds of
learning problems. A learning disability can cause a person to have trouble
learning and using certain skills. The skills most often affected are:
reading, writing, listening, speaking, reasoning, and doing math.
Learning disabilities (LD) vary from person to person. One person with
LD may not have the same kind of learning problems as another person with
LD. Sara, in our example above, has trouble with reading and writing.
Another person with LD may have problems with understanding math. Still
another person may have trouble in each of these areas, as well as with
understanding what people are saying.
Researchers think that learning disabilities are caused by differences
in how a person's brain works and how it processes information. Children
with learning disabilities are not "dumb" or "lazy." In fact, they usually have average or above average intelligence. Their
brains just process information differently.
The definition of "learning disability" just below comes from
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA is the
federal law that guides how schools provide special education and related
services to children with disabilities. The special help that Sara is
receiving is an example of special education
There is no "cure" for learning disabilities. They are life-long.
However, children with LD can be high achievers and can be taught ways
to get around the learning disability. With the right help, children with
LD can and do learn successfully.
Definition of "Learning Disability"
special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,
defines a specific learning disability as . . .
". . . a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes
involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that
may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read,
write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such
as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia,
and developmental aphasia."
However, learning disabilities do not include, "…learning problems
that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities,
of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental,
cultural, or economic disadvantage." 34 Code of Federal Regulations
Common are Learning Disabilities?
As many as 1 out of every 5 people in the United States has a learning
disability. Almost 3 million children (ages 6 through 21) have some form
of a learning disability and receive special education in school. In fact,
over half of all children who receive special education have a learning
disability ( Twenty-fourth Annual Report to Congress , U.S. Department
of Education, 2002.
are the Signs of a Learning Disability?
no one sign that shows a person has a learning disability. Experts look
for a noticeable difference between how well a child does in school and
how well he or she could do, given his or her intelligence or ability.
There are also certain clues that may mean a child has a learning disability.
We've listed a few below. Most relate to elementary school tasks, because
learning disabilities tend to be identified in elementary school. A child
probably won't show all of these signs, or even most of them. However,
if a child shows a number of these problems, then parents and the teacher
should consider the possibility that the child has a learning disability.
When a child has a learning disability, he or she:
What About School?
Learning disabilities tend to be diagnosed when children reach school
age. This is because school focuses on the very things that may be difficult
for the child — reading, writing, math, listening, speaking, reasoning.
Teachers and parents notice that the child is not learning as expected.
The school may ask to evaluate the child to see what is causing the problem.
Parents can also ask for their child to be evaluated.
With hard work and the proper help, children with LD can learn more easily
and successfully. For school-aged children (including preschoolers), special
education and related services are important sources of help. School staff
work with the child's parents to develop an Individualized Education Program,
or IEP. This document describes the child's unique needs. It also describes
the special education services that will be provided to meet those needs.
These services are provided at no cost to the child or family.
Supports or changes in the classroom (sometimes called accommodations
) help most students with LD. Some common accommodations are listed below
in "Tips for Teachers". Assistive technology can also help many
students work around their learning disabilities. Assistive technology
can range from "low-tech" equipment such as tape recorders to
"high-tech" tools such as reading machines (which read books
aloud) and voice recognition systems (which allow the student to "write" by talking to the computer).
It's important to remember that a child may need help at home as well
as in school. The resources listed below will help families and teachers
learn more about the many ways to help children with learning disabilities.
for Parents Learn about LD.
you know, the more you can help yourself and your child. See the list
of resources and organizations at the end of this publication.
Praise your child when he or she does well. Children with LD are often
very good at a variety of things. Find out what your child really enjoys
doing, such as dancing, playing soccer, or working with computers. Give
your child plenty of opportunities to pursue his or her strengths and
Find out the ways your child learns best. Does he or she learn by hands-on
practice, looking, or listening? Help your child learn through his or
her areas of strength.
Let your child help with household chores. These can build self-confidence
and concrete skills. Keep instructions simple, break down tasks into smaller
steps, and reward your child's efforts with praise.
Make homework a priority. Read more about how to help your child be a
success at homework. (See resource
list at the end.)
Pay attention to your child's mental health (and your own!). Be open to
counseling, which can help your child deal with frustration, feel better
about himself or herself, and learn more about social skills.
Talk to other parents whose children have learning disabilities. Parents
can share practical advice and emotional support. Call NICHCY (1.800.695.0285)
and ask how to find parent groups near you. Also let us put you in touch
with the parent training and information (PTI) center in your state.
Meet with school personnel and help develop an educational plan to address
your child's needs. Plan what accommodations your child needs, and don't
forget to talk about assistive technology!
Establish a positive working relationship with your child's teacher. Through
regular communication, exchange information about your child's progress
at home and at school.
much as you can about the different types of LD. The resources and organizations
at the end of this document can help you identify specific techniques
and strategies to support the student educationally.
Seize the opportunity to make an enormous difference in this student's
life! Find out and emphasize what the student's strengths and interests
are. Give the student positive feedback and lots of opportunities for
Review the student's evaluation records to identify where specifically
the student has trouble. Talk to specialists in your school (e.g., special
education teacher) about methods for teaching this student. Provide instruction
and accommodations to address the student's special needs. Examples include:
Learn about the different testing modifications that can
really help a student with LD show what he or she has learned.
Teach organizational skills, study skills, and learning strategies. These
help all students but are particularly helpful to those with LD.
Work with the student's parents to create an educational plan tailored
to meet the student's needs.
Establish a positive working relationship with the student's parents.
Through regular communication, exchange information about the student's
progress at school.
(1997). Helping your dyslexic child: A step-by-step program for helping
your child improve reading, writing, spelling, comprehension, and self-esteem.
Rocklin, CA: Prima. (Telephone: 800.726.0600. Web: www.primapublishing.com/index.pperl
Currie, P.S., & Wadlington, E.M. (2000). The source for learning disabilities.
East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems. (Telephone: 800.776.4332. Web: www.linguisystems.com
Hall, S., & Moats, L.C. (1998). Straight talk about reading: How parents
can make a difference during the early years. New York: McGraw Hill/Contemporary.
(Telephone: 877.833.5524. Web: http://books.mcgraw-hill.com )
Harwell, J.M. (2002). Complete learning disabilities handbook: Ready-to-use
strategies and activities for teaching students with learning disabilities
(2nd ed.). West Nyack, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. (Telephone: 877.762.2974.
Web: www.josseybass.com )
Lerner, J.W. (2000). Learning disabilities: Theories, diagnosis, and teaching
strategies (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. (Telephone: 877-859-7241.
Web: http://college.hmco.com/students/index.html )
Lyle, M. (1998). The LD teacher's IEP companion: Goals, strategies, and
activities for LD students. East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems. (See contact
Mercer, C.D., & Mercer, A.R. (2001). Teaching students with learning
problems (6th ed.). New York: Prentice Hall College. (Telephone: 800-282-0693.
Web: vig.prenhall.com )
Porterfield, K.M. (1999). Straight talk about learning disabilities. New
York: Facts on File. (Telephone: 800-322-8755. Web: www.factsonfile.com
Silver, L. (1998). The misunderstood child: Understanding and coping with
your child's learning disabilities (3rd ed.). New York: Three Rivers Press.
(To find a local or online bookseller go to: www.randomhouse.com/reader_resources/ordering.html
Smith, C., & Strick, L.W. (1999). Learning disabilities from A to
Z. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. (To find a local or online bookseller
go to: www.simonsays.com )
Smith, S. (1995). No easy answers (Rev. ed.). New York: Bantam. (To find
a local or online bookseller go to: www.randomhouse.com/reader_resources/ordering.html
for Learning Disabilities (DLD) , The Council for Exceptional Children
(CEC), 1110 North Glebe Road, Suite 300, Arlington, VA 22201-5704. Telephone:
703.620.3660. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.dldcec.org
International Dyslexia Association (formerly the Orton Dyslexia Society),
Chester Building, Suite 382, 8600 LaSalle Road, Baltimore, MD 21286-2044.
Telephone: 800.222.3123; 410.296.0232. E-mail: email@example.com Web:
LDOnline (Website Only) www.ldonline.org
Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) , 4156 Library Road,
Pittsburgh, PA 15234-1349. Telephone: 412.341.1515. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
National Center for Learning Disabilities , 381 Park Avenue South, Suite
1401, New York, NY 10016. Telephone: 888.575.7373; 212.545.7510. Web:
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic , 20 Roszel Road, Princeton, NJ 08540.
Telephone: 866.732.3585; 609.452.0606. E-mail: email@example.com Web:
Schwab Learning (Website Only) www.schwablearning.org
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Readers are encouraged to copy and share it, but please credit the National
Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY). Please share
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This publication is copyright free . Readers are encouraged to copy and
share it, but please credit the National Information Center for Children
and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY). Publication of this document is
made possible through a Cooperative Agreement between the Academy for
Educational Development and the Office of Special Education Programs,
U.S. Department of Education. The contents of this document do not necessarily
reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does
mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement
by the U.S. Government.
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