About Learning Disabilities

A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language. The disability may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations.

Every individual with a learning disability is unique and shows a different combination and degree of difficulties. A common characteristic among people with learning disabilities is uneven areas of ability, “a weakness within a sea of strengths.” For instance, a child with dyslexia who struggles with reading, writing and spelling may be very capable in math and science.

Learning disabilities should not be confused with learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of mental retardation; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages.

Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities:” the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.

A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.

In Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term is “specific learning disability,” one of 13 categories of disability under that law.

“Learning Disabilities” is an “umbrella” term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.


Who Experiences Learning Disabilities:

People with learning disabilities generally have average or above average intelligence. Their learning disability, however, creates a gap between ability and performance.
Learning disabilities often run in families.
Fifteen percent of the U.S. population, or 39 million Americans, have some form of learning disability.
Fifty percent of all public school students in special education have learning disabilities.

What Can Be Done to Help Children with Learning Disabilities:

Early identification of youngsters with learning disabilities makes a critical difference in helping them learn the skills they need to compensate.
Intervention by school personnel, who are required by law to create and carry out an Individualized Education Program (IEP), can help a youngster develop the skills to cope with his or her learning disability.
Support from parents and educators is vital to help children with learning disabilities reach their full potential.

What Happens When Learning Disabilities Go Untreated:

People with learning disabilities that have not been diagnosed or properly addressed, or who are deemed “ineligible” for treatment, can experience serious, life-long negative consequences. The results can include loss of self-esteem, delinquency and illiteracy. The individual, as well as our society, is harmed.
Thirty-five percent of students identified with learning disabilities drop out of high school, contributing greatly to the nation’s school dropout rates.
Fifty to eighty percent of adults with severe literacy problems have undetected or untreated learning disabilities.
Fifty percent of young criminal offenders tested were found to have previously undetected learning disabilities. When offered educational services that addressed their learning disability, the recidivism rates of these young offenders dropped to below two percent.
Up to sixty percent of teens in treatment for substance abuse have learning disabilities.