In other words, a student with a learning disability may be smarter than his or her classmates. But because such a student's brain is wired differently, they may not be able to read, write, spell, reason, recall, or organize information as well as their peers.
Symptoms of a learning disability can adversely affect a student's academic success. When a learning disability goes undiagnosed, it can also lead to low self-esteem and high stress, as well as interfere with socialization skills, careers, and day-to-day activities.
If the learning disability is correctly diagnosed and the students are given adequate consideration and accommodations, they can succeed at school and in their careers.
A learning disability is sometimes referred to as a specific learning disorder. From an academic perspective, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines a learning disability as a problem with one or more of the basic psychological processes related to the use or understanding of spoken or written language.
A learning disability may manifest as difficulty listening, thinking, speaking, writing, spelling, reading, or doing arithmetic calculations.
From a medical perspective, the DSM-5 defines a specific learning disorder as follows:
"A heterogeneous group of disorders characterized by persistent difficulties with learning academic skills in a variety of domains, including reading, spelling, written expression, and mathematics.”
The DSM-5 further emphasizes that symptoms must have persisted for at least 6 months despite the provision of appropriate interventions.
Having said that, learning disabilities are lifelong conditions characterized by significant difficulty in at least one of the following areas:
Dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia are the most common learning disabilities, particularly in schools.
The table below is a summary of the symptoms of the three disorders:
Dyslexia is a lifelong learning disability that affects a person's reading, speaking, writing, and spelling abilities.
Some dyslexics may not have extreme challenges with early reading and spelling tasks. However, they may have difficulties with complex language skills such as grammar, comprehending textbook material, or even writing essays.
Dyslexics may also have trouble with spoken language, and may not be able to express themselves clearly or understand what others are saying. These language difficulties can damage a person's self-image and make them feel dumb and less capable than they are.
Having said that, 15% to 20% of the population has a language-based disability. About 70% to 80% of individuals with a reading disability suffer from dyslexia, the most common language-based disability.
The warning signs of dyslexia at different grade levels include:
Dysgraphia, or impairment in written expression, is a language-based learning disability in which a child has problems with handwriting. The term can also include difficulties with:
As children learn how to write, it’s common for them to make some writing errors, which is part of the learning process. However, dysgraphia distorts a child’s handwriting, making it worse than that of kids their age, intelligence, and level of education.
On the other hand, older children tend to struggle with the cognitive-linguistic aspects of writing. They may be able to express themselves verbally but struggle to put their thoughts and ideas on paper.
In other words, people with dysgraphia struggle with poor spelling and writing good sentences, paragraphs, reports, and stories.
The warning signs of dysgraphia at different grade levels include:
Dyscalculia, often known as number blindness, is a long-term learning disability that inhibits an individual’s ability to learn, grasp, and apply basic mathematical concepts.
It’s common for children and young people to struggle with mathematics at some point in their lives but they eventually overcome it. However, dyscalculic children tend to have severe difficulties with math compared to other children their age.
Dyscalculia makes mathematical reasoning and computation difficult, even when an individual has a high level of education, intelligence, and motivation.
Consequently, dyscalculia hinders an individual’s ability to learn mathematics as they progress through school because math builds on previously learned information. For example, if a child is not confident with addition and subtraction, he or she may struggle with division and fractions.
For this reason, people with dyscalculia experience mental confusion, math anxiety, phobia, and distress when doing number-related tasks.
Dyscalculia affects at least 3% to 7% of the population, with a similar prevalence among boys and girls. Approximately 30% to 60% of individuals with dyscalculia will also have dyslexia, and 10% to 20% will have ADHD.
The warning signs of dyscalculia at different grade levels include:
A correct diagnosis helps develop an evidence-based instructional strategy, curriculum, and interventions, which can help students with learning disabilities succeed in class.
By understanding each student's learning needs, parents and teachers can provide appropriate help and support. This help and support can be offered in the form of accommodations and modifications, which can be incorporated into an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
With this in mind, Positive Action offers evidence-based special education curriculums that help students achieve positive outcomes in reading, writing, and math. Our special education programs help parents and schools assess the special education needs of students.
Consequently, they’re able to develop an Individualized Education Plan based on a child’s specific areas of difficulties.
“I’ve been an educator for 32 years. Positive Action helps me handle anything that comes my way!” — Margaret Carvajal, school counselor at Noonan Elementary School in Alice, TX