Specific Learning Disorder

Specific Learning Disorder (also known as learning disorder or learning disability) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that begins during school-age, but may not be recognized until adulthood. Learning disabilities affect one of three areas: reading, writing and/or math.

What's the Difference Between 'Specific' Learning Disorder vs. Learning Disorder vs. Learning Disability?

The term Specific Learning Disorder is a medical diagnosis, but is commonly referred to as a “learning disorder.” Learning disability is a term used by both the educational and legal systems in Western countries. A learning disability is not exactly the same as an individual with specific learning disorder. However, most individuals with a diagnosis of specific learning disorder will also meet criteria for a learning disability.
Risk Factors
Criterion A

Difficulties learning and using academic skills, as indicated by the presence of at least one of the following symptoms that have persisted for at least 6 months, despite the provision of interventions that target those difficulties:

  1. Inaccurate or slow and effortful word reading (e.g. - reads single words aloud incorrectly or slowly and hesitantly, frequently guesses words, has difficulty sounding out words).
  2. Difficulty understanding the meaning of what is read (e.g. - may read text accurately but not understand the sequence, relationships, inferences, or deeper meanings of what is read).
  3. Difficulties with spelling (e.g. - may add, omit, or substitute vowels or consonants).
  4. Difficulties with written expression (e.g. - makes multiple grammatical or punctuation errors within sentences; employs poor paragraph organization; written expression of ideas lacks clarity).
  5. Difficulties mastering number sense, number facts, or calculation (e.g. - has poor understanding of numbers, their magnitude, and relationships; counts on fingers to add single-digit numbers instead of recalling the math fact as peers do; gets lost in the midst of arithmetic computation and may switch procedures).
  6. Difficulties with mathematical reasoning (e.g. - has severe difficulty applying mathematical concepts, facts, or procedures to solve quantitative problems).
Criterion B

The affected academic skills are substantially and quantifiably below those expected for the individual’s chronological age, and cause significant interference with academic or occupational performance, or with activities of daily living, as confirmed by individually administered standardized achievement measures and comprehensive clinical assessment. For individuals age 17 years and older, a documented history of impairing learning difficulties may be substituted for the standardized assessment.

Criterion C

The learning difficulties begin during school-age years but may not become fully manifest until the demands for those affected academic skills exceed the individual’s limited capacities (e.g. - as in timed tests, reading or writing lengthy complex reports for a tight deadline, excessively heavy academic loads).

Criterion D

The learning difficulties are not better accounted for by intellectual disabilities, uncorrected visual or auditory acuity, other mental or neurological disorders, psychosocial adversity, lack of proficiency in the language of academic instruction, or inadequate educational instruction.

These four diagnostic criteria are to be met based on a clinical synthesis of the individual’s history (developmental, medical, family, educational), school reports, and psychoeducational assessment.

Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder that refers to difficulty with reading. Individuals with dyslexia have difficulty connecting letters they see on a page with the sounds they make. As a result, reading becomes a slow, effortful and not a fluent process for them.

Problems in reading begin even before learning to read. Kindergarten-age children may not be able to recognize and write letters as well as their peers. People with dyslexia may have difficulty with accuracy and spelling as well. Common myths include thinking that children with dyslexia write letters backwards or those who write letters backwards all have dyslexia. Individuals with dyslexia may try to avoid activities that require reading whenever they can (e.g. - reading for pleasure, reading instructions). They may often gravitate to other mediums of expression such as pictures, video, or audio.

Dysgraphia is a specific learning disorder used to describe difficulties with putting one’s thoughts on to paper. Problems with writing can include difficulties with spelling, grammar, punctuation, and handwriting.

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disorder used to describe difficulties learning number related concepts or using the symbols and functions to perform math calculations. Problems with math can include difficulties with number sense, memorizing math facts, math calculations, math reasoning and math problem solving.