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What Is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability is a neurological condition that affects the brain's ability to receive, process, or communicate information. It can impact skills such as reading, writing, and math, making traditional learning challenging. Each individual's experience is unique, often requiring tailored support. Understanding these disabilities is crucial for fostering inclusive education. How might recognizing and supporting these differences transform our approach to learning?
J. Beam
J. Beam

A learning disability is any of a number of conditions that make the process of learning difficult because of the way the brain processes information. In most people with a learning disability, it becomes recognizable sometime during the early years of school. A learning disability does affect the way a person learns, but it does not mean he or she cannot learn.

There are numerous types of learning disabilities that may affect speech, reading, writing, memorization, organization of information, and even motor skills. Many people with a learning disability may have difficulty focusing or remembering what they have read or heard. The impact on these areas of learning can make school frustrating for children and can even make work difficult for adults who have not learned to manage a learning disability.

Cognitive tests may determine if a child has a learning disability.
Cognitive tests may determine if a child has a learning disability.

The brain processes information in pieces in different sections and transmits processed information to other parts of the brain. A person with a learning disability has a brain that either processes or transmits information differently than the average, or "normal" brain. Brain function can cause a person with a learning disability to have difficulty processing or transmitting written, verbal, or auditory information in the standard way others are used to.

Difficulty concentrating may be a sign of a learning disability in children.
Difficulty concentrating may be a sign of a learning disability in children.

Public schools estimate that roughly 10% of students have some type of learning disability. In contrast to students whose school performance is poor based on demographics, economics, or cultural influence, a learning disability is not caused by environment, but is a neurobiological disorder. In most places, students who are affected by a learning disability are entitled to certain considerations and rights by law in order to improve their experience in school and receive an equal opportunity for education.

When working with a dyslexic child, it's often helpful to treat reading as a game rather than a task.
When working with a dyslexic child, it's often helpful to treat reading as a game rather than a task.

A learning disability is typically diagnosed through a series of cognitive tests administered by a specialist, such as a psychologist, therapist, or other medical professional. Early detection and intervention by parents, medical professionals, and school personnel greatly improve a child's chances of learning success. A person with a learning disability simply learns differently and once their learning abilities and limitations are understood, it is easier for the student and teacher to engage in the learning process.

Parents who suspect a learning disability should consult with their child's pediatrician.
Parents who suspect a learning disability should consult with their child's pediatrician.

It can be difficult to identify a learning disability in young children because many parts of their brain are still developing and just beginning to engage in certain processes, but by age 7 or so it becomes easier to detect. If a child is struggling in school because of difficulty concentrating, problems writing, difficulty understanding written material, or similar problems, his or her parents should talk to the child's teachers and pediatrician. These professionals will be able to refer the parent to specialists who can diagnose and work with the child to overcome his or her difficulties.

Some schools hire learning disability specialists who can diagnose and help students with dyslexia or another neurological disorder that hinders their learning.
Some schools hire learning disability specialists who can diagnose and help students with dyslexia or another neurological disorder that hinders their learning.

That said, being diagnosed with a learning disability does not spell the end of a student’s academic career. There are a wide variety of support options available to students, from institutional aid (which includes extended test periods or personal aides) to tutoring. The latter can be an especially good way to help students; whether the student needs literature tutoring or geometry tutoring, one-on-one time can help them get the individual attention that they may be lacking due to their disability.

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Discussion Comments

anon109117

i really didn't take such disabilities as seriously because i thought each one of us has a specific level of understandability and intuition, but from what I've just read i think it has much more to do with this natural aspect bit of it because it can be treated. Andrew, Uganda.

anon109067

I thought the article was a fair treatment of learning disability with one exception. The vast majority of students with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence as measured by standard units of measurements. It is has been my experience that the general public perceives otherwise.

anon109029

My adult daughter suffered a severe stroke causing right side paralysis and aphasia. Her paralysis is somewhat better but the speech is very difficult, and some therapists say not much can be done because the brain does not regenerate, but others say that is not so, and one therapist had good results until her insurance comapny said she had had all the treatments she needed. Any thoughts?

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    • Cognitive tests may determine if a child has a learning disability.
      By: Monkey Business
      Cognitive tests may determine if a child has a learning disability.
    • Difficulty concentrating may be a sign of a learning disability in children.
      By: Wojciech Sobiech
      Difficulty concentrating may be a sign of a learning disability in children.
    • When working with a dyslexic child, it's often helpful to treat reading as a game rather than a task.
      By: altanaka
      When working with a dyslexic child, it's often helpful to treat reading as a game rather than a task.
    • Parents who suspect a learning disability should consult with their child's pediatrician.
      By: nyul
      Parents who suspect a learning disability should consult with their child's pediatrician.
    • Some schools hire learning disability specialists who can diagnose and help students with dyslexia or another neurological disorder that hinders their learning.
      By: aceshot
      Some schools hire learning disability specialists who can diagnose and help students with dyslexia or another neurological disorder that hinders their learning.
    • A child with a mild learning disability may have problems with reading comprehension.
      By: Leah-Anne Thompson
      A child with a mild learning disability may have problems with reading comprehension.