Social Science

Learning Disabilities

Jawahar, P. (2016)

Learning disability arises from neurological differences in brain structure and its functions. It affects a person’s ability to receive, store, process, retrieve or communicate information. While the specific nature of these brain-based disorders is still not well understood, considerable progress has been made in mapping some of the characteristic difficulties of LD to specific brain regions and structures. Progress has also been made in understanding the interface between genetics and LD, with documentation of LD, ADHD and related disorders occurring with considerable frequency within members of the same families (e.g. parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, cousins). Learning disabilities may also be a consequence of insults to the developing brain before or during birth, drug or alcohol use during pregnancy, maternal malnutrition, low birth weight, oxygen deprivation, and premature or prolonged labor. Postnatal events resulting in LD might include traumatic injuries, severe nutritional deprivation or exposure to poisonous substances such as lead. Learning Disabilities

However, there is a higher reported incidence of learning disabilities among people living in poverty, perhaps due to increased risk of exposure to poor nutrition, ingested and environmental toxins (e.g., lead, tobacco, and alcohol) and other risk factors during early and critical stages of development. Learning disabilities are both real and permanent. Many individuals with LD suffer from low self-esteem, set low expectations for them, struggle with underachievement and underemployment, have few friends and, with greater frequency than their non-LD peers, appear to end up in trouble with the law.

Early recognition that children may be at risk for LD can prevent years of struggle and self-doubt. As they grow older, learning about the specific nature of their LD, accepting that LD is not who they are but what they have and orchestrating the types of services, accommodations and supports they need to be successful will help them overcome barriers to learning and become independent, self-confident and contributing members of society.

1.1 Classification of Learning Disabilities:

In the area of LD, classification occurs at multiple levels: in identifying children as LD or typically achieving; as LD versus mentally deficient; within LD, as reading versus math impaired. Across classes of putative childhood conditions that produce underachievement, LD is identified as a particular type of “unexpected” low achievement and is distinguished from types where low achievement is expected due to emotional disturbance, social or cultural disadvantage, or inadequate instruction (Kavale & Forness, 2000).

From a classification perspective, these levels of classification and the notion of LD as a form of low achievement that is unexpected represent hypotheses that should be evaluated. There are multiple underlying classifications of LD that are essentially hypotheses that have not been consistently recognized. When the criteria for identifying LD began to evolve into policy in the 1960s, there was little research on which to base the underlying classification and resultant definitions. This situation has gradually changed over the past 30 years, but the research that has emerged has had little impact on policy at the federal, state and local levels. Indeed, the persistence of common assumptions about LD, its classification and the perpetuation of resultant identification procedures are surprising given, what has been learned about these disorders (Lyon et al., 2003). As we turn to research on the classification of LD, the question of how classifications should change as knowledge advances will emerge as a challenge to the field.

1.2 Definition of Learning Disabilities:

Learning Disability (LD) 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 vary from person to person. One person with LD may not have the same kind of learning problems as another person with LD may have problems understanding math. Still another person may have trouble in each of these areas, as well as with understanding what people are saying (National Dissemination Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, 2004).

LD is a group of disorders that affects people’s ability to either interpret what they see and hear or to link information from different parts of the brain. These limitations can show up in many ways: as specific difficulties with spoken and written language, coordination, self-control, or attention. Such difficulties extend to schoolwork and can impede learning to read, write, or do math.

A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store and respond to information. The term learning disability is used to describe the seemingly unexplained difficulty of a person of at least average intelligence who has been in acquiring basic academic skills. These skills are essential for success at school and at work and for coping with life in general. LD does not stand for a single disorder. It is a term that refers to a group of disorders.

Interestingly, there is no clear and widely accepted definition of learning disabilities. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of the field, there is an ongoing debate on the issue of definition and currently, at least twelve definitions appear in the professional literature. There are several technical definitions offered by various health and education sources. Overall, most experts agree on the following descriptions:

    • ➢ Individuals with LD have difficulties with academic achievement and progress
    • ➢ Discrepancies exist between a person’s potential for learning and what that person actually learns
    • ➢ Individuals with LD show an uneven pattern of development (language development, physical development, academic development, and/or perceptual development)
    • ➢ Learning problems are not due to environmental disadvantage
    • ➢ Learning problems are not due to mental retardation or emotional disturbance
    • ➢ Learning disabilities can affect one’s ability to read, write, speak, spell, compute math and reason. They also can affect a person’s attention, memory, coordination, social skills, and emotional maturity
    • ➢ Individuals with LD have normal intelligence, or sometimes even intellectually gi feted
    • ➢ Individuals with LD have differing capabilities, with difficulties in certain academic areas but not in others
    • ➢ Learning disabilities have an effect on either input (the brain’s ability to process incoming information) or output (the person’s ability to use information in practical skills, such as reading, math, spelling, etc.)

Research suggests that learning disabilities are caused by differences in how a person’s brain works and how it processes information.

1.3 Signs and Symptoms of Learning Disabilities:

Learning disabilities look very different from one child to another. One child may struggle with reading and spelling, while another loves books but can’t understand math. Still another child may have difficulty in understanding what others are saying or communicating out loud. The problems are very different, but they all have learning disorders.

It is not always easy to identify learning disabilities. Because of the wide variations, there is no single symptom or profile that anyone can look to as proof of a problem. However, some warning signs are more common than others at different ages. If one is aware of what he/she is, he/she’ll be able to catch a learning disorder early and quickly take steps to get his/her child’s help.

The following checklist lists some common red flags for learning disorders. Remember that children who don’t have learning disabilities may still experience some of these difficulties at various times. The time for concern is when there is a consistent unevenness in one’s child’s ability to master certain skills.

Preschool signs and symptoms of learning disabilities

    • ➢ Problems pronouncing words
    • ➢ Trouble finding the right word
    • ➢ Difficulty rhyming
    • ➢ Trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, days of the week
    • ➢ Difficulty following directions or learning routines
    • ➢ Difficulty controlling crayons, pencils, and scissors, or coloring within the lines
    • ➢ Trouble with buttons, zippers, snaps, learning to tie shoes

1.4 Types of Learning Disabilities:

Learning disabilities are often grouped by school-area skill set. If your child is in school, the types of learning disorders that are most conspicuous usually revolve around reading, writing or math.

i) Learning Disability in Reading (Dyslexia):

Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing, and spelling. It’s a “specific learning difficulty”, which means it causes problems with certain abilities used for learning, such as reading and writing. Unlike a learning disability, intelligence is not affected. It’s estimated that up to one in every 10 to 20 people in the UK has some degree of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a lifelong problem that can present challenges on a daily basis, but support is available to improve reading and writing skills and help those with the problem are successful at school and at work.

There are two types of learning disabilities in reading. Basic reading problems occur when there is difficulty in understanding the relationship between sounds, letters, and words. Reading comprehension problems occur when there is an inability to grasp the meaning of words, phrases, and paragraphs.

Signs of reading difficulty include problems with:

      • ➢ Letter and word recognition
      • ➢ Understanding words and ideas
      • ➢ Reading speed and fluency
      • ➢ General vocabulary skills

ii) Learning Disability in Math (Dyscalculia):

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability (or difficulty) in mathematics. It was originally defined by the Czechoslovakia researcher Kose, as a difficulty in mathematics as a result of impairment to particular parts of the brain involved in mathematical cognition, but without a general difficulty in cognitive function.

Dyscalculia or mathematical learning disabilities is a specific learning disability that affects around 6% of the population. Individuals with dyscalculia are not unintelligent, but struggle to learn mathematics, despite having an adequate learning environment at home and at school. Dyscalculia is assumed to be due to a difference in brain function.

Learning disabilities in math vary greatly depending on the child’s other strengths and weaknesses. A child’s ability to do math will be affected differently by a language learning disability, or a visual disorder or a difficulty with sequencing, memory or organization.

A child with a math-based learning disorder may struggle with memorization and organization of numbers, operation signs, and number facts (like 5+5=10) or (5*5=25). Children with math learning disorders might also have trouble with counting principles (such as counting by twos or counting by fives) or have difficulty telling time.

iii) Learning Disability in Writing (Dysgraphia):

Dysgraphia can appear as difficulties with spelling, poor handwriting and trouble putting thoughts on paper. Dysgraphia can be a language-based, and/or non-language based disorder.

Many people have poor handwriting, but dysgraphia is more serious. Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that generally appears when children are first learning to write. Experts are not sure what causes it, but early treatment can help prevent or reduce problems.

Learning disabilities in writing can involve the physical act of writing or the mental activity of comprehending and synthesizing information. Basic writing disorder refers to physical difficulty in forming words and letters. Expressive writing disability indicates a struggle to organize thoughts on paper.

Symptoms of a written language learning disability revolve around the act of writing. They include problems with:

      • ➢ Neatness and consistency of writing
      • ➢ Accurately copying letters and words
      • ➢ Spelling consistency
      • ➢ Writing organization and coherence

iv) Other Types of Learning Disabilities and Disorders:

Reading, writing, and math aren’t the only skills impacted by learning disorders. Other types of learning disabilities involve difficulties with motor skills (movement and coordination), understanding spoken language, distinguishing between sounds and interpreting visual information.

v) Learning Disability in Motor Skills (Dyspraxia):

Motor difficulty refers to problems with movement and coordination whether it is with fine motor skills (cutting, writing) or gross skills (running, jumping). A motor disability is sometimes referred to as an “output” activity meaning that it relates to the output of information from the brain. In order to run, jump, write or cut something, the brain must be able to communicate with the necessary limbs to complete the action.

Signs that the child might have a motor coordination disability include problems with physical abilities that require hand-eye coordination, like holding a pencil or buttoning a shirt.

vi) Learning Disability in Language (Aphasia/Dysphasia):

Language and communication learning disabilities involve the ability to understand or produce spoken language. Language is also considered an output activity because it requires organizing thoughts in the brain and calling upon the right words to verbally explain something or communicate with someone else.

Signs of a language-based learning disorder involve problems with verbal language skills, such as the ability to retell a story and the fluency of speech, as well as the ability to understand the meaning of words, parts of speech, directions, etc.

vii) Auditory and Visual Processing Problems: The Importance of the Ears and Eyes

The eyes and the ears are the primary means of delivering information to the brain, a process sometimes called “input.” If either the eyes or the ears aren’t working properly then leaning can be affected.

Auditory Processing Disorder – Professionals may refer to the ability to hear well as “auditory processing skills” or “receptive language.” The ability to hear things correctly greatly impacts the ability to read, write and spell. An inability to distinguish subtle differences in sound or hearing sounds at the wrong speed makes it difficult to sound out words and understand the basic concepts of reading and writing.

Visual Processing Disorder- Problems in visual perception include missing subtle differences in shapes, reversing letters or numbers, skipping words, skipping lines, misperceiving depth or distance, or having problems with eye-hand coordination. Professionals may refer to the work of the eyes as “visual processing.” Visual perception can affect gross and fine motor skills, reading comprehension, and math.

1.5 Impact of Learning Disabilities on Students:

The impact of learning disabilities of students is leading to:

Increased grade retention: Large performance gaps exist between students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers. It is also noted that students with disabilities continue to be retained much more often than the general population which is more than the one-third are retained at grade level at least once, usually in elementary school. Promotion tests-the fastest growing area of high-stakes testing-will most likely contribute to even more retention of students with learning disabilities, despite the fact that retention has been shown to be an ineffective intervention to improving academic achievement. More importantly, students who are retained are much more likely to drop out later in school, and those retained more than once are dramatically more likely to drop out. Researchers on retention show that grade repeaters as adults are more likely to be unemployed, living on public assistance, or in prison than adults who did not repeat a grade.

Increased possibility of dropping out: Data show that students with disabilities fail large-scale tests at higher rates than other students, especially in the years immediately following the introduction of such tests. One important reason for this is their lack of access to the curriculum on which the tests are based. Failing a high-stakes test, such as a test required for graduation with a standard diploma, can increase the likelihood that low achievers will drop out of school. We already know that nearly 30 percent of students with learning disabilities drop out of school (compared to 11% of the general student population), and we know that dropping out of school is associated with poor life outcomes in regard to postsecondary education and employment. Some students with disabilities may even be encouraged to leave school and pursue alternative routes such as the General Education Development (GED) exam. Such students are known as “push outs.” Fortunately, the No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to show improved high school graduation rates, a requirement that will help to prevent such activity.

Awarding of alternative high school diplomas or certificates: To compensate students with disabilities who fail high school graduation tests, many states are developing one or more alternative diplomas and certificates. These include nonstandard diplomas such as IEP diplomas, certificates of completion, certificates of attendance, and modified diplomas. There is little research on the value of such alternative diplomas and certificates. Many may not be accepted by colleges and universities. Meanwhile, the existence of such alternatives provides the opportunity for students with learning disabilities to be ‘tracked” into high school course work that will not provide the necessary credits for a standard diploma, nor provide the student access to the subject matter of gradation tests. Parents need to be well informed regarding the implications of any nonstandard diplomas and should be sure that they are involved in decisions regarding the high school diploma track of their students with LD.


Use reference for citation:

  • Jawahar, P. (2016). Co Morbidity of conduct disorders and learning disabilities of upper primary children in relation to academic performance. Alagappa University. Retrieved from: http://hdl.handle.net/10603/201864
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Md. Ashikuzzaman

Work at North South University Library, Bangladesh.

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