Learning Disabilities (LD)

What is a learning Disability?

LD is a disorder 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.  [Source: National Institutes of Health, 1993]


A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, either spoken or written. Symptoms may include difficulties in ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do math.  [Source: Mich. State Board of Education Revised Administrative Rules for Special Education, 1997]

What are the types of learning disabilities?
Academic Skills Disorders

Students with academic skills disorders are often far behind their classmates in developing reading, writing, or arithmetic skills. The diagnoses in this category include:


– Developmental reading disorder (basic reading skills, reading fluency, reading comprehension)

– Developmental writing disorder (written expression)

– Developmental arithmetic disorder (math calculation, math reasoning)


Many aspects of speaking, listening, reading, writing, and arithmetic overlap and build on the same brain capabilities. It is not surprising, then, that people can be diagnosed as having more than one area of learning disability. For example, the ability to understand language underlies learning to speak. Therefore, any disorder that hinders the ability to understand language will also interfere with the development of speech, which in turn hinders learning to read and write. A single gap in the brain’s operation can disrupt many types of activity.


Developmental Reading Disorder

This type of disorder, also commonly referred to as dyslexia, is quite widespread. In fact, reading disabilities affect 2 to 8 percent of elementary school children. When you think of what is involved in the “three R’s”–reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic–it is amazing that most of us do learn them. Consider that to read, you must simultaneously:


– Focus attention on the printed marks and control eye movements across the page

– Recognize the sounds associated with letters

– Understand words and grammar

– Build ideas and images

– Compare new ideas to what you already know

– Store ideas in memory


A person can have problems in any of the tasks involved in reading. However, researchers have found that a significant number of children with reading disorders share an inability to distinguish or separate the sounds in spoken words. Some children have problems sounding out words, while others have trouble with rhyming games, such as rhyming “cat” with “bat.” Yet, scientists have found these skills fundamental to learning to read.


However, there is more to reading than recognizing words. If the brain is unable to form images or relate new ideas to those stored in memory, the reader can’t understand or remember the new concepts. That may lead to other types of reading disabilities, especially when the focus of reading shifts from word identification to comprehension.


Developmental Writing Disorder

Writing too, involves several brain areas and functions. The brain networks for vocabulary, grammar, hand movement, and memory must all be in good working order. If they are not, a developmental writing disorder may result from problems in any of these areas. For example, a child with a writing disability, particularly one with an expressive language disorder, might be unable to compose complete, grammatical sentences.


Developmental Arithmetic Disorder

Arithmetic involves recognizing numbers and symbols, memorizing facts, aligning numbers, and understanding abstract concepts like place value and fractions. Any of these may be difficult for children with developmental arithmetic disorders, also called dyscalculia. Problems with number concepts or other basic math concepts are likely to show up early. Disabilities that appear in the later grades are more often tied to problems in reasoning.

Developmental Speech and Language Disorders.

Speech and language problems are often the earliest indicators of a learning disability. People with developmental speech and language disorders have difficulty producing speech sounds, using spoken language to communicate, or understanding what other people say. Depending on the problem, the specific diagnosis may be:


– Developmental articulation disorder

– Developmental expressive language disorder

– Developmental receptive language disorder


Developmental Articulation Disorder (“Articulation”)

Children with this disorder may have trouble controlling their rate of speech. Or they may lag behind playmates in learning to make speech sounds. Developmental articulation disorders are common. They appear in at least 10 percent of children younger than age 8. Fortunately, articulation disorders are often outgrown or successfully treated with speech therapy.


Developmental Expressive Language Disorder (“Oral Expression”)

Some children with language impairments have problems expressing themselves in speech. Their disorder is called, therefore, a developmental expressive language disorder. This disorder can take many forms. For example, a 4-year-old who speaks only in two-word phrases and a 6-year-old who can’t answer simple questions have an expressive language disorder.


Developmental Receptive Language Disorder (“Listening Comprehension”)

Some people have trouble understanding certain aspects of speech. There’s a toddler who doesn’t respond to his name, a preschooler who hands you a bell when you asked for a ball, or a worker who consistently can’t follow simple directions. Their hearing is fine, but they can’t make sense of certain sounds, words, or sentences they hear. They may even seem inattentive. These people have a receptive language disorder. Because using and understanding speech are strongly related, many people with receptive language disorders also have an expressive language disability. [Of course, in preschoolers, some misuse of sounds, words, or grammar is a normal part of learning to speak. It’s only when these problems persist that there is any cause for concern.]

How is a learning disability determined?

As they grow, children reach certain “milestones” of development: the first word, the first step, and so forth. Both doctors and parents are watching for these developmental milestones, and learning disorders may be informally flagged by observing significant delays in the child’s skill development. A 2-year delay in the primary grades is usually considered significant.


While children can be informally flagged early on by using observation techniques, actual diagnosis of learning disabilities is usually made during the school years based on a variety of information sources, including individual standardized tests that compare the child’s achievement to that of his/her same-age peers. Test outcomes depend not only on the child’s actual abilities, but on the reliability of the test and the child’s ability to pay attention and understand the questions.


State Rules–eligibility criteria

The IEP (Individualized Education Program) Team may determine that a child has a specific learning disability if the child’s skills are significantly below age- and/or grade-expectation in one or more of the following areas:


– Basic reading (decoding) skills

– Reading fluency

– Reading comprehension

– Math calculation

– Math reasoning

– Written expression

– Oral expression

– Listening comprehension


Also, identified skill deficits may not be primarily the result of any of the following:


– A visual, hearing, or motor handicap

– Cognitive impairment

– Emotional disturbance

– Autism

– Environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage


Finally, the child’s skill deficit(s) must be determined to be not correctable without special education programs or services (in other words, the child requires special education services in order to succeed educationally).


Procedures for Determining a Specific Learning Disability

As of September 1, 2010, the Northview Public Schools has utilized an underachievement plus pattern of strengths and weaknesses (PSW) model for the determination of a specific learning disability, as these terms are defined below:


1) A student may be found to demonstrate inadequate achievement (i.e., a significant educational weakness) in basic reading, reading comprehension, reading fluency, math calculation, math reasoning, written expression, listening comprehension or oral expression, if his/her performance on an individually administered achievement measure of the skill area in question falls at or below the 10th percentile based on national or local norms, and when provided with instruction appropriate for his/her age or State-approved grade-level standards.


2) A pattern of strengths and weaknesses is based on the following decision rules:


a)  A “strength” or “weakness” is defined by use of the decision rules outlined on the Northview Public Schools’ Guidelines for Determining Specific Learning Disabilities — Pattern of Strengths and Weaknesses.


b)  A “pattern of strengths” means at least three separate assessment measures–one of which must include an individually-administered, norm-referenced or curriculum-based measure–within two or more assessment boxes, in at least one skill area, that are coded as strengths using the criteria identified in 2a.


c)  A “pattern of weaknesses” means at least three separate assessment measures–one of which must include an individually-administered, norm-referenced or curriculum-based measure–within two or more assessment boxes in the skill area of concern for the initial evaluation, or subsequent re-determination, of eligibility for specific learning disability.


       * A PSW worksheet will be used to chart areas of strength and weakness as above.


In making a determination as to whether a student has or continues to have a specific learning disability, the District will also comply with all applicable federal regulations and State rules, including those addressing comprehensive evaluations, determination of the existence of a specific learning disability, observation of academic performance and behavior in the area(s) of difficulty, specific documentation for SLD eligibility determination, and re-evaluation requirements.

Related Links