UNIT 1: What are Specific Learning Disabilities?


Return to Main Page of Course: Understanding Learning Disabilities and the Learning Disabled

RIGHT NOW please click HERE to go to the K-W-L Chart to begin the first activity based on this course.

After beginning the K-W-L chart (in an effort to begin to access prior knowledge that you have about LD and to have you focus in on what you want to learn from this course) please reveiw the information below regarding learning disabilities, characteristics of, and terms associated with.


How Do You Learn? How Do You Learn BEST?? Do You Know???

One of the most important steps to achievement is knowing yourself. Please take a moment to view the following creative animated short that will introduce you to this course, and the basics of learning disabilities. Please remember to hit the BACK BROWSER after viewing the video to return to this page!

Video.jpg LD CARTOON

'The definition of specific learning disabilities was first coined in 1963. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) provides a definition. IDEA defines specific learning disabilities as a "disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written. The disorder may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations." '

Learning Disabilities is the MOST prevalent of all disabilities. Almost half of all students classified under IDEA have specific learning disabilities. There is a greater placement rate for male children and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. (Turnbull, 2010)

If you do not experience mental retardation, mental disturbances, visual or hearing impairments, or environmental deprivations, the theory is that you should be able to do well in school. (Kirk and Gallagher, 2006) However, there is an increasing number of learners who do not. Thus, the field has the challenge of deciphering between and among students with learning problems and what underscores the problem. Learning disabilities is a hidden disability in terms of that one cannot see or hear it. It is a disorder in one's ability or inability to interpret information, link information, or apply information learned. Learning Disabilities are the most prevalent of all disabilities classified under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).


  • Participants will be able to define vocabulary related to specific learning disabilities
  • Participants will be able to define and recognize characteristics of individuals with learning disabilities
  • Participants will be able to respond to questions on new terms and vocabulary



Individuals with specific learning disabilities face challenges in:

  • Academic Achievement
    • Reading
    • Written Language
    • Mathematics
  • Memory
  • Metacognition
  • Social/ Emotional/ Behavioral

Academic Achievement: Learning to read is one of the most significant challenges a LD student faces. Individuals with a severe reading disorder are said to have difficulty with decoding, comprehension, speed, and fluency. DYSLEXIA is the term used to describe having difficulty with learning to read.

Writing is the next area of challenge for LD students in that it is directly related to reading. One can face difficulty in written expression, mechanics, handwriting, spelling, organizational skills (with thoughts), sentence structure, word usage, and even composition. DYSGRAPHIA is a term used to describe the partial inability to remember how to make written symbols.

Mathematical difficulties occur within a range of mild to severe. DYSCALCULIA is a term used to describe a poor understanding of number concepts and the number system.

  • Procedural Problems are errors in understanding math concepts and trouble with steps in a problem
  • Semantic Memory Problems is trouble remembering math facts
  • Visual-Spatial Problems concerns itself with reproducing actual numerals

Memory LD students have difficulty in short term (recall), long term (storing information), and working memory. Working memory concerns itself with how students process information in an effort to remember it.

Metacognition LD students have difficulty with this executive function. Being able to organize thoughts, having study skills, having little control over one's thinking processes, etc. are all examples of metacognition. LD students experience serious deficits in this area as well.

Social/ Emotional/ Behavioral

The social/ emotional impact of learning disabilities on a LD student is profound. The impact of the label directly affects their self concept, which also affects their interpersonal skills. LD students struggle with feelings of anxiety. Problems in these areas lead to behavioral problems in social settings as well as in the academic setting. Oppositional behaviors are often a consequence of LD as well as low motivation, lack of interest, and possible depression. The theory is that this occurs because individuals with LD experience repeated failures (academically) and do not learn what the schools expect them to learn at the specific time. This failure cuts into their self-esteem deeply.

FOR FURTHER STUDY, you may choose to review the following article:

How Hard Can This Be?


You May Now Add to the K-W-L chart you began earlier, listing new vocabulary and information learned: K-W-L Chart

Questions for Reflection:


Take a moment to write down your thoughts:

  • What are the four areas that individuals with LD have challenges in?
  • What are the key differences among dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia?
  • In your experiences, what is the social/ emotional/ behavioral impact of LD on an individual.

Congratulations! You Have Completed Unit 1 and May Now Proceed to: UNIT 2