Learning Disorders and Disabilities

The terms “learning disorder” (used by the medical community) and “specific learning disability” (used by the schools) refer to a neurodevelopmental problem in which a child of normal intellectual potential (that is, a child does not have an Intellectual Disability) is encountering unusual difficulty with their academic functioning that cannot be explained by inadequate educational opportunity or emotional or sensory disabilities. These problems can become apparent at any point in a child’s development and may have different symptoms at different ages.

Although most people think about learning disabilities in terms of deficits in specific academic skills (reading, mathematics), children with these learning problems often experience difficulties in a variety of aspects of their functioning (language, communication, social-emotional, behavior) and these will vary from child to child and depend on many factors. They may also affect different aspects of an academic skill. For example, some children may have difficulty learning to decode words, whereas others may be able to decode words but have difficulty understanding what they read. Developing a good treatment plan, therefore, requires a detailed appreciation of each child’s individual needs.