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Learning, Intellectual, and Multiple Disabilities


NICHCY Disability Fact Sheet #7 January 2011

school, shell keep learning anddoing well.

WWWWWhat arehat arehat arehat arehat areLearning Learning Learning Learning Learning Disabilities?Disabilities?Disabilities?Disabilities?Disabilities?

Learning disability is ageneral term that describesspecific kinds of learningproblems. A learning disabilitycan cause a person to havetrouble learning and usingcertain skills. The skills mostoften affected are: reading,writing, listening, speaking,reasoning, and doing math.

Learning disabilities is notthe only term used to describethese difficulties. Others in-clude:

dyslexiawhich refers todifficulties in reading;

dysgraphiawhich refers todifficulties in writing; and

dyscalculawhich refers todifficulties in math.

All of these are consideredlearning disabilities.

Learning disabilities (LD)vary from person to person.One person with LD may nothave the same kind of learningproblems as another personwith LD. Sara, in our exampleabove, has trouble with readingand writing. Another personwith LD may have problemswith understanding math. Stillanother person may havetrouble in both of these areas,as well as with understandingwhat people are saying.

Researchers think thatlearning disabilities are causedby differences in how a personsbrain works and how it pro-cesses information. Childrenwith learning disabilities are notdumb or lazy. In fact, theyusually have average or aboveaverage intelligence. Theirbrains just process informationdifferently.

is theNational Dissemination Centerfor Children with Disabilities.

NICHCY1825 Connecticut Avenue N.W.

Washington, DC 200091.800.695.0285 (Voice / TTY)202.884.8200 (Voice / TTY)


Saras StorySaras StorySaras StorySaras StorySaras Story

When Sara was in the firstgrade, her teacher startedteaching the students how toread. Saras parents were reallysurprised when Sara had a lot oftrouble. She was bright andeager, so they thought thatreading would come easily toher. It didnt. She couldntmatch the letters to their soundsor combine the letters to createwords.

Saras problems continuedinto second grade. She stillwasnt reading, and she washaving trouble with writing,too. The school asked Sarasmom for permission to evaluateSara to find out what wascausing her problems. Sarasmom gave permission for theevaluation.

The school conducted anevaluation and learned that Sarahas a learning disability. Shestarted getting special help inschool right away.

Saras still getting thatspecial help. She works with areading specialist and a resourceroom teacher every day. Shes inthe fourth grade now, and shesmade real progress! She isworking hard to bring herreading and writing up to gradelevel. With help from the

There is no cure for learning disabilities. They are life-long. However, children with LD can be high achievers and can be taught ways to get around the learning disability. With the right help, children with LD can and do learn successfully.

How Common areHow Common areHow Common areHow Common areHow Common areLearning Disabilities?Learning Disabilities?Learning Disabilities?Learning Disabilities?Learning Disabilities?

Very common! As many as 1 out of every 5 people in the United States has a learning disability. Almost 1 million children (ages 6 through 21) have some form of a learning disability and receive special education in school. In fact, one-third of all children who receive special education have a learning disability (Twenty-Ninth Annual Report to Congress, U.S. Department of Education, 2010).

WWWWWhat Are the Signs ofhat Are the Signs ofhat Are the Signs ofhat Are the Signs ofhat Are the Signs ofa Learning Disability?a Learning Disability?a Learning Disability?a Learning Disability?a Learning Disability?

While there is no one sign that a person has a learning disability, there are certain clues. Weve listed a few below. Most relate to elementary school tasks, because learning disabilities tend to be identified in elementary school. This is because school focuses on the very things that may be difficult for the childreading, writing, math, listening, speaking, reasoning.A child probably wont show all of these signs, or even most of them. However, if a child shows a number of these problems, then parents and the teacher should consider the possibility that the child has a learning disability.

When a child has a learningdisability, he or she:

may have trouble learningthe alphabet, rhymingwords, or connecting lettersto their sounds;

may make many mistakeswhen reading aloud, andrepeat and pause often;

may not understand whathe or she reads;

may have real trouble withspelling;

may have very messyhandwriting or hold apencil awkwardly;

may struggle to expressideas in writing;

may learn language late andhave a limited vocabulary;

may have trouble remem-bering the sounds thatletters make or hearingslight differences betweenwords;

may have trouble under-standing jokes, comic strips,and sarcasm;

may have trouble followingdirections;

may mispronounce wordsor use a wrong word thatsounds similar;

may have trouble organiz-ing what he or she wants tosay or not be able to thinkof the word he or she needsfor writing or conversation;

may not follow the socialrules of conversation, suchas taking turns, and maystand too close to thelistener;

may confuse math symbolsand misread numbers;

may not be able to retell astory in order (what hap-pened first, second, third);or

may not know where tobegin a task or how to goon from there.

If a child has unexpectedproblems learning to read,write, listen, speak, or do math,then teachers and parents maywant to investigate more. Thesame is true if the child isstruggling to do any one ofthese skills. The child may needto be evaluated to see if he orshe has a learning disability.

About the Evaluation ProcessAbout the Evaluation ProcessAbout the Evaluation ProcessAbout the Evaluation ProcessAbout the Evaluation Process

If you are concerned thatyour child may have a learningdisability, contact his or herschool and request that theschool conduct an individual-ized evaluation under IDEA (thenations special education law)to see if, in fact, a learningdisability is causing your childdifficulties in school. VisitNICHCYs website and readmore about the evaluationprocess, beginning at:http://nichcy.org/schoolage/evaluation/

WWWWWhat if the School Systemhat if the School Systemhat if the School Systemhat if the School Systemhat if the School SystemDeclines to EvaluateDeclines to EvaluateDeclines to EvaluateDeclines to EvaluateDeclines to Evaluate

YYYYYour Child?our Child?our Child?our Child?our Child?

If the school doesnt thinkthat your childs learningproblems are caused by alearning disability, it maydecline to evaluate your child. Ifthis happens, there are specificactions you can take. Theseinclude:

Contact your states ParentTraining and InformationCenter (PTI) for assistance.The PTI can offer youguidance and support inwhat to do next. Find yourPTI by visiting: http://www.parentcenternetwork.org/parentcenterlisting.html

Consider having your childevaluated by an independentevaluator. You may have topay for this evaluation, oryou can ask that the schoolpay for it. To learn moreabout independent evalua-tions, visit NICHCY at:http://nichcy.org/schoolage/parental-rights/iee

Ask for mediation, or use oneof IDEAs other disputeresolution options. Parentshave the right to disagreewith the schools decisionnot to evaluate their childand be heard. To find outmore about dispute resolu-tion options, visit NICHCYat: http://nichcy.org/schoolage/disputes/overview

IDEAs Definition of LDIDEAs Definition of LDIDEAs Definition of LDIDEAs Definition of LDIDEAs Definition of LD

Not surprisingly, theIndividuals with DisabilitiesEducation Act (IDEA) includes adefinition of specific learningdisability. Weve presented thisin the box below. IDEA also listsevaluation procedures that mustbe used at a minimum toidentify and document that achild has a specific learningdisability. These will now bediscussed in brief.

Additional EvaluationAdditional EvaluationAdditional EvaluationAdditional EvaluationAdditional EvaluationProcedures for LDProcedures for LDProcedures for LDProcedures for LDProcedures for LD

Now for the confusing part!The ways in which children areidentified as having a learningdisability have changed over theyears. Until recently, the mostcommon approach was to use asevere discrepancy formula.This referred to the gap, ordiscrepancy, between the childsintelligence or aptitude and hisor her actual performance.

However, in the 2004 reauthori-zation of IDEA, how LD isdetermined has been expanded.IDEA now requires that statesadopt criteria that:

must not require the use of asevere discrepancy betweenintellectual ability andachievement in determiningwhether a child has aspecific learning disability;

IDEAs Definition of Specific Learning DisabilityIDEAs Definition of Specific Learning DisabilityIDEAs Definition of Specific Learning DisabilityIDEAs Definition of Specific Learning DisabilityIDEAs Definition of Specific Learning Disability

The nations special education law specifically defines the termspecific learning disability, as follows:

(10) Specific learning disability (i) General. Specific learningdisability means a disorder in one or more of the basicpsychological processes involved in understanding or inusing language, spoken or written, that may m