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Questions + Answers

About Learning Disabilities

Frequent questions

  • Question 1: What is LD?
  • Question 2: What is the difference between a person with LD and a slow learner?
  • Question 3: Can learning disabilities get worse as a person ages?
  • Question 4: How common are language-based learning disabilities?
  • Question 5: Does LD mean you have a lower IQ?
  • Question 6: I'm seeking information about how the brain in LD students works differently than the brain in non-LD students. Can you connect me with on-line links?

Expert answers

1) What is LD?

The following articles provide you with some basic information about learning disabilities:

These articles and others are available on LD OnLine, particularly in the LD Topics section.

2) What is the difference between a person with LD and a slow learner?

According to government regulations, students with learning disabilities have “disorders in one or more basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations.”

However, it is often difficult, based on observed behaviors, to distinguish between slow learners and learning disabled persons. Basically, a student with LD has deficits in one or two areas while performing at or above the average in other areas. The child's potential or overall intelligence is greater than his/her poor achievement would predict. This is called the ability-achievement discrepancy. It is even possible for someone to have characteristics of both conditions.

Actual diagnosis of a learning disability can only be done by a trained professional – clinical psychologists, educational psychologists, some physicians, etc. There are a number of articles that give parents and teachers a better idea of what goes into making such a diagnosis. A few of the articles list typical signs of a possible learning disability; others list strategies that work well with LD students.

The last reference raises serious questions about whether an ability-achievement discrepancy is a valid definition of reading disability. Well-replicated research has demonstrated that a core deficit for reading disabled individuals – both children and adults – is phonemic awareness (the ability to understand how sounds and sound patterns work in our language system). Although it's a difficult read, this article has some good citations and research within it.

Also check these sections of our site for general information about learning disabilities and teaching strategies that can help:

3) Can learning disabilities get worse as a person ages?

Learning disabilities can present new challenges as your life changes, especially if you are adjusting to a new set of demands like a job change or parenthood. These transitions can cause stress and increase a sense of struggling.

Perhaps some changes need to be made to help you cope with daily challenges. It might also be a good idea to check with a doctor to see if there is some underlying physical reason a disability seems to have worsened. One of the organizations listed below might be able to assist you in finding more information on LD and aging.

You may also want to visit the forums on LD OnLine to discuss this concern with people who may be wondering about the same issue.

4) How common are language-based learning disabilities?

According to the International Dyslexia Asssociation and the Learning Disabilites Association of America, about 15% of the population (close to one in seven) has a learning disability. Of the students with learning disabilities receiving special education services, 70-80% have deficits in reading.

Luckily, there is plenty of information on how to address the needs of these children. More information on strategies to help children with learning disabilities is available on LD OnLine and Reading Rockets.

5) Does LD mean you have a lower IQ?

No. People with learning disabilities are generally of average or above average intelligence, and struggle in one or two areas where they need remedial educational help. Learning disabilities, by definition, mean that a person's skills in a particular area (reading, math, visual/auditory processing, etc.) are lower than would be expected by looking at the person's overall IQ.

6) I'm seeking information about how the brain in LD students works differently than the brain in non-LD students. Can you connect me with on-line links?

Researchers are doing much to reveal the secrets of the brain. The brain is a complex "universe." This "universe" is responsible for our thinking, learning, emotions, sensations, and so much more.

Learning disabilities are often defined as "inefficient processing of information from the sensory input source to the brain and then back out." This means the information processing system of the student with learning disabilities is expected to be different than that of a student in a general education program. Perhaps information becomes distorted in a relay station to the brain, in the storage process, or in the manner in which information from different sensory input systems is combined.

Today there is no clear answer about how the brain of students with LD differs from that of the student who does not have a learning disability. Studies about brain processing, however, are beginning to tell us more about why students with leaning disabilities struggle with learning.

Here are some Web sites that help clarify how the brain's of students with LD may be different from those of students without LD. There are many different types of learning disabilities. To date no one study of the brain can tell us clearly how students with different types of LD process information.

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