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The following are past questions and answers from Dr. Larry Silver on this topic.

What is the difference between dyslexia and a specific learning disability in reading?

What is the difference between dyslexia and a specific learning disability in reading? Are they the same or is the term based on regional terminology?

Specific learning disability is the official term used today for students with learning disabilities. Such disabilities might impact reading, writing, math, or other areas. Dyslexia is no longer an official term used under federal education law. This term was initially used to describe a language-based (i.e., phonologically-based) reading disability.

Is LD passed on to offspring?

I was diagnosed with LD in math and reading when I was in eighth grade. Recently, my daughter has had problems with reading and writing. She is 6 years old and I was just wondering if LD is passed on to offspring.

There is a strong family pattern for learning disabilities. I would encourage you to keep a close eye on your daughter. If she continues to struggle, ask the school to evaluate her for possible learning disabilities.

What can you do about programs that say they help LD, but lack evidence that they succeed?

I am concerned about programs like Brain Gym and Bal-A-Vis-X, which claim to be beneficial for children with learning disabilities, ADHD, behavioral disorders, and a whole host of other problems. These programs are being implemented in schools without a shred of controlled research to document such claims. Can anything be done to stop them?

I share your concern. The definition of a “controversial therapy” is either that: (1) there is no evidence to support the concept; (2) there is clear evidence to show that the concept does not work; or, (3) the concept is being used for financial gain before there is research to validate that the concept is correct. I believe that the programs you refer to fit definitions 1 and 3.

The problem is that if a parent has a child with a disability, he or she is vulnerable to anyone who says they can help or fix their child. Such parents are at risk for spending time and money and for putting their child through programs that will not accomplish what is stated. The organizations will not change. The best hope is to educate parents and to remind them, “the buyer beware.”

What are some symptoms of language-based learning disabilities?

My seven-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder over a year ago and had great difficulty with reading and writing. We took her to a Speech Therapist and Tutoring to learn Phonics. She has shown tremendous improvement and is reading and writing pretty well and almost at grade level.

I have noticed that she still has difficulty during reading and writing with mixing up b & d as well as m & n. She also continually starts writing sentences in the middle of the page, writes really big at the beginning of a sentence and toward the end of the page the letters get smaller and smaller. Two months ago when re-tested, her Auditory Processing skills were improved to a normal level.

What do you make of the writing problem, it is constant and her teachers and I have to work with her one on one to ensure she starts each row on the left side. Could this be a form of dyslexia? What kind of specialist tests for something like this? Please help. Thank you very much.

Your daughter has a language-based learning disability. This means that she has difficulty using phonics when she reads and writes. Often, children with these problems also have difficulties in visual and motor skills as well. They have all of the problems with writing that you note. The label does not change. But, there is a need to expand the help beyond phonics-based tutoring. Speak with the person/team working with your daughter for advise on what more to do.

Why would a nine-year-old boy get overly distracted by sounds?

I have a 9-year-old boy who gets good grades, is intelligent, great sense of humor, and well-mannered. For the past three years, I have been hearing that he is distracted easily in class, as in if he hears a tapping pencil, fire siren, or noise outside of his class, he gets distracted too easily, and doesn't focus on his work sometimes because he starts to talk in class at times.

I have been very patient, and tried explaining the importance of cooperating with his teacher and the school rules, but I'm getting very worried. Especially, now that his teacher thought it would be a good idea for me to sign a 504 form so he can concentrate or focus better because she believes he can get a top score. Only now after signing, the principal is saying he should see and talk to a school professional, and now I am very concerned and don't know what to do. I am up to my wit's with this situation. Please help. He understands his work in school. I am lost.

You describe auditory distractibility that has been noted since he started school (first grade). I suspect that you see the same behaviors at home and in activities. I would discuss the possibility that he has Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Inattentive Type with your family physician. Prior to this, you might ask his school professionals to do rating scales on ADHD.

Should the school system test a child to see if he should be put on prescription medication?

My seven-year-old son is in the first grade for the second time. Per his teacher and principal, they are encouraging me to have my son tested. I do not have a problem with having him tested.

My problem is this: all I'm hearing from them is he needs to be on a prescription drug. I can not see how a prescription drug is going to help him with his problems. After reading some of the articles LD OnLine has, I totally agree that he definitely has a learning disability, but the school system can not tell me why this requires prescription drugs.

I will do anything in my power to help my son develop. I will not shove prescription drugs down his throat until I understand how this will help him. Can you explain this to me?



Good for you. School staff cannot tell a parent to put their child on medication. The question might be the one you raise. Are his academic problems the result of a learning disability, of ADHD, or of both.

If your son has been hyperactive, inattentive, and/or impulsive since early preschool, you might discuss ADHD with his family doctor. If the main issues relate to difficulty learning to read, to write, to putting thoughts on the page, and to learning basic math and/or relate to his ability to understand oral instructions or reply orally, formal testing is needed to explore for a learning disability. Request such testing.

Many school systems will not test children until the end of the third grade – a “wait until they fail” model. If this is your son’s school philosophy, you might need to have the testing done privately.

Go slowly and clarify the problems before starting treatment. What your school staff is doing is similar to a physician saying, “Your child has a stomachache. He should have his appendix out.” No – first you learn what is causing the stomachache and then you recommend treatment.

Are memory difficulties considered learning disabilities?

Is the inability to memorize a learning disability? As a child, I was unable to memorize the arithmetic tables and to this day cannot add or subtract, multiply or divide accurately. As a teenager and an adult this inability to memorize has made it impossible to learn a second language because I'm unable to memorize and retain vocabulary.

Now at age 55, I'm under pressure at my job to learn a second language and even though I try to explain this problem, no one will believe that it is a learning disability. They keep pointing out that I have learned one language so I should be able to learn two. Of course, they all speak two or three fluently. I need some data to back me up. Can you help?

By the way, my IQ is 140 and I have an Ed.D. from Teachers College-Columbia University. I can learn, I just can't memorize.

Thank you,


There are many types of memory - working memory, short term memory, long term memory. And each type of memory is different for visual and for auditory processing. It is possible that you have a specific type of memory deficit that would make specific tasks, such as learning a new language difficult. I cannot be more specific. If it is important to you, you might request formal testing to clarify if you have a deficit in memory and, if so, in what areas.

Why is my daughter's school hesitant to label her learning disability with the term "dyslexia"?

My daughter is a sixth grade student and has always had problems with reading and writing. She has an IEP, but the school doesn't seem to be helping with the obvious.

Since being diagnosed with ADD, I have been doing research on dyslexia and she seems to fit all the symptoms surrounding this learning problem. But whenever I bring this up to the school they don't want to hear it or act like I know nothing. They deny that there is a test for this specific disability. They say that all the people with learning disabilities are taught the same way and that is just the way it is.

My biggest concern here is she is not getting the help that she needs and still has the hardest time with the simplest of words. What should I do or better yet how do I go about getting her tested for something the school doesn't acknowledge?


Some professionals prefer to use terms that have been used for the past 50 years and that describe the primary problem.

Thus, if the difficulty is with using phonological skills to read, the child has dyslexia. If the problem is with writing, the term Dysgraphia is used. If math is the problem, Dyscalculia is used.

In the mid-1970s a law was passed requiring that all public schools address the needs of children with disabilities. This landmark law created the whole special education system. The term Learning Disability was used. Whether these disabilities impacted on reading, writing, math, or other areas, the umbrella term used is Learning Disability.

So, try not to focus so much on terms as on what your daughter needs. If she is not getting the help you believe she needs, you might seek a private educational consultant to advise you on how to approach your school system. If the school is limited in what it can offer, you might have to supplement what she gets in school with private help.

How can I learn my basic academic skills when the high school will not help me?

I am an early high school student. I just completed eighth grade but I find that a lot of my skills seem well below my classmates skills. I have had a learning disability since before I can remember. I have dysgraphia, fine motor difficulties, and speech difficulties. However I take a combination of regular, college prep, and honors classes. I am in no "special ed. classes" with the exception of supplemental.

I know for a fact that my skills in grammar, written expression, and spelling are well below the eighth grade level. However, I am receiving no help in those areas outside of my college prep English class. My teacher seem to think of me as "stupid." I have asked for extra help but she seems too busy to provide any after or before school help. So instead she sent me home with English text books to borrow over summer which doesn't help much since it takes me hours to get through one page due to my handwriting difficulties.

I learned very little in her class and I know the skills I lack in are not taught in high school but in elementary and middle school. I fear that without these skills I won't be able to be successful in school and work. A tutor is financially out of question and my case worker, who also happens to be my supplemental teacher, doesn't seem to think that I lack these skills or just doesn't realize it. I find she doesn't pick up on a lot of my difficulties.

How can I learn these skills that I need (e.g. basic grammar, spelling, and vocabulary) if I will not receive it through my classes? Do you have any suggestions?


I am so delighted that you understand your learning disabilities and learning abilities so well. As you know, this means that you have areas of great strength and areas of weakness.

If you have learned good compensatory strategies to minimize your weaknesses, you can handle most classes. However, in some classes, you struggle. Ideally, the special education coordinator for your school would work with the teacher for this class and help to develop any necessary adaptations or accommodations. You seem to be in a difficult situation where no resources are available. And, it seems that you did not get the necessary help in elementary school to compensate for your disabilities.

Don't give up. First, let's get your parents on board. Ask them to read this response. Then, ask them to go to the library and get a copy of a book, The Misunderstood Child. This book will help them understand what help you will need.

Maybe there will be a way to provide private help. Or, maybe, your parents can go to the school and insist on more help than you are now getting. If this does not work, e-mail me again.

Note from LD OnLine: Visit Dr. Tracy Gray's section to see a Tech Expert's response to the same question.