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Expert Q&A

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:

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