Learning Disabilities (Difficulties)
There are many types of learning disabilities and learning difficulties.
Learning disabilities should not be confused with an intellectual disability. An intellectual disability is a severe deficit in cognitive functioning. This is classified by an IQ score of less than 70. An IQ score of 100 is average (range 85 – 115). People with intellectual disabilities will have difficulties with learning.
Learning disabilities generally fall into two major categories:
- General Processing issues
- Specific Learning Disabilities ( i.e. dyslexia)
If a person has general processing issues, they may also have a Learning Disability (or difficulty).
General Processing Issues
Some types of learning disabilities are defined by a cognitive processing problem.
- Auditory Processing – The ability to perceive and understand what is heard. With this disorder there is no issue with the ability to hear, however students often struggle in the classroom to follow instructions, or complete work efficiently with background noise.
- Processing Speed – The rate or speed at which the brain handles information. These people take longer to complete tasks, struggle to complete set work and spend long periods of time on homework tasks.
- Working Memory – The ability to retain and process information for short time periods. This is often referred to as short term memory. These people need to develop specific strategies to overcome these short falls in memory. They often have problems with remembering times tables.
- Long-Term Memory – The ability to both store and recall information for later use.
- Attention – The ability to remain on task in a sustained, selective, or divided way. These people may fall into the category of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
- Visual Processing – The ability to perceive, analyse and think in visual images, or manipulate visual information. This is a sensory disability related to processing images.
- Logic and Reasoning – The ability to reason, prioritise, and plan. These people often appear disorganised and struggle to meet deadlines.
Dyslexia – is a neurologically disorder that is often genetic and interferes with the acquisition and processing of language.
Specific developmental dyslexia is a disorder manifested by difficulty learning to read despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence, and adequate socio-cultural opportunity.
Dyslexia may vary in its severity; it is manifested by difficulties in receptive and expressive language – including phonological processing – in reading, writing, spelling, handwriting and sometimes in mathematics.
Learning disabilities or dyslexia have traditionally been diagnosed with a cognitive or intelligence test and an achievement test. If a person scores within the average range for intelligence and two standard deviations below average on the achievement test, they may fit the criteria for dyslexia. The type of learning disability depends on the area of deficit.
Research based definitions into learning disabilities tend to have veered away from a discrepancy between intellect and achievement, and instead have focused on low achievement, with poor response to intervention. Some researchers even believe that learning disabilities are due to poor education. This is primary due to the fact that those people with dyslexia can be taught language skills and have the potential achieve at a high level, they simply acquire language differently.
Types of Dyslexia
- Word Level Reading Recognition Disability (WLRD) or Phonological Dyslexia - a neurologically based condition which is characterised by difficulty understanding and applying the alphabetic principle. (The student has trouble reading written words fluently, out loud).
The alphabetic principle is the understanding that letters and combinations of letters are the symbols used to represent the speech sounds; and that there are systematic and predictable relationships between written letters, symbols, and spoken words.
- Reading Comprehension Disability or Dysphasia – A language disability where the student has difficulty with reading comprehension. (Students can often read words fluently, but do not fully understand what has been read).
- Specific Learning Disability in Spelling – A disability associated with spelling words. A spelling disability may be diagnosed if they are significantly below what is to be expected for their cognitive ability.
- Dysgraphia – A writing disability where the student has difficulty with forming letters and legibility.
- Dyscalculia – A maths disability where the student struggles with maths problems and concepts.
Other Learning Disabilities
- Dyspraxia – A motor coordination disability (also known as Sensory Integration Disorder). Dyspraxia is a neurologically based developmental disability which is present from birth.
- Non-Verbal Learning Disorder – A visual-spatial disability related to body control. Usually characterised by a discrepancy between high scores on verbal and lower scores on performance scores (on an IQ test), with deficits also in motor, visual-spatial and social skills.
There are also other disorders classified under communication disorders, these include: Expressive language disorder, Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Phonological disorder, and Stuttering. Communication disorders are usually assessed and treated by a Speech Pathologist. Educational Psychologists may refer to Speech Pathologists if they suspect a communication disorder.
If you suspect your child may have a processing issue or learning disability, it is recommended that you contact an Educational Psychologist and ask for a full Educational Assessment. This should involve a cognitive or IQ test (such as the WISC-IV) and an achievement test (such as the WIAT-II).
If you live in Melbourne, contact School Psychology Services to talk about assessment options.