Learning disabilities (LD)—what they are (and what they are not)—continue to be a source of confusion for many people. Here are some key facts to keep in mind:
What Is a Learning Disability?
- A learning disability is a biological “processing” problem that impairs a person’s ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell and do math calculations.
- There are several types of LD based on the type of difficulties involved. Dyslexia, a problem with reading, is the most common.
- Learning disabilities have a genetic component and often run in families.
- LD is a lifelong disability. Children don’t grow out of it. They may learn to compensate for their LD, but it’s something they continue to live with as adults.
- LD is does not include visual, hearing or motor disabilities.
- LD is not caused by intellectual or cognitive disabilities (formerly referred to as mental retardation), emotional disturbance, or cultural, environmental, or economic disadvantage.
How Are Learning Disabilities Diagnosed?
- Proper identification (diagnosis) of LD in K–12 students involves: parent and child interviews; classroom observation; a review of the child’s educational and medical history; a series of tests to identify the child’s strengths and weaknesses; the gathering of information from teachers and other professionals who work with the child.
- There is no medical test (such as a blood test) for LD.
- LD often co-exists with other neurological disorders such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This can make diagnosis/identification of the disabilities tricky.
How Common Are Learning Disabilities?
- It’s estimated that 4.67 million Americans (ages six and older) have LD. That represents 1.8 percent of the U.S. population. (U.S. Survey of Income and Program Participation)
- Almost 2.4 million school-age children in the U.S. are classified as having specific learning disabilities. That represents 4–6 percent of all public school students.
- Almost half of public school students receiving special education services have LD.
What Help and Treatment Is Available for People With LD?
- People with LD can succeed at school and work if they have targeted instruction, meaningful accommodations, high expectations (of themselves and from others) and a support system.
- Once a student is identified with LD, the key to success is instruction that’s carefully targeted, well-delivered, research-based, individualized and differentiated.
- There is no medication or medical treatment for LD, although there are many unproven, expensive and controversial “therapies” for LD on the market.
How Does the Law Protect People Who Have LD?
- The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides for special education services for public school students aged 3–21 with disabilities. Having LD doesn’t automatically make a student eligible for special education; he or she must also go through an eligibility evaluation.
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law prohibiting discriminating against people with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal funding.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is also a civil rights law that protects individuals with LD from discrimination in schools, the workplace and other settings.