What Are Learning Disabilities?
- Learning disabilities (LD) are a group of varying disorders that have a negative impact on learning. They may affect one’s ability to speak, listen, think, read, write, spell or compute. The most prevalent LD is in the area of reading, known as dyslexia.
- Currently 2.4 million students are diagnosed with LD and receive special education services in our schools, representing 41% of all students receiving special education.1
- They are life long and cannot be cured; however, the effects of an LD may be mitigated to support learning, living and earning, particularly when identified early and dealt with effectively.
- Intellectual disability (once referred to as mental retardation), autism, deafness, blindness, behavioral disorders, and ADD or ADHD are not learning disabilities; however, these conditions are frequently confused with LD.
- While students with LD continue to represent the largest group served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the special education law (41%), the number of school-age students identified with LD has seen a steady decline during the past 10 years.2
OutcomesWhile some educational outcomes for students with learning disabilities have shown improvements in recent years, overall they remain unacceptably low.
- Close to half of secondary students with LD perform more than three grade levels below their enrolled grade in essential academic skills (45% in reading, 44% in math).3
- 67% of students with LD graduate from high school4 with a regular diploma vs. 74% of students in the general population.5
- 20% of students with LD drop out of high school6 vs. 8% of students in the general population.7
- 10% of students with LD are enrolled in a four-year college within two years of leaving school, compared with 28% of the general population.8
- Among working-age adults with LD versus those without LD: 55% vs. 76% are employed; 6% vs. 3% of adults are unemployed; and 39% vs. 21% are not in the labor force partly because of lack of education.9
1 IDEA Part B Child Count, 2010, Students ages 6-21. Available at www.IDEAdata.org
2 IDEA Part B Child Counts, 2001-2010, Students ages 6-21. Available at www.IDEAdata.org
3 Wagner, M., Marder, C., Blackorby, J., Cameto, R., Newman, L., Levine, P., & Davies-Mercier, E. (with Chorost, M., Garza, N., Guzman, A., & Sumi, C.) (2003). The achievements of youth with disabilities during secondary school. A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. Available at www.nlts2.org
4 IDEA Part B Exiting data, 2009-2010, Students 14-21, www.IDEAdata.org
5 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). The Condition of Education 2010 (NCES 2010-028), Indicator 18. Available at www.nces.ed.gov
6 IDEA Part B Exiting data, 2009-2010, Students 14-21, www.IDEAdata.org
7 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). The Condition of Education 2010 (NCES 2010-028), Indicator 20. Available at www.nces.ed.gov
8 Wagner, M., Newman, L., Cameto, R., Garza, N., & Levine, P. (2005). After high school: A first look at the postschool experiences of youth with disabilities. A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. Available at www.nlts2.org
9 H. Stephen Kaye, Unpublished tabulations of 2005 data from the U.S. Survey of Income and Program Participation in C. Cortiella, The State of Learning Disabilities 2010. National Center for Learning Disabilities, New York, NY.