Learning Disabilities Defined
The term "learning disabilities" is an umbrella term used to describe an array of learning disorders. An individual may have one learning disability or more than one co-occurring learning disability. A learning disability is a life-long neurobiological disorder that affects the manner in which individuals with potentially normal or above average intelligence select, retain and express information. Incoming or outgoing information may become scrambled as it travels between the senses and the brain. In many cases, learning disabilities interfere with the development and use of language and the ability to speak, read, write, spell or perform math calculations. Learning disabilities can impact an individual's self-esteem, education, vocation, socialization and daily living activities.
Learning disabilities are "hidden" disabilities meaning you cannot look at a person and "see" that they have a disability. Many individuals with learning disabilities have average to above-average IQs. Individuals with learning disabilities exhibit patterns of strengths and weaknesses and the disability creates deficits in particular areas.
Learning disabilities are life-long. They are not outgrown and they do not disappear when a child becomes an adult or leaves school.
Learning disabilities impact people in different ways. Some people are able to readily overcome the disability by learning compensatory strategies while others may need a higher level of supports and services.
The exact cause of learning disabilities is unknown but my include trauma during pregnancy or birth; family history of learning disabilities; prenatal or early childhood exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment such as lead paint and mercury or a combination of factors.
There is no "cure" for learning disabilities and learning disabilities cannot be treated with medication in the way ADHD can. However, many individuals who have learning disabilities learn strategies to compensate for their disability and with early diagnosis, appropriate accommodations and services, people with learning disabilities can have successful outcomes in life.
There are numerous definitions of learning disabilities in use today in the United States and the particular definition parents of children with learning disabilities or adults with learning disabilities need to be concerned about often depends on what their goals are. Many government agencies use specific definitions to establish eligibility for services. For example, under the Individuals with Disabiliities Education Act (the Federal law on special education) the definition of a specific learning disability is used by schools determine whether a student should receive special education services. For adults to receive vocational rehabilitation services such as job training and job placement, the New York State vocational rehabilitation agency (known as the New York State Education Department's Office of Adult Career and Continuing Education Services or ACCES) uses a different definition.