Specific Learning Disorders
Definition: Difficulties learning and using academic skills, despite interventions. An individual’s skills are significantly below what would be expected for their age and intellectual abilities. The learning difficulties begin during school age, but may not be obvious until work demands are more than they are able to do.
Subtypes and Symptoms:
Subtypes and Symptoms:
- Reading: Problems with accurate and fluent word reading and reading comprehension. Individuals with a reading impairment subtype often have inaccurate or slow and effortful reading, as well as difficulty understanding what the text means. This subtype is sometimes referred to as “dyslexia”
- Writing: Difficulties with spelling and grammar, as well as with writing clear and organized passages.
- Math: Problems understanding information with numbers, learning basic math facts and calculations, as well as mathematical reasoning. Concepts of time and money are often difficult for someone with an impairment in mathematics to understand. This subtype is sometimes referred to as “dyscalculia”.
- Difficulty remembering instructions
- Aversion to reading, writing, or math
- Trouble paying attention
Co-occurring Issues: Individuals with learning disorders may have a diagnosis of another disorder or have additional difficulties as a result of the learning disorder.
- Speech/Language disorder
- Behavioural disorders such as ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or Conduct Disorder
- Anxiety (particularly around school or social situations)
- Self-esteem issues
Assessment: Psychoeducational assessment is important to diagnose learning disorders, but also to pinpoint areas of thinking that are weak and should be the focus of intervention, or that are strong and can be used for teaching. Assessments examine a variety of academic areas to differentiate a reading from a math impairment, as well as test processes such as memory and thinking strategies.
Treatment: Interventions for individuals with learning disorders are based around using different methods of teaching. In some areas, the use of technology can help to compensate where skills are lacking. For example, programs that read text aloud, spell and grammar checking software, or calculators. Many post-secondary institutions offer assistance programs for students with diagnosed learning disorders. Treatment should also take co-occurring issues into account as individuals with a learning disorder may benefit from individual therapy, specific language therapy or behavioural planning.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC
Pennington, B. (2009). Diagnosing learning disorders: A neuropsychological framework (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.