Learning disorders are neurodevelopmental in nature and affect the brain’s ability to perceive or process verbal or nonverbal information efficiently and accurately. They are biological in origin, including the interaction of genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors.
Learning disorders manifest in various ways such as problems with reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia) or math (dyscalculia); difficulty remembering information; problems with organization and reasoning; physical coordination issues or problems with social relationships. Assessment for a learning disorder typically includes a clinical interview and administration of cognitive and achievement measures which can provide information about memory, executive functioning, processing speed, comprehension, logic and reasoning skills.
An abbreviated version of the diagnostic criteria for a Specific Learning Disorder is provided below:
A. A persistent difficulty learning academic skills for at least 6 months despite intervention targeting the area(s) of difficulty. Many schools use a RTI model of academic skill assessment and progress monitoring to determine the effectiveness of interventions. The areas of documented academic skill difficulties include:
1. Word decoding and word reading fluency
2. Reading comprehension
4. Writing difficulties such as grammar, punctuation, organization, and clarity
5. Number sense, fact and calculation
6. Mathematical reasoning
B. The affected academic skills are substantially below expectations given the individual’s age and result in impaired functioning in school, at work and in activities of daily living.
C. LD is readily apparent in the early years, however it is not to be diagnosed until the onset of school years; in some individuals the disorder is not apparent until the onset of a demand for higher-level skills.
D. The academic and learning difficulties occur in the absence of:
1. Intellectual Disabilities
2. Visual or hearing impairments
3. Mental disorders (e.g. depression, anxiety, etc.)
4. Neurological disorders
5. Psycho-social difficulty
6. Language differences
7. Lack of access to adequate instruction