Specific Learning Disabilities

What You Need to Know!

What is a Specific Learning Disability? By: Kim Minkler

Specific learning disability (SLD) means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may lead to in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

Reference: Wisconsin department of public instruction. (2015). Retrieved from http://sped.dpi.wi.gov/sped_ldcriter

Characteristics of Specific Learning Disabilities: By: Pamela Dickerson

Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder and has multiple signs and symptoms. Students may process thoughts and ideas slowly and have difficulty explaining them. They may also confuse similar-sounding words and can be often distracted by background sounds/noises. Students may be confused by figurative language (metaphor, similes) or misunderstand puns and jokes because they interpret words too literally at times. Some students have difficulty processing and remembering language-related tasks and find it difficult to stay focused on or remembering oral directions. Sometimes they may ignore people, especially if engrossed in an activity. Another sign or symptom may be misspelling and mispronouncing similar-sounding words or omitting syllables. These students will say “What?” a lot, even when they have heard much of what was said because they have difficulty comprehending complex sentence structure and/or rapid speech. A specific type of APD is known as Language Processing Disorder. Some signs for this disorder include poor written output, poor reading comprehension, and expressing thoughts in verbal form to name few.


Students have difficulty understanding and doing word problems in math class and exhibit difficulty using steps involved in math operations. Students can find it challenging when making changed and handling money. Sometimes they have difficulty understanding concepts related to time such as days, weeks, months, seasons, quarters, etc. They show difficulty understanding concepts of place value, and quantity, number lines, positive and negative value, carrying and borrowing. They may have difficulty sequencing information or events and have difficulty putting language to math processes. Sometimes they show difficulty understanding fractions and may have difficulty recognizing patterns when adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing. These students can exhibit difficulty organizing problems on the page, keeping numbers lined up, and following through on long division problems.


Students with Dyslexia may read slowly and painfully and experience decoding errors. However, they may have better success with decoding real words than nonsense words. They may show a wide disparity between listening a comprehension and reading comprehension of some text. These students may have difficulty with spelling and handwriting. Exhibiting difficulty recalling known words is another sign of Dyslexia. These students may have difficulty with math computations. Substituting one small sight word for another is another symptom of Dyslexia.

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities

Some signs for this disability are having trouble recognizing nonverbal cues such as facial expression or body language. Students may also show poor psycho-motor coordination such as being clumsy. Another symptom is having difficulty with fine motor skills such as using scissors or tying shoelaces. These students may have difficulty with coping with changes in routing and transitions and generalizing previously learned information. Some may make very literal translations and ask too many questions during a lesson. Because of the student’s strong verbal skills, they impart the illusion of competence.

Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit

This disability affects the understanding of information that a person sees, or the ability to draw or copy. Some signs and symptoms may include letter reversals or inversions. Students may have difficulty navigating around campus. Students may complain that eyes hurt and itch and that print blurs while reading. Students could have difficulty copying accurately and loses their place frequently. They may not be able to recognize an object/word if only part of it is shown. Student may hold pencil too tightly and often breaks pencil points and crayons. Students may misalign letters and have messy papers including irregular spacing and colliding letters.


LD online. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.ldonline.org/ldbasics

LDA: Learning disabilities association of America. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/

Testing for Placement of Services: By: Kim Minkler

1. First a student usually goes through the process of RTI. Response to Intervention strategies are used to monitor problems. Educators try different ways to help the student in their struggling areas through a tiered level intervention system. Data is kept on how well students respond to the interventions.

2. The purpose of an individual evaluation is to determine if a child qualifies for a diagnosis of specific learning disabilities according to state and federal guidelines. The process is started after trying the RTI process, reviewing data, and determining that further evaluations are needed and progress is not being made.

3. The Testing Process - Students are given specific tests by a special education professional (special ed. teacher, psychologist, OT, PT, SLP) depending on the area(s) of concerns. Some children also go through a medical evaluation to rule out other causes for learning issues such as ED, intellectual and developmental disabilities, or traumatic brain issues.

4. Once it is determined if a child qualifies for an SLD, the team, composed of parents, teachers, other special education professionals, and the students, reviews the scores and develops and IEP and appropriate educational placement for the student.

Reference: Eunice Kennedy Scriver National Institute of Shild Health and Human Development. (2014). How are Learning Disabilities Diagnosed?. Retrieved from https: //www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/learning/conditioninfo/pages/diagnosed.aspx

Accommodations and Modifications for Specific Learning Disabilities: By: Ellen Kopp

Students with Specific Learning Disabilities may need accommodations to support the student’s ability to learn and demonstrate their knowledge on assignments by providing services and supports and removing obstacles to help a student work around a disability. Accommodations do not change what a student learns, just how a student learns. There are many types of accommodations, but they fall into four basic categories. Presentation is a change in the way instruction and information is presented for example presenting information in an alternative audio or visual format. Response a change in the way a student completes assignments and assessments for example reading a test aloud to the student. Setting is a change in the environment where the child works for example an alternative quiet test setting. Timing and scheduling is a change in how much time a student has to complete a task, or being able to take breaks for example a student is given extended time on assessments. A modification is a change in what is taught or expected of the student for example allowing the student to be tested on less material or material that is less complex. Teachers may use both to help students learn and succeed in school.


Center for Parent Information and Resources. (2010). Supports, Modifications, and Accommodations for Students. Retrieved from http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/accommodations/

Understood.org. (2015). Accommodations and Modifications: How they’re Different. Retrieved from http://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/treatments-approaches/educational-strategies/accommodations-and-modifications-how-theyre-different

Service Delivery Options for Specific Learning Disabilities: By: Rachel Baier

  • Home-based programs
    • Early interventions for infants and toddlers
    • Interventions include families and are embedded into life skill activities
  • Center-based programs
    • Children are brought to a central location by their family to receive services
  • Home-Center based programs
    • Preschool age children receive services both at a center and at home
  • Itinerant teacher/ Inclusion
    • Children receive special education services through direct instruction in individualized classroom routines and works with general education staff to meet IEP needs
  • General education classroom
    • Special education teacher comes to the general education room to give services and provide consultation
  • Resource room
    • Students are pulled out of the general education setting to receive services from a special education teacher
  • Self-contained special education
    • Academic needs of the student are too great to be met within general education
  • Least Restrictive Environment
    • The setting that maximizes a child's educational benefits while participating in the general education setting as much as possible. School must offer a range of options for this reason.
    • LRE decisions are made based on individual needs

  • References:

    Raver, S. (2015). Service Delivery Options for Educating Young Children with Disabilities. Retrieved from education.com: http://www.education.com/reference/article/models-educate-children-special-needs/

    What is the Least Restrictive Environment? . (n.d.). Retrieved from About Health : http://learningdisabilities.about.com/od/publicschoolprograms/a/leastrestrictiv.htm

    Teacher Resources: By: Jennifer Johnson

    Resources for SLD

    There are several resources available to teacher, staff and parents of children with SLD. Many times information is overwhelming. Often it is best for parents, teachers and related staff to research SLD and learn information. Below are some national resources for SLD. From these national sites, teachers, parents and staff can find their specific state to research more information.