What are Learning Disabilities?

Focusing on Dyscalculia

What does LD mean according to teachers?

Given a survey over learning disability, listed below are responses that were received from teachers from various age groups, school districts, subject areas, years of experience, and ethnicities.

  • " Learning disability refers to a condition in which a student requires additional tools or assistance to gain meaningful comprehension of a subject matter." -K. Horne, 6th grade English Language Arts/Reading teacher
  • "In my opinion, a learning disability is a condition giving rise to difficulties in acquiring knowledge and applying skills, as expected of those at the same age/grade level." -H. Passmore, 7th grade English Language Arts/Reading teacher
  • "That the student needs extra support in order to be successful." -K. Fortner, Elementary Assistant Principal
  • "Learning disabilities are not necessarily disabilities, but differences in how the brain processes information compared to the majority of the population." -B. Hoff, 7th grade Mathematics teacher
  • "LD to me means that a student has problems understanding certain concepts. It’s like they have a mental block. They excel in one subject but struggle in another." -R. Hanks, Algebra I teacher
  • "Learning disability is an adversity that needs to be overcome for learning to still happen." -J. Lawson, Middle School Choir teacher

What does LD mean according to research and professionals?

After reading multiple articles and books the following three quotes sum up the meaning of learning disability.

  • “A learning disability is a disorder that affects the brain’s ability to understand receive, process, and utilize certain kinds of information. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), a specific learning disorder is diagnosed when an individual has difficulty learning and using academic skills despite remedial interventions. Academic skills are significantly below average for one’s age and grade, and this is not better accounted for by factors such as intellectual disability, visual or auditory deficits, or other mental or neurological disorders.” -Doctors and researchers from a Psychological testing center out of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area
  • “Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention. It is important to realize that learning disabilities can affect an individual’s life beyond academics and can impact relationships with family, friends and in the workplace.” -Authors of an article titled Types of Learning Disabilities
  • "The term "specific learning disability" means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include children who have learning disabilities which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps, or mental retardation, or emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage. (United States Office of Education. (1977). Definition and criteria for defining students as learning disabled. Federal Register, 42:250, p. 65083. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.)" -1977 U.S. Office of Education

Being Learning Disabled in Mathematics (according to teachers)

Below are the responses of various educators when asked the question "What does learning disability mean or look like in the Mathematics classroom?"

  • "Having an LD can affect a student in a math class in numerous ways. For example, an LD can prevent a student from connecting the process of computation to the underlying concept. Thusly, when a student is given a word problem, it will be difficult for them to translate words into a numerical problem." -K. Horne, 6th grade English Language Arts/Reading teacher
  • "In a math classroom, a learning disability can affect a child’s ability to: understand the language of math, use their memories to recall formulas and recognize math patterns, understand math facts, complete math computation, utilize knowledge transfer in solving new problems, and complete higher order thinking skills necessary to solve multistep/complex math problems." -H. Passmore, 7th grade English Language Arts/Reading teacher
  • "Depending on the disability the student may need more manipulatives, hands on, use of technology. They may not be able to get the abstract math concepts without the help of visuals or tactile representations." -K. Fortner, Elementary Assistant Principal
  • " LD in a math classroom brings a student’s self-confidence down. When they can’t grasp a concept they feel they can’t succeed at all. Having a LD student in a classroom can put stress on a teacher also because they feel they aren’t succeeding as a teacher." -R. Hanks, Algebra I teacher

Being Learning Disabled in Mathematics: Dyscalculia

“A specific learning disability in the domain of mathematics manifests in poor number sense, difficulty memorizing arithmetic facts, difficulty with calculation, and impaired math reasoning ability.” -Autors of Learning Disabilities published by Psychological Testing & Assessments

Having learning disabilities that are specific to Mathematics is called dyscalculia. According to Amanda Morin's article titled Understanding Dyscalculia, the term can be defined as "a brain-based condition that makes it hard to make sense of numbers and math concepts. Some kids with dyscalculia can’t grasp basic number concepts. They work hard to learn and memorize basic number facts. They may know what to do in math class but don’t understand why they’re doing it. In other words, they miss the logic behind it." Being a middle school Mathematics teacher this is something that I see, work with, and deal with on a daily basis. When handled the correct way students are still able to experience success. There are several different strategies and tools that a teacher can provide a student with in order to be successful even with this disability. Some of those include, but aren't limited to:

  • allowing students to use their fingers
  • providing students with written instructions
  • extend time for assignments
  • allow students to use manipulatives both traditional and nontraditional

Below are a few videos that I have used to help educate myself on dyscalculia. I have found these videos to be very helpful.

Dyscalculia: Tips & Tricks to Help Students

Student Response to having Dyscalculia

The following are responses from actual students who either have been diagnosed with dyscalculia, show symptoms of this disability, or have another form of a learning disability.

  • “Because of my disability it frustrates me. I get upset when I can’t understand what you are teaching as fast as the other students. I get tired of having to always attend lunch tutorials, after school tutorials and even Saturday tutoring sometimes. I just wish I could be normal.” -7th grade, African American, female
  • “Being the star athlete at our school a lot of the kids look up to me. It is hard for me to accept that I have to work 10x harder to make the grades that I need to make so that I can set an example in class as well as on the basketball court. Some days it doesn’t really bother me but other days it does, really I just try not to think about it very much and just do my best.” -8th grade, African American, male
  • “I get embarrassed by my disability. Being that I have a vision impairment it is hard for me to hide my disability. Other kids wear glasses so that isn’t the problem, the problem is when my teachers make me use the large font and huge paper for assignments and test. I know that they are just trying to help me and I appreciate it but it is embarrassing because of how the other kids look at me and what they say. I wish I could just be in a room with all the vision students since we all understand each other and have my teachers come to me. The feelings that I feel from my disability are sadness, embarrassment, and frustration.” -7th grade, Caucasian, female
  • “I don’t really let it bother me, it used to but I’ve just accepted it and moved on. I’ve had good teachers that have encouraged me to be the best I can be and that is what I do. So what if I get to use a calculator and other stuff in my Math class it helps me to get even better grades.” -7th grade, Hispanic, female

Being disabled does not mean that you can not be successful...

Famous Disabled People

Works Cited


Due to current district and school policies I was unable to include any video footage of my actual students however the videos that are included are a very accurate representation of what goes on in my classroom, the thoughts of my personal students, etc. Names of participants have been changed.