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What are Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities (LD) are a set of neurological disorders that affect the brain's ability to process information in one or more areas. Keep reading to learn about specific learning disabilities and the differences between learning disabilities and other disorders.

A learning disability may affect the ability of the brain to: 

  • receive 
  • process 
  • store or 
  • respond to information.

It may manifest when a person is trying to: 

  • speak 
  • listen 
  • read 
  • write 
  • do mathematical calculations.

Specific Learning Disabilities

Learning disability is a general term. Some of the specific diagnoses include: 

  • Dyslexia: Dyslexia affects language processing in the areas of reading, writing, and spelling. 
  • Dyscalculia: Dyscalculia affects mathematics skills such as computation and remembering math concepts and facts. 
  • Dysgraphia: Dysgraphia affects written expression, including the areas of handwriting, spelling, and composition. 
  • Dyspraxia: Dyspraxia affects fine motor skills, making coordination and dexterity problematic. 
  • Gerstmann’s Sydrome: Although not always listed with other Learning Disabilities, Gerstmann’s Syndrome is another neurological disorder that affects information and is clearly connected to the four listed above. The four main symptoms are: 
  • Dysgraphia (writing disability) 
  • Dyscalculia (math calculation disability) 
  • Inability to distinguish left and right and 
  • Finger Agnosia, the inability to identify fingers

Though primarily associated with adults who have suffered a stroke or brain damage, there have been reports of the syndrome, sometimes retitled as developmental Gerstmann’s syndrome, in children. In children, a fifth symptom - constructional apraxia, the inability to copy simple drawings - may also be seen. Contrary to the causes associated with its occurrence in adults, when it occurs in children, Gerstmann’s syndrome may manifest in an otherwise highly functioning child.

Distinguishing Learning Disabilities from Other Disorders

Learning disabilities are not impairments of intelligence: a person my be of above average intelligence and excel in some areas or be extremely creative, and still have a learning disability. This is part of what’s behind the fact that learning disabilities are often not identified until a child begins school.

Learning disabilities are also not behavioral issues. Learning disabilities can occur along with ADHD or Information Processing Disorders, but are not the same thing. This calls for a bit of explanation, since the definition mentions the possibility of impairment in the processing of information. The point here is that there are specific diagnoses that fit into the category Information Processing Disorders that need to be distinguished from Learning Disabilities. They include: 

  • Auditory Processing Disorder, which affects language development and reading and involves difficulty in anticipating, for example, a sentence ending, based on the material already heard. 
  • Visual Processing Disorder, which affects a person’s ability to interpret visual information, and can therefore prove challenging in reading, writing, and math.

Learning Disorders should also not be confused with diagnoses such as mental retardation, autism, or with laziness, cultural differences, or circumstances that might be characterized as disadvantaged.

What are Learning Disabilities Resources:

  • National Center for Learning Disabilities: LD at a Glance [online]
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities: LD at a Glance: A Quick Look [online]
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: NINDS Gerstmann’s Syndrome Information Page [online]
  • National Library of Medicine: Learning Disorders [online]
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