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What are Specific Learning Disabilities?

What you need to know about the fastest growing group of students

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What are Specific Learning Disabilities?

Children with Specific Learning Disabilities look like all their friends.

Safe Kids Kansas

Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) is the largest and fastest growing disability category in public schools. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) defines SLDs:

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 disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.

In other words, children with specific learning disabilities have trouble speaking, writing, spelling, reading and doing math. Types of SLDs Specific Learning Disabilities can include dyslexia, aphasia, perceptual disabilities and brain injury. Specific Learning Disabilities my significantly impair a child's ability to succeed in school, but not limit a child so much that he or she can't successfully participate in the general education curriculum with support.

Inclusion and SLDs

The practice of placing children with learning disabilities in classrooms with "normal" or, as special educators prefer it, "typically developing" children is called inclusion. The best place for a child with Specific Learning Disabilities is an inclusive classroom. This way he or she will get the special support they need without leaving the classroom. According to IDEA the general education classroom is the default position.

Before the re-authorization of IDEA of 2004, there was a "discrepancy" rule, which required a "significant" discrepancy between a child's intellectual ability (measured by IQ) and their academic functioning (measured by standardized Achievement Tests.) A child reading below grade level who did not score well on an IQ test might have been denied special education services. That is no longer true.

Challenges That Children With SLDs Present:

Understanding the nature of specific deficits can help a special educator design instructional strategies to help the disabled learner overcome difficulties. Some common problems include:

  • Difficulty discriminating visual information, which can include dyslexia.
  • Difficulty processing visual or auditory information.
  • Difficulty organizing information visually or sequentially.
  • Difficulty understanding the relationship between symbols and auditory or numerical ideas.

SLD Children Benefit From:

  • Structured small group instruction
  • "Direct" Instruction, often using repetitive and highly structured programs for reading and math.
  • Repetitive practice at the student's level of success.
  • Support called "Specially Designed Instruction" (SDIs) which can include everything from small group instruction to frequent stretch breaks.

Buyer Beware!

Some publishers or helping professionals offer programs or materials which they claim will help a child with Specific Learning Disabilities overcome their difficulties. Often referred to as "Pseudo Science" these programs often depend on research that the publisher or practitioner has "dummied up" or anecdotal information, not real, reproducible research.

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