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What are Learning Disabilities?

Definitions of Learning Disabilities

Below are two separate definitions of Learning Disabilities. The common elements in both definitions include:

  • at least average intellectual ability (often high average to superior intelligence);
  • developmental/neurological basis;
  • adequate educational opportunities;
  • areas of disparate cognitive functioning (e.g., a profile of strengths and weaknesses);
  • adverse impact on learning.

Learning disabilities is a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical skills.These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across the life span. Problems in self-regulatory behaviors, social perception, and social interaction may exist with learning disabilities but do not, by themselves, constitute a learning disability.

Although learning disabilities may occur concomitantly with other disabilities (e.g., sensory impairment, mental retardation, serious emotional disturbance) or with extrinsic influences (such as cultural differences, insufficient or inappropriate instruction), they are not the result of those conditions or influences.
(National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1990)
A learning disability is a developmental disorder affecting a realm of cognition, which in the presence of adequate intelligence and preserved skills in other cognitive realms. The specific weaknesses in cognition occur in a way that makes sense based on knowledge about brain functioning and can occur in spoken language, written language, mathematics, visuospatial skills, executive functions and problem-solving abilities, attention, or learning and memory. A learning disability significantly limits one or more aspects of a person's life (e.g., school, work, home, social). The disability is not better explained by an acquired neurological disorder, either in childhood or later in life, a global diminution in disorder, or lack of education.
(Mapou, R. L. "Assessment of Learning Disabilities," Ch. 10 in Richter, J.H. (2004). Differential  Diagnosis in Adult Neuropsychological Assessment. New York: Springer)