Frequently asked Questions

What are the different types of learning disabilities that one can have?

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Learning disabilities can be categorized either by the type of information processing that is affected or by the specific difficulties caused by a processing deficit.

Information processing deficits

Learning disabilities fall into broad categories based on the four stages of information processing used in learning: input, integration, storage, and output.

  • Input
    This is the information perceived through the senses, such as visual and auditory perception. Difficulties with visual perception can cause problems with recognizing the shape, position and size of items seen. There can be problems with sequencing, which can relate to deficits with processing time intervals or temporal perception. Difficulties with auditory perception can make it difficult to screen out competing sounds in order to focus on one of them, such as the sound of the teacher’s voice. Some children appear to be unable to process tactile input. For example, they may seem insensitive to pain or dislike being touched.
  • Integration
    This is the stage during which perceived input is interpreted, categorized, placed in a sequence, or related to previous learning. Students with problems in these areas may be unable to tell a story in the correct sequence, unable to memorize sequences of information such as the days of the week, able to understand a new concept but be unable to generalize it to other areas of learning, or able to learn facts but be unable to put the facts together to see the “big picture.” A poor vocabulary may contribute to problems with comprehension.
  • Storage
    Problems with memory can occur with short-term or working memory, or with long-term memory. Most memory difficulties occur in the area of short-term memory, which can make it difficult to learn new material without many more repetitions than is usual. Difficulties with visual memory can impede learning to spell.
  • Output
    Information comes out of the brain either through words, that is, language output, or through muscle activity, such as gesturing, writing or drawing. Difficulties with language output can create problems with spoken language, for example, answering a question on demand, in which one must retrieve information from storage, organize our thoughts, and put the thoughts into words before we speak. It can also cause trouble with written language for the same reasons. Difficulties with motor abilities can cause problems with gross and fine motor skills. People with gross motor difficulties may be clumsy, that is, they may be prone to stumbling, falling, or bumping into things. They may also have trouble running, climbing, or learning to ride a bicycle. People with fine motor difficulties may have trouble buttoning shirts, tying shoelaces, or with handwriting.

Specific learning disabilities

Deficits in any area of information processing can manifest in a variety of specific learning disabilities.

  • Reading disability
    The most common learning disability. Of all students with specific learning disabilities, 70%-80% have deficits in reading. The term “dyslexia” is often used as a synonym for reading disability; however, many researchers assert that there are different types of reading disabilities, of which dyslexia is one. A reading disability can affect any part of the reading process, including difficulty with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, word decoding, reading rate, prosody (oral reading with expression), and reading comprehension. Common indicators of reading disability include difficulty with phonemic awareness — the ability break up words into their component sounds, and difficulty with matching letter combinations to specific sounds (sound-symbol correspondence).
  • Writing disability
    Speech and language disorders can also be called Dysphasia/aphasia. Impaired written language ability may include impairments in handwriting, spelling, organization of ideas, and composition. The term “dysgraphia” is often used as an overarching term for all disorders of written expression. Others, such as the International Dyslexia Association, use the term “dysgraphia” exclusively to refer to difficulties with handwriting.
  • Math disability
    Sometimes called dyscalculia, a math disability can cause such difficulties as learning math concepts (such as quantity, place value, and time), difficulty memorizing math facts, difficulty organizing numbers, and understanding how problems are organized on the page.
  • Nonverbal learning disability
    Nonverbal learning disabilities often manifest in motor clumsiness, poor visual-spatial skills, problematic social relationships, difficulty with math, and poor organizational skills. These individuals often have specific strengths in the verbal domains, including early speech, large vocabulary, early reading and spelling skills, excellent rote-memory and auditory retention, and eloquent self-expression.
  • Dyspraxia
    Sometimes called motor planning, dyspraxia refers to a variety of difficulties with motor skills. Dyspraxia can cause difficulty with single step tasks such as combing hair or waving goodbye, multi-step tasks like brushing teeth or getting dressed, or with establishing spatial relationships such as being able to accurately position one object in relation to another.
  • Disorders of speaking and listening
    Difficulties that often co-occur with learning disabilities include difficulty with memory, social skills and executive functions (such as organizational skills and time management).
  • Auditory processing disorder
    Difficulties processing auditory information include difficulty comprehending more than one task at a time and a relatively stronger ability to learn visually.
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