Specific Learning Disabilities


Specific Learning Disabilities



Our nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines a specific learning disability as…

“… A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language – spoken or written – that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; of mental retardation; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.”

[34 Code of Federal Regulations §300.7(c) (10)]

Other definitions

Learning disability is a general term that describes specific kinds of learning problems. A learning disability can cause a person to have trouble learning and using certain skills. The skills most often affected are: reading, writing, listening, speaking, reasoning, and doing math. (NICHCY, 2011)


As many as 1 out of every 5 people in the United States has a learning disability. Almost 3 million children (ages 6 through 21) have some form of a learning disability and receive special education in school. In fact, over half of all children who receive special education have a learning disability. (NICHCY, 2011)


Researchers think that learning disabilities are caused by differences in how a person's brain works and how it processes information. Children with learning disabilities are not "dumb" or "lazy." In fact, they usually have average or above average intelligence. Their brains just process information differently. (NICHCY, 2011)


There is no way to prevent a child from having learning disabilities. While LD has been linked with genetics, not all children with LD have family members with LD. Early diagnosis and appropriate adaptations are the best ways to avert problems in school and later in life (Source: LD Online).


There is no one sign that shows a person has a learning disability. Experts look for a noticeable difference between how well a child does in school and how well he or she could do, given his or her intelligence or ability. There are also certain clues that may mean a child has a learning disability, a few of which are listed below. Most relate to elementary school tasks, because learning disabilities tend to be identified in elementary school. A child probably won't show all of these signs, or even most of them. However, if a child shows a number of these problems, then parents and the teacher should consider the possibility that the child has a learning disability. When a child has a learning disability, he or she:

If a child has unexpected problems learning to read, write, listen, speak, or do math, then teachers and parents may want to investigate more. The same is true if the child is struggling to do any one of these skills. The child may need to be evaluated to see if he or she has a learning disability. A 15-minute test for kindergarten or first graders can predict with 92% accuracy whether the child will have difficulties learning to read. (NICHCY, 2011)


There is no "cure" or medication for learning disabilities. They are life-long. (NICHCY, 2011)


Learning disabilities can be lifelong conditions. In some people several overlapping learning disabilities may be apparent. Other people may have a single, isolated learning problem that has little impact on their lives. (NINDS, 2011). It is very important to get help immediately. Most learning disabilities affect reading and language skills. If these children receive appropriate help in the early grades, most of them will become skilled, independent readers. When help is delayed, it becomes harder and harder for children to catch up. (LD Online, 2010)



Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD) 
1110 North Glebe Road
Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201-5704
(703) 620-3660

The Division for Learning Disabilities is one of 17 special interest groups of the Council for Exceptional Children, the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving educational outcomes for individuals with exceptionalities, students with disabilities, and/or the gifted. Since the early 1980s, DLD has worked on behalf of students with learning disabilities and the professionals who serve them. Supported primarily by volunteers, DLD strives to serve its members through a variety of activities that include several print publications, an annual conferencegrants and awards, and the Teaching LD website. In addition, DLD supports subdivisions in many states.

International Dyslexia Association
8600 LaSalle Road
Chester Building, Suite 382
Baltimore, MD 21286-2044
800-222-3123 / 410-296-0232

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping individuals with dyslexia, their families and the communities that support them. IDA is the oldest learning disabilities organization in the nation -- founded in 1949 in memory of Dr. Samuel T. Orton, a distinguished neurologist. Throughout our rich history, our goal has been to provide the most comprehensive forum for parents, educators, and researchers to share their experiences, methods, and knowledge.

Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA)
4156 Library Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15234-1349
888-300-6710 / 412-341-1515

Since 1963, LDA has provided support to people with learning disabilities, their parents, teachers and other professionals. At the national, state and local levels, LDA provides cutting edge information on learning disabilities, practical solutions, and a comprehensive network of resources. These services make the Learning Disabilities Association of America the leading resource for information on learning disabilities. LDA believes that every person with learning disabilities can be successful at school, at work, in relationships, and in the community -- given the right opportunities. Today, LDA is the largest non-profit volunteer organization advocating for individuals with learning disabilities and has over 200 state and local affiliates in 42 states and Puerto Rico.

National Center for Learning Disabilities
381 Park Avenue South
Suite 1401
New York, NY 10016
888-575-7373 / 212-545-7510

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) works to ensure that the nation's 15 million children, adolescents and adults with learning disabilities have every opportunity to succeed in school, work and life. NCLD provides essential information to parents, professionals and individuals with learning disabilities, promotes research and programs to foster effective learning and advocates for policies to protect and strengthen educational rights and opportunities.

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic
20 Roszel Road
Princeton, NJ 08540

Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, a nonprofit volunteer organization, is the nation's educational library serving people who cannot effectively read standard print because of visual impairment, dyslexia, or other physical disability. Our mission is to create opportunities for individual success by providing, and promoting the effective use of, accessible educational materials. Our vision is for all people to have equal access to the printed word.

Dyslexia Research Institute (DRI)
4745 Centerville, Road
Tallahassee, Florida, USA 32308-2899

Dyslexia Research Institute's mission is to change the perceptions of learning differences, especially dyslexia and ADD, and through this provide the proper recognition and intervention that will allow these individuals to become successful adults. The Institute publishes a quarterly newsletter, Woodland Hall Academy News, and has a list of papers on dyslexia and ADD and their effects on behavior, emotional, socialization, biochemical and academics. They also have a bibliography of articles that are available to interested persons for a minimal fee. DRI has books for distribution including, "The Teacher-Child Connection: What Every Teacher Should Know About Dyslexia and ADD." DRI collects information on physicians and researchers who treat/study the condition and maintains this information on site. They provide information and referrals to other schools and programs.



LD Online

LD Online is a national educational service of public television station WETA in Washington, D.C. It is operated in association with the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities and is made possible by generous support from Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes®. LD Online offers online services and produces video programs dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults with learning disabilities and ADHD. LD Online features thousands of helpful articles on learning disabilities and ADHD, monthly columns by noted experts in the field, a free and confidential question and answer service, active bulletin boards, and a Yellow Pages referral directory of professionals, schools, and products.

LD Resources

The LD Resources web site has been providing information for people with learning disabilities and people who work with people with learning disabilities since 1995. The site now contains lists of tools, schools, organizations and professionals and other resources for the LD community as well as new articles and commentaries. This new version of LD Resources is technically a weblog (blog) and as such provides RSS feeds, commenting, and all of the things you expect from a weblog. Weblog tools make collecting, publishing, and browsing through information easier for both us and hopefully for you.

The National Research Center on Learning Disabilities (NRCLD)

The National Research Center on Learning Disabilities (NRCLD) engages in research, develops recommendations, and provides training to help administrators, teachers, parents, and policy makers address the complex issues surrounding the proper identification of students with learning disabilities who need special education services. NRCLD is a joint project of researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Kansas.

The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET)

The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET) was established to create opportunities for youth with disabilities to achieve successful futures. NCSET provides technical assistance and disseminates information focused on four major areas of national significance for youth with disabilities and their families. Headquartered at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, NCSET is a partnership of six major organizations, and is funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, beginning in October 2000.

Reading Rockets

Reading Rockets offers a wealth of strategies, lessons, and activities designed to help young children learn to read. Our resources assist parents, teachers, and other educators in working with struggling readers who require additional help in reading and comprehension skills development.

NCEO On-line Accommodations Bibliography

This database allows one to search a compilation of empirical research studies on the effects of various testing accommodations for students with disabilities. Search for specific accommodation research studies by typing in keywords. Brief summaries provide information on accommodations, participants, dependent variables, and major findings of the study. It is maintained by the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO).

Self-Regulated Strategy Development in Writing

Story and Opinion Essay Writing for Students with Disabilities or Severe Difficulties in the Early Elementary Grades. This site provides detailed lesson plans for teaching the self-regulated use of writing strategies for story writing (the W-W-W strategy) and early opinion essays (the TREE strategy) as well as support materials developed for 2nd and 3rd graders. The materials were developed by the Maryland Literacy Research Center at the University of Maryland.

Websites for parents

Schwab Learning

A nonprofit program of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, a private foundation. Our mission is to provide information and inspiration for families whose children struggle with learning and attention problems. Schwab Learning’s goal is to help transform, for good, the lives of a significant share of American children who struggle with learning and attention. Given accurate information and support, parents and kids can bring about positive and dramatic changes in their lives. By focusing on a child’s strengths while addressing his challenges, every child can experience success in learning and life. We serve families by providing information, guidance, and support that address the emotional, social, practical, and academic needs and concerns of kids with learning and attention difficulties — and their parents.


This web site is a project of the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities, a group made up of The Council for Learning Disabilities, The Division for Learning Disabilities, The International Dyslexia Association, The Learning Disabilities Association of America, The National Association for the Education of African American Children With Learning Disabilities, The National Center for Learning Disabilities, and Schwab Learning, a nonprofit service of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. Its purpose is to assist people involved with learning disabilities to seek helpful information.

Get Ready to Read! (GRTR!) 

A national initiative to build the early literacy skills of preschool-age children. The initiative provides an easy-to-administer, research-based screening tool to early childhood educators, child care providers, and parents in order to help them prepare all children to learn to read and write. GRTR!'s program vision is that all preschool children will have the skills they need to learn to read when they enter school. This Web site is a part of NCLD's initiative to provide parents, educators, health-care professional and advocated with information to help build early literacy skills by integrating emergent literacy screening and learning activities into routine early childhood education, child-care and parenting practices.

Websites for children


A free website created expressly for kids ages 8-12 with learning disabilities. Research tells us that the participation of kids in the understanding and managing of their own difficulties is critical to their success in school and life. By providing information and peer support to kids in a safe and interactive environment, SparkTop.org is designed to help them gain confidence and insight about their challenges and strengths.

Other Resources

Dyslexia Online Magazine

Free dyslexia newsletters, resources for parents and teachers, teaching methods and ideas, and dyslexia tests. Founded in 1998, it is published by World of Dyslexia Ltd and edited by John Bradford.

Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read

This booklet summarizes for teachers what researchers have discovered about how to teach children to read successfully. It describes the findings of the National Reading Panel Report and provides analysis and discussion in five areas of reading instruction: phonemic awareness; phonics; fluency; vocabulary; and text comprehension. Each section suggests implications for classroom instruction as well as other information; produced by The Partnership for Reading: National Institute for Literacy; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; and U.S. Department of Education. [Available in print and online at www.nifl.gov/nifl/partner shipforreading/publications/PFRbooklet.pdf (Adobe Acrobat PDF file) orwww.nifl.gov/ nifl/partnershipforreading/publications/reading_first1.html (HTML Version)]

The Unique Power of Reading—and How To Unleash It

The Spring/Summer 1998 issue of the journal of the American Federation of Teachers, American Educator, dedicated entirely to reading and focusing on bridging the gap between research and practice. Articles include "What Reading Does for the Mind," by Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich; "The Elusive Phoneme," by Marilyn Jager Adams, Barbara R. Foorman, Ingvar Lundberg, and Terri Beeler; "Catch Them before They Fall," by Joseph K. Torgesen; "Teaching Decoding," by Louisa C. Moats; "Getting at the Meaning," by Isabel Beck, Margaret G. McKeown, Rebecca L. Hamilton, and Linda Kucan; and "Another Chance," by Jane Fell Greene; each article available for download in PDF.

What Works: Five Promising Remedial Reading Intervention Programs

This booklet provides background information about research-based programs that, when properly implemented, have a track record of raising student achievement significantly--particularly for at-risk students; produced by the American Federation of Teachers. (PDF 25 pages 113 K). [www.aft.org/pubs-reports/downloads/teachers/remedial.pdf]

Taking the First Step: A Guide for Parents of Students with Learning Disabilities  

This 12-page (PDF) booklet offers basic information about learning disabilities and resources to help parents see that their child achieves his or her full potential. It was produced by the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities. [aboutld.org/LD_English.pdf] It is also available in Spanish.  [aboutld.org/LD_Spanish.pdf]

Put Reading First: Helping Your Child Learn to Read  

This brochure, designed for parents of young children, describes the kinds of early literacy activities that should take place at school and at home to help children learn to read successfully. It is based on the findings of the National Reading Panel and was produced by the Partnership for Reading: National Institute for Literacy; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; and U.S. Department of Education. [www.nifl.gov/nifl/partnership forreading/publications/reading_first2.html]; also available in print and in PDF. [www.nifl.gov/nifl/partnershipforreading/publications/PFRbrochure.pdf]

Thinking About Inclusion and Learning Disabilities: A Teacher's Guide

Produced by the Division for Learning Disabilities, this teacher’s guide highlights the most current thinking and research on learning disabilities and inclusion and explains what a classroom is like to a child with learning disabilities. The guide also shows teachers how their classroom structures and instructional practices affect their students. View the Table of Contents or download the complete booklet (PDF, 25 pgs, 110 KB) Copies can be ordered from the Council for Exceptional Children.

Current Practice Alerts

The Alerts series is a joint initiative sponsored by the Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD) and the Division for Research (DR), two divisions of the Council for Exceptional Children. Alerts provide timely and informed judgments regarding professional practices in the field. Learn more about the Alerts initiative and the instructional practices that have been examined so far. Members of the Division for Learning Disabilities receive the Alerts series as a benefit of membership.

Learning Disabilities Research & Practice Journal

The Learning Disabilities Research & Practice journal provides a forum for presentation of current research in the field of learning disabilities and acts as a vehicle for dissemination of information important to practitioners in the field.
Sample a recent Journal article (PDF): The Effects of Strategic Notetaking on the Recall and Comprehension of Lecture Information for High School Students with Learning Disabilities (PDF, 9 pg., 127 KB)
Review abstracts of articles in published issues. 
Search for abstracts of articles currently “in press.”
Become a member of the Division for Learning Disabilities, and receive the Journal series as a benefit of membership.


Bella Online - The Voice of Women  

Bella Online is a nonprofit community that provides a publishing community for women. Susan Kramer, BellaOnline’s Learning Disabilities Editor, has an M.A. in Educational Research and a Ph.D. in Religious Counseling, and published articles on rhythmic and kinesthetic movement, kinesthetic lesson plans for learning all kinds of topics, including music. Click on the “Music/Art/Rhythm” link to get links to quality articles and lesson plans for music teachers and students with LD.

British Dyslexia Association  

The BDA works with leading researchers in the field of dyslexia. You can read more about the various research projects on our website, which also has an FAQ section and lots of information for people affected by dyslexia, including parents and teachers of all kinds. Click on the “All About Dyslexia” link to find an article about music and dyslexia and further reading on the subject.

Music and Dyslexia, Opening New Doors

Edited by Tim Miles and John Westcombe. April 2001. The book shows how some dyslexics can be highly gifted musicians. Many of the 21 contributors to the book are on the BDA Music Committee and 10 are dyslexic. Each relates their personal experiences (whether as amateurs or professionals) and in most cases of their eventual success. The other contributors are teachers or researchers who have wide experiences of dyslexic musicians of all ages. The book's message is one of optimism. Dyslexic musicians can succeed provided only that they are given sufficient encouragement and understanding. Order online at www.r-e-m.co.uk/cgi-bin/xrem?M=14&LI=3