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Specific Learning Disability

Definition, Checklist and Characteristics

Specific learning disability (SLD) refers to a disorder in one or more of the basic processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or perform mathematical calculations.

specific learning disability categoriesSpecific learning disability categories include dyslexia, executive function disorder, perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, and developmental aphasia.

SLD does not include learning problems related to physical difficulties (visual, hearing, motor skills), emotional disturbance, cultural factors, environmental, or economic disadvantage.

Specific Learning Disability is mentioned in the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2004), the idea being that to qualify for an IEP (Individual Education Plan) a specific disability must be identified according to Federal guidelines.

Here are some ideas on how to educate yourself on your options so that you can better advocate for your child.

Federal Definition of SLD

While states have some discretion as to how they measure specific learning disabilities, there are fairly detailed Federal guidelines that must be adhered to. Criteria adopted by states:

  1. Must not require the use of a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability;
  2. Must permit the use of a process based on the child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention;
  3. May permit the use of other alternative research-based procedures for determining whether a child has a learning disability.

Who Makes The Diagnosis

The assessment process made to determine if a child suspected of specific learning disabilities is a child with a disability must be made by the child’s parents and a team of qualified professionals, including the child’s regular teacher and a person qualified to conduct individual diagnostic examinations of children, such as a school psychologist, speech-language pathologist, or remedial reading teacher. The assessment must include observations in the child’s classroom.

Definition of Specific Learning Disability In Detail

A specific learning disability as defined in IDEA:

  1. When the child does not achieve adequately for the child’s age or meet State-approved grade-level standards in one or more of the following areas:
    — Oral expression
    — Listening comprehension
    — Written expression
    — Basic reading skill
    — Reading fluency skills
    — Reading comprehension
    — Mathematics calculation or problem solving
  2. The child exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, due to an identified learning disability that is not the result of a visual, hearing, or motor disability; mental retardation; emotional disturbance; cultural factors; environmental or economic disadvantage; or limited English proficiency.

To see more details on the specific learning disabilities evaluation process, read this Identification of Specific Learning Disabilities on the US Department of Education website.

Common Cause of SLD

Since most learning is language-based, it is no surprise that language processing is the most common specific learning disabilities.  Listening requires processing at natural language speed, reading requires processing well enough to identify the phonemes that make up words. Even thinking is language-based.

Parenting a child with learning delays can be challenging. Here are some thoughts on parenting a child with learning delays.

Language processing skills fully develop in most children by the age of seven years old, but many children need longer.  At some point, slow maturation becomes a processing disability that needs treatment.  Learn more from our free report on auditory processing disorder.


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