Learning Disability Definition


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There is no clear cut learning disability definition and there is confusion as regards the terminology used to define this disorder. The definition also varies from country to country because of its own perspective on medical, social and educational outlooks.

Ambiguity in learning disability definition

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a learning disability is “Any of various conditions (as dyslexia) that interfere with an individual's ability to learn and so result in impaired functioning in language, reasoning, or academic skills and that are thought to be caused by difficulties in processing and integrating information".

In the US, the special education law like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), has taken upon the definition 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, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia”.

But this learning disability definition 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."

The crux of the definition is that a major difference exists between the child’s potential and his actual level of language or educational skills. But, in spite of federal regulations learning disability definition remains controversial as different states may have different cutoffs for the definitions of learning disorders.

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical manual of mental disorders further confuses the matter by defining learning disability as due to central nervous system dysfunction which can occur across the lifespan.

Common threads in learning disability definition

Since the field of learning disability is multi-disciplinary there is no one major definition of this disorder and an ongoing debate will perhaps continue on this issue. However, there are certain common threads binding the various and often ambiguous learning disability definition and a working definition can be described as follows:

Individuals with learning disability do experience difficulties in academics as this disorder affects the way in which a person processes information. There are discrepancies between the individual’s potential for learning and his actual progress in that field. Language, physical, academic and/or perceptual development is uneven in learning disabled individuals.

Learning disabilities are not because of environmental disadvantages or mental retardation. Individuals with learning disability are intelligent and have the capacity to learn despite problems in processing information.

Individuals with learning disability may have poor organizational skills and they may have low social perception and interaction.

These individuals can be successfully integrated into society and lead fulfilling lives with specialized interventions in school, home, workplaces, community which are attuned to their strengths and requirements.

Conclusion of the learning disability definition

Despite the many varied learning disability definition, the most important thing is to diagnose the difficulty as soon as possible and proper help given so that these individuals can lead fulfilling lives.


Types of Learning Disabilities