What Is a Specific Learning Disability?

IDEA’s Definition of “Specific Learning Disability”

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines “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 the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations.” 

This can include:

  • perceptual disabilities
  • brain injury
  • minimal brain dysfunction
  • dyslexia
  • developmental aphasia (loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage/stroke)
  • dysgraphia (an impairment of motor skills needed for writing)
  • dyscalculia (learning difficulty in math)

It is also helpful to consider what a learning disability is not when trying to understand what it really is. The IDEA’s definition goes on to explain what a learning disability is not:

“Specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.” [34 CFR §300.8(c)(10)]

You can see from the list in the last paragraph that a learning disability is not difficulty learning due to a hearing loss or vision problems, though those issues certainly could be present as well. 

Neither is it an intellectual disability. Actually, people with learning disabilities generally have normal to high IQs. 

It is not an inability to learn caused by emotional issues, though the frustration and embarrassment resulting from a specific learning disability can often bring on emotional distress that could further impair learning.

Neither is a learning disability caused by anything in the student’s environment, culture or economic situation.

Then What Is a Specific Learning Disability?

Research says that learning disabilities are caused by differences in how a person’s brain works and processes information. Students with learning disabilities process information differently.

That’s why we prefer to say, “learning differences” instead of “disabilities”. These students can learn very well, but need a different type of instruction. 

That’s where Discovery Therapies comes in. Our NILD (National Institute for Learning Development) educational therapy is ideally suited to these students with learning differences, and we recognize the enormous potential each student brings. It is our joy and privilege to unlock and unleash that potential, and the best time to begin is today

Ohio Department of Education. (2019, July 30). Specific Learning Disability. Ohio Department of Education. Retrieved December 20, 2021, from

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