Learning Disabilities (LD) are neurologically-based processing
problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning
basic skills such as reading, writing, or math. They can also interfere
with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, and
The types of LD are identified by the specific processing problem.
They might relate to getting information into the brain (Input),
making sense of this information (Organization), storing
and later retrieving this information (Memory), or getting
this information back out (Output). Thus, the specific types
of processing problems that result in LD might be in one or more
of these four areas.
Information is primarily brought into the brain through the eyes
(visual perception) and ears (auditory perception). An individual
might have difficulty in one or both areas.
Auditory Perception. (Also called Receptive Language) The
individual might have difficulty distinguishing subtle differences
in sound (called phonemes) or might have difficulty distinguishing
individual phonemes as quickly as normal. Either problem can result
in difficulty processing and understanding what is said. Individuals
might have difficulty with what is called auditory figure-ground.
They have difficulty identifying what sound(s) to listen to when
there is more than one sound.
Visual Perception. One might have difficulty distinguishing
subtle differences in shapes (called graphemes). They might rotate
or reverse letters or numbers (d, b, p, q, 6, 9); thus misreading
the symbol. Some might have a figure-ground problem, confusing what
figure(s) to focus on from the page covered with many words and
lines. They might skip words, skip lines, or read the same line
twice. Others might have difficulty blending information from both
eyes to have depth perception. They might misjudge depth or distance,
bumping into things or having difficulty with tasks where this information
is needed to tell the hands or body what to do. If there is difficulty
with visual perception, there could be problems with tasks that
require eye-hand coordination (visual motor skills) such as catching
a ball, doing a puzzle, or picking up a glass.
Once information is recorded in the brain (input), three tasks
must be carried out in order to make sense or integrate this information.
First, the information must be placed in the right order or sequenced.
Then, the information must be understood beyond the literal meaning,
abstraction. Finally, each unit of information must be integrated
into complete thoughts or concepts, organization.
Sequencing. The individual might have difficulty learning
information in the proper sequence. Thus, he might get math sequences
wrong, have difficulty remembering sequences such as the months
of the year, the alphabet, or the times table. Or, she might write
a report with all of the important facts but not in the proper order.
Abstraction. A person might have difficulty inferring the
meaning of individual words or concepts. Jokes, idioms, or puns
are often not understood. He might have problems with words that
might have different meanings depending on how they are used. For
example, “the dog” refers to a pet. “You dog”
is an insult.
Organization. An individual might have difficulty organizing
materials, losing, forgetting, or misplacing papers, notebooks,
or homework assignments. She might have difficulty organizing her
environment, such as her bedroom. Some might have problems organizing
time. They have difficulty with projects due at a certain time or
with being on time. (Organization over time is referred to as Executive
Three types of memory are important to learning. “Working
memory” refers to the ability to hold on to pieces of information
until the pieces blend into a full thought or concept. For example,
reading each word until the end of a sentence or paragraph and then
understanding the full content. “Short-term memory”
is the active process of storing and retaining information for a
limited period of time. The information is temporarily available
but not yet stored for long-term retention. “Long-term memory”
refers to information that has been stored and that is available
over a long period of time. Individuals might have difficulty with
auditory memory or visual memory.
One reads a sentence and hold on to it. Then the next and the next.
By the end of the paragraph, he pulls together the meaning of the
full paragraph. This is working memory. He continues to read the
full chapter and study it. Information is retained long enough to
take a test and do well. This is short-term memory. But, unless
the information is reviewed and studied over a longer period of
time, it is not retained. With more effort over time, the information
might become part of a general body of knowledge. It is long-term
Information is communicated by means of words (language output)
or though muscle activity such as writing, drawing, gesturing (motor
output). An individual might have a language disability (also called
expressive language disability) or a motor disability.
Language Disability. It is possible to think of language
output as being spontaneous or on demand. Spontaneous means that
the person initiates the conversation. Thoughts have been organized
and words found before speaking. Demand language means that one
is asked a question or asked to explain something. Now, she must
organize his thoughts, find the right words, and speak at the same
time. Most people with a language disability have little difficulty
with spontaneous language. However, in a demand situation, the same
person might struggle to organize her thoughts or to find the right
Motor Disability. One might have difficulty coordinating
teams of small muscles, called a fine motor disability. He might
have problems with coloring, cutting, writing, buttoning, or tying
shoes. Others might have difficulty coordinating teams of large
muscles, called a gross motor disability. She is awkward when running
Each individual will have his or her unique pattern of LD. This
pattern might cluster around specific common difficulties. For example,
the pattern might primarily reflect a problem with language processing:
auditory perception, auditory sequencing/abstraction/organization,
auditory memory, and a language disability. Or the problem might
be more in the visual input to motor output areas. Some people with
LD will have a mixture of both.