What is a Learning Disability?

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What is a learning disability?

Broadly defined, the term learning disability has been used to describe a variety of problems in acquiring, storing, and/or retrieving information. People with learning disabilities have difficulty taking information in through the senses and processing the information with accuracy to the brain. The information becomes scrambled, like a short circuit, a distorted radio signal, or a fuzzy television picture. Learning disabilities occur irrespective of race, culture or class. People with learning disabilities possess average or above average intelligence levels; however, the disability is often confused with other difficulties including slow learning, retardation, emotional and/or behavioral disabilities.

Thought to be a neurologically based nervous system disorder, learning disabilities are not the result of visual, hearing, and/or physical disabilities; mental retardation; emotional disturbance; acquired brain injury; ineffective instruction or lack of motivation to learn; cultural diversity; and/or socio-economic conditions. Learning disabilities can be genetic or acquired and may accompany other disabilities such as deficits in sight and hearing. They may also be the result of birth trauma, low birth weight, lead poisoning, fetal alcohol syndrome/effect, and long-term chemical dependence.

The inaccurate sensory transmissions to the brain may often lead to difficulty learning and performing in training and job settings, as well as to emotional instability. The most common manifestations occur in the areas of reading, writing, and/or mathematics, subsequently affecting a broad range of skills and functions. Additionally, manifestations are commonly found in attention, reasoning and processing, memory, oral communication, coordination and motor functions, social competencies, and executive functioning skills such as organizing, problem solving, prioritizing, and self-management.

This condition is the most neglected, most misunderstood disability due to its hidden nature--and there is no cure. However, with appropriate accommodations and training strategies, the person with learning disabilities can learn to take advantage of strengths and minimize weaknesses, and thus enhance the potential of success in training and employment environments.

Without reasonable accommodations, the person with learning disabilities is presented with innumerable barriers. The inability to demonstrate skills adequately results in poor performance evaluations, stress related health problems, and job instability, not to mention the unrealized productivity standards of the employer. Without appropriate education and training, there are few employment opportunities which allow advancement.

What are we looking for in the adult or adolescent learner suspected of having a learning disability? Most individuals with learning disabilities display a number of characteristics at one time or another and in varying degrees. These characteristics are listed under "General Characteristics."

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