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Specific learning disabilities are more common than you may think, with some occurring in as many as 1 in every 5 children. Learn more about specific learning disabilities, how they can manifest and how you can recognize them in your students.

What Is a Specific Learning Disability?

Have you ever been so tired that you lose track of what you are doing? Maybe you’ve been on the job too long and you keep counting out the wrong change.

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Or perhaps you’ve been flipping through a magazine before bed and realize that you’ve been reading the same sentence over and over without comprehending it. If you have a specific learning disability, mistakes like this happen all the time and, as you can imagine, they can be extremely frustrating and discouraging.A specific learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the neural processes involved in using or comprehending language. In other words, the brain connections dealing with spoken and written language do not work the way they’re supposed to. These missed or disrupted connections can create difficulties with speaking, listening, reading, writing, spelling, reasoning or mathematical computations.We should note, however, that specific learning disabilities do not include scholastic difficulties that result from physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities or emotional disturbances. These are each listed as separate categories under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally passed in 1975.

Recognizing Specific Learning Disabilities

As a classroom teacher, it’s important to be able to recognize students with specific learning disabilities. These students have average to above-average intelligence but tend to flounder in a general education classroom. Without intervention, their academic achievement can’t reach the level expected for their intellect. Their learning difficulties can manifest in a variety areas, including:

  • Reading: Students may confuse similar letters or words, reverse the order of letters or words and even omit some words entirely.
  • Writing: Students may have problems properly forming letters or numbers, writing in a straight line or properly using upper and lower case forms.

  • Mathematics: Students may have difficulty understanding the meaning of math symbols, translating equations into verbal sentences and remembering the order of operations.
A specific learning disability may make it difficult for a student to translate this word problem into a mathematical equation.
Most people can quickly separate the pattern above into groups of three or four. People with dyscalculia, however, will count the dots one-by-one.
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<p><b>Dysgraphia</b>, found in 5 to 20 percent of school-aged children, affects handwriting, fine motor skills and written expression.  The term originates from the Greek word <i>graphe</i>, or ”writing.” Students with dysgraphia may have illegible, poorly spaced handwriting, frequent misspellings and grammar mistakes as well as disorganized thoughts and written expression.</p>
<p><b>Dyslexia</b>, found in around 5-17 percent of school-aged children, is probably one of the most well-known learning disabilities.  Dyslexia, originating from the Greek <i>lexis</i>, meaning ”word,” is primarily a reading disorder, but it can also affect writing, spelling and speaking.  Students may have trouble with reading comprehension, expressing themselves in writing or speech, or properly pronouncing words.</p>
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A sample of a new font designed to help people with dyslexia read easier.
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