What are Learning Disabilities?

Learning is a stepwise, interrelated process that takes place in a rather predictable fashion. Processing information, in very simple terms, has a beginning, middle, and end. First, there is an input stage where information has to be recorded in the brain. Then, the brain organizes the information so it can be comprehended or understood in a logical manner- the organizing and integration stage. Next, the learned information must be stored in order for it to be retrieved- the memory stage. Last, there is the output stage where information is communicated from the brain to people or things in the environment. Learning problems occur on a continuum from simple or mild to complex and severe. We all possess a learning style and the degree to which it interferes with life tasks becomes the criteria for calling it a learning disability. Regardless, in order to identify a learning disability, we must identify where in the normal learning process the learning problems occur.

INPUT DISABILITIES - We use all of our five senses to send to and record information in the brain. The visual and hearing inputs can be a place where normal learning malfunctions. For example, a visual perception disability, like dyslexia (Reading Disorder), occurs when a child reverses letters and/ or words. A child may record at the input stage an “E” as a “3″ or “was” as “saw.” An auditory perception disability is when a child has difficulty distinguishing subtle sounds and words where “blue ” is confused as “bell.”

INTEGRATION DISABILITIES - When information is recorded in the brain, it needs to be organized in the right order and understood. Problems occur when a child cannot properly sequence information, like retelling a story, properly. Other integration problems may occur when a child is unable to take specific information and generalize the meaning.

MEMORY DISABILITIES - After the brain has recorded and processed the information, it needs to be stored so retrieval can occur. Information is initially stored in a short-term form and then moved to a long-term storage. Problems of memory can occur at either place where, for example, people have difficulty reciting new names or new telephone numbers to problems recalling information that was previously learned and recalled.

OUTPUT DISABILITIES - When children have difficulty communicating information through words, it is referred to as a language disability. Children who have difficulty expressing their thoughts may be perceived as shy or disobedient when, in fact, they are searching for the right words to express. When children have difficulty using groups of muscles, it is referred to as a motor disability. Motor problems are either classified as gross motor or fine motor. A clumsy child who is unable to hop or skip is manifesting gross motor problems and a child with ineligible handwriting is demonstrating fine motor problems.

Learning disabilities occur when normal learning is compromised and the child is no longer able to master the age appropriate tasks expected of him or her. That is why most learning disabilities are identified in the school setting because the age appropriate task at hand is learning. Early intervention and expert support is key ingredients in helping people learn how to identify and compensate for their learning disabilities.