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Capital Area Psychological Services, P.A.
(CAPSPA)


WHAT IS...        A LEARNING DISABILITY?

What does "learning disability" mean?
  In its simplest definition, a "learning disability" is an inability to learn or a great difficulty in learning a skill that is usually expected of someone of a particular age. This is the definition that most people hold. However, in many instances this definition is changed somewhat to include the idea that the level of a skill must be significantly less than an individual's learning potential before it is considered a learning disability. For example, a severely retarded individual who cannot read is not considered to have a learning disability since reading is not a skill he is expected to master given his retardation or his "potential."

What does the school system mean when it says a child is "learning disabled"?
  According to many school systems, a child is "learning disabled" when his learning in a basic skill area is significantly less than is expected from his potential, as determined by his performance on objective tests of cognitive ability (potential) and educational achievement (skill level). Determining a learning disability in this ways is said to make use of a "discrepancy formula."

How is a learning disability determined by the schools?
  School systems determine a learning disability by administering a cognitive ability test and one or more educational tests. The results of the two tests are compared using standard scores, a statistical score frequently used with psychological tests. Comparisons cannot be made using percentiles, a type of score most frequently reported to parents. In North Carolina, if the standard score for the achievement test is at least 15 points less than the standard score of the ability measure, the child may be considered as learning disabled if no other factor would rule out the finding (retardation, inability to understand the language, severe emotional difficulties, etc.). This use of the discrepancy formula is usually very rigid. Thus, a child with a 14-point discrepancy is not considered as learning disabled; a child with a 15-point discrepancy is.

What types of learning disabilities are there?
  In theory there can be many types of learning disabilities. In practice, school systems generally recognize learning disabilities in basic skill areas, such as reading, mathematics, written language, and language. Individual school districts may also recognized other areas such as visual-motor, spelling, etc.

How can I find out if my child has a learning disability?
  A child can be formally identified with a learning disability only through psychological testing that involves both ability and achievement testing. This evaluation can be conducted either by the school system or by working with a psychologist not employed by the school system.

My child is obviously having trouble in school, but the school says there's no learning disability. Why not?
  Children may be having a great amount of difficulty learning in school, but if they do not meet the 15-point discrepancy formula, they will not be considered learning disabled, and learning disability services may not be provided regardless of their amount of difficulty. They may, of course, qualify for other services such as educable mentally handicapped (EMH), behavior and emotioanlly handicapped (BEH), etc., but, in many cases, they do not qualify for any special services.

My child is identified as academically gifted (AG), but someone has said he has a learning disability. How can that be?
  Identification of a child as academically gifted is often dependent on the level obtained on ability and achievement tests as well as by grades obtained in the classroom. This is a separate and distinct method of determining a category and does not automatically rule out a child being both academically gifted and learning disabled. This dual method of determination can, however, make for some unusual situations, as when a child doing quite well overall is considered learning disabled while a child having obvious learning difficulties is not.

If my child is having difficulty and does not have a learning disability, what else could be the cause of the difficulties?
  The most common cause for learning difficulties when a child is not learning disabled is that the child's level of ability.is not quite as great as for most of the other children in his class. Because teachers must, for the most part, teach to the "average" child in the class, children who are slightly less than average will, on the whole, frequently do poorer than the rest of the class. Topics will not be covered to the extent needed, or they will not be given the individual help needed to master a specific topic before moving on. Having this happen consistently may produce in the child a feeling that he is "dumb," that he cannot do well in school, that he does not like school, or a host of other feelings. Each of these is understandable given the lack of success that the child usually feels in school.   Another cause of poor achievement is that the child may have a pattern of cognitive strengths and weaknesses that do not allow him to perform well in a given classroom even though he may be quite capable. Individual learning styles are common for children and frequently not easily recognized by teachers.

What is a learning style?
  A learning style is a patterns of cognitive strengths and weaknesses thal allow an individual to learn more easily in one way than another. For example, some children have a very auditory learning style. They can listen to and understand a lecture very easily, but their visual processing abilities may not be as good. They may, for example not understand what happens in a movie or TV program if it is simply seen on the screen and not talked about. Other children are more visual and less verbal. They may understand what they see in a movie or TV program very well but have a very difficult time understanding the meaning of what people say to them. Such auditory and visual learning styles are more common than most people think. There are also other learning styles, but the auditory and visual styles are the two most common with regard to school.

How is a learning style determined?
  A learning style can be determined through careful observation and discussion but is most frequently determined through individual psychological testing that looks at specific situations in learning.

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