Area Psychological Services, P.A.
A LEARNING DISABILITY?
What does "learning disability"
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
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
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
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
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.