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The various types of Learning Disabilities

While the term Learning Disability may come across as self-explanatory in meaning – after all, how wrong could one get by simply understanding it as “issues that people may face when it comes to learning”? – this definition is rather reductive and even misleading when it comes to explaining the range and scope of the term. According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDAA), Learning Disabilities (LDs) “are due to genetic and/or neurobiological factors that alter brain functioning in a manner which affects one or more cognitive processes related to learning. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math.  They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organisation, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short-term memory and attention.” This paints a markedly different understanding of the term as opposed to the apparent one we had suggested at the beginning – Learning Disabilities are not due to lack of effort on the student’s part, but due to neurological conditions beyond their control.

Accordingly, this write-up is intended to be a layperson’s guide into the world of Learning Disabilities, especially when it comes to their countless types and classifications.

  1. Classifying Learning Disabilities
  2. Specific Learning Disabilities

Classifying Learning Disabilities

 

Before getting into specific LDs, we feel it is important for our readers to get an idea of how they tend to be classified academically in general. The information processing-based model,developed during the late 1960s, is the most commonly used model when it comes to classifying and understanding LDs. As implied by the name, this model approaches LDs in terms of one’s deficits in the commonly-recognised stages of information processing. These four stages are as follows:

  1. Input: This is the stage where the brain records information through the five physical senses (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste). LDs rooted in this stage typically tend to involve deficits in sight and sound processing, which also happen to be the most widespread kind of LDs overall: the former may result in students being unable to differentiate, say, mirror-image letters such as “p” and “q” (Dyslexia), while the latter may cause them to confuse homophonic words – i.e., words that sound the same but mean different things – like “blow” and “blue” (Auditory Processing Disorder).

  2. Integration: During this stage, the brain interprets the information that it has received via the first stage. Deficits in this stage can manifest in three different kinds of LDs:
    • Sequencing: Those with sequencing LDs tend to confuse order. For example, such students might read the word “dog” as “god”, or they might even recall stories by starting in the middle. Certain types of Dyscalculia can be considered as sequencing-related LDs, like when a student has to start counting from one in order to figure out whether seven is greater than five.
    • Abstraction: Students with abstraction LDs face difficulties when it comes to inferring meaning. For example, they may fail to understand the differences in meaning between the aforementioned homophonic words (a feature of Dyslexia) or fail to understand the morals in simple stories.
    • Organisation: In the final stage of information integration, those with organisation-related LDs find it difficult, according to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY), to “make bits of information cohere into concepts. They may learn a series of facts without being able to answer general questions that require the use of these facts. Their lives in and outside of the classroom reflect this disorganization.”

  3. Memory: The third stage of information processing involves memorising it adequately. “Adequately” here means remembering the pertinent portions of the information received and/or storing said information for an adequate amount of time. LDs in this stage mostly involve deficits in short term memorising as opposed to long – for example, being unable to remember a phone number or address despite having it repeated numerous times (one of many symptoms of Dyscalculia).

  4. Output: The final stage of information processing involves one’s ability to convey it through means that typically involve linguistic and/or motor skills. The latter is of two types:
    • Gross motor disabilities: Which result in poor coordination of large muscle groups. Such disabilities are not LDs and result in a range of physical issues – for example, they tend to stumble, fall and bump into things (i.e., act “clumsy”).
    • Fine motor disabilities: Which result in poor coordination of small muscle groups. Such disabilities can be considered LDs – for example, they can result in poor handwriting (Dysgraphia).

Specific Learning Disabilities

 

Now that we know how they are commonly classified, let us dive into specific Learning Disabilities once and for all. These are the seven LDs recognised by LDAA and many other mental health organisations:

Dyslexia

As you might know from our blog on the subject, Dyslexia is a language-processing disorder that impacts how a child reads, writes and even comprehends words. In sum, Dyslexic children will often find it difficult to identify sounds within words and/or decode words.

Dysgraphia

The subject of yet another one of our write-ups, Dysgraphic children display very low fine motor skills which results in them being unable to write properly. However, it also goes beyond that: such children, for example, find it very difficult to express themselves in writing and exhibit a poor understanding of grammar, vocabulary and even critical thinking.

Dyscalculia

Be sure to check out our article on it for a more detailed explanation, but in short: Dyscalculia encompasses a range of different disabilities related to maths and numbers in general. A few common symptoms of Dyscalculia include the inability to solve word problems, subitise, calculate change, remember phone numbers and/or Zip codes etc.

Auditory Processing Disorder

Another one of our blog subjects, Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is an Input Learning Disability that results in difficulties in processing sound. A common symptom of it is the misinterpretation of information received through the ear – for example, they may not be able to tell a particular voice from background noise.

Language Processing Disorder

A subset of APD, this particular is used in order to refer to challenges of a specific nature that a person may have when it comes to speaking a particular language.

Visual Motor Deficit

As the name implies, this disability results in poor hand-eye coordination. Children with this particular LD may lose themselves when reading off of a page, have difficulties when writing and may even confuse similar-looking letters.

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities

It might sound like NVLD refers to a child’s inability to speak, but it actually has to do with their inability to understand social cues or any other form of non-verbal communication. Accordingly, such children find themselves unable to understand basic body language and/or facial expressions, among others.

 

While it is only the tip of the iceberg – especially given that the field of LD studies is constantly evolving with new findings – we hope this write-up encourages our readers to explore this world even deeper!

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