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Learning Disability (LD): Causes and Diagnosis

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What causes learning disabilities? How are learning disabilities diagnosed and are there other associated problems? Briefly discuss.

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This solution details learning disability (LD) by definition, causes, diagnosis, and other associated problems. Supplemented with an excellent resource article discussing the types, causes, symptoms, and other topics about LD.

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1. What causes learning disabilities? How are learning disabilities diagnosed and are there other associated problems? Briefly discuss.

Let's look briefly at learning disability by definition, causes and diagnosis. I attached an excellent resource in the extra reading section at the end of the response that expands on these ideas.


The current definition of a learning disability found in Public Law 101-476, is as follows:

Specific Learning Disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in the understanding of language, spoken or written, which may manifest in an imperfect ability to listen, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematic calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and other developmentally caused disorders. The term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps, or mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantaged (source: Prout & Brown, 1999)


No one is quite sure what causes LD. Some evidence indicates that LD may "run in families," but that is not always the case.

Environmental factors, from inadequate learning environments, to difficulties at the time of birth, to exposure to harmful substances, may lead to LD.

Recent studies using imaging technology have found differences in brain structure between students who have reading disabilities with oral language difficulties and those without disabilities.

According to the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (1988), most learning disabilities stem from information-processing deficits of assumed neurological basis. Concomitant problems in self-regulation and social interaction may exist, yet do not constitute a learning disability (source: Prout & Brown, 1999).

Associated characteristics (but yet do not constitute a learning disability) according to DSM-IV (American Association, 1994) include:

1. Demoralization
2. Low self-esteem
3. Deficits in social skills
4. Impulsivity
5. Attention deficits
6. Hyperactivity
7. Cognitive processing difficulties such as memory problems
8. Coordination problems
9. Communication difficulties


While there is some controversy over the exact nature and etiology of learning disabilities, a child is generally diagnosed on the basis of school performance as evidenced by a problem with academic achievement. If achievement level falls significantly below that which would be predicted by intelligence scores, a learning disability is suspected as being the cause (source: Sattler, 2001). However, the child is usually engaged in a comprehensive psycho-educational assessment to rule out other possible causes.



Prout, H. T., & Brown, D. T.(1999). "Counseling and psychotherapy with children and adolescence: theory and practice for school and clinical settings. (3rd ed)." New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Sattler, J. M. (2001). "Assessment of children: Cognitive applications (4th ed.").San Diego: Jerome M. Sattler, Publisher, Inc.

Extra Reading: Article

What is a learning disability?
A person with a learning disability has difficulty in collecting, organizing, or acting on verbal and nonverbal information. Most commonly, the person has trouble understanding or using written or spoken language. The difficulty is due to a neurological difference in brain structure or functioning.

School is often the setting where a child's learning disability first becomes apparent. The disparity between the child's intelligence and the child's school performance highlights the learning difficulties. You will notice problems in one or more of these areas:

language development and language skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and spelling)
social studies
social skills
motor skills (fine motor skills, as well as coordination)
cognitive development and memory
attention and organization

People with learning disabilities do not have low intelligence; in fact, they have average or above average intelligence. However, their academic performance, as measured by standardized tests, is below what one would expect of someone of their intelligence, age, and grade level. Thus, a person with a learning disability may score poorly on tests, but the low scores are due to a problem with learning, not to low intelligence.

What are the types of learning disabilities?

If you or your child is diagnosed with a learning disorder, you will be given the name of the specific learning disability. Following are the types of learning disabilities. Learning disabilities fall into two major types, plus another miscellaneous category.

-Speech and language disorders (the person is delayed by years in the development of one of these skills):
-Difficulty producing speech sounds (developmental articulation disorder). The person might mispronounce certain letters or -letter combinations.
-Difficulty using spoken language to communicate (developmental expressive language disorder). The person has difficulty with verbal expression.
-Difficulty understanding what other people say (developmental receptive language disorder). The person hears the words, but doesn't process the words correctly.
-Academic skills disorders (the person is delayed by years in the development of one of these skills):
-Reading problems (developmental reading disorder, or dyslexia). The person cannot identify different word sounds.
-Writing problems (developmental writing disorder, or dysgraphia). The person has problems with handwriting or with creating sentences that make sense to others.
-Arithmetic skills problems (developmental arithmetic disorder, or dyscalculia). The person has problems with calculations or with abstract mathematical concepts.
-Miscellaneous learning disabilities
-Fine motor skills problems (dyspraxia)
-Nonverbal Learning Disorder

What are the symptoms of a learning disability?
Every child has problems at one time or another in school. And these problems can cause a cycle of failure because the child may not get the help needed, and self-esteem deteriorates. But there is a difference between a struggle with a particular subject or teacher, and a certified learning disability.

All of the following are necessary symptoms of an official learning disability:

average or above average intelligence (as measured by the IQ score)
significant delay in academic achievement
severe information processing deficits
uneven pattern of cognitive development throughout life
a disparity between measured intellectual potential (IQ score) and actual academic achievement
the learning disability persists despite instruction in standard classroom situations
If your child has ongoing struggles in school with reading, writing, or math, a learning disability may be the cause. Refer to references and resources below for the age-specific warning signs of learning disabilities in preschool-aged children, in elementary- and ...

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