What is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability is an area of weakness or inefficiency in brain function that significantly hinders our ability to learn. It is a pattern of neurological dysfunction in the brain that causes a person to have difficulty correctly receiving information (perception), correctly processing information (cognition/thinking), or satisfactorily responding to information (written and verbal expression, visual-motor coordination, memory, etc.).

People with learning disabilities have average to superior intelligence. Many are gifted in math, science, fine arts, journalism, and other creative fields. A list of such people would include Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, and many others who have changed the course of our world.

However, their tremendous strengths are offset by noticeable weaknesses – an inability to read or write, memory problems, and difficulty understanding what is heard or seen. These difficulties stem, not from a physical problem with the eyes or ears, but rather from the basic neurological functioning of the brain.

Every human brain is created with a unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses. We each have certain subjects that make sense to us easily as well as areas of difficulty that require outside explanation and extra effort to understand.

Students with learning disabilities experience an imbalance in their own ability levels. They are very good at some things, very poor at others, and feel the tension between what they can and cannot do. Frustration is a hallmark of a student with learning disabilities. Typically such students will either be failing in one or more academic areas or be expending excessive amounts of energy to succeed. Also, they are also highly inconsistent, able to do a task one day and unable the next.

A psycho-educational battery of formal and informal tests is used to determine patterns of strength and weakness as compared to intellectual ability. Testing not only helps identify learning disabilities, but NILD uses testing data to determine the best kind of instruction for each child.

Types of Learning Disabilities

Although learning deficits are as individual as thumbprints, most disabilities fall into the three basic categories: dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.


“Dys” means difficulty with and “lexia” means words – thus “difficulty with words”. Originally the term “Dyslexia” referred to a specific learning deficit that hindered a person’s ability to read. More recently, however, it has been used as a general term referring to the broad category of language deficits that often includes the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words as well as the ability to read and spell words accurately and fluently. When breakdowns occur in these foundational reading skills, dyslexic students often struggle to understand what they read as well as develop vocabulary at a slower rate.


“Dys” means difficulty with and “graphia” means writing – thus “difficulty with writing”. The term dysgraphia refers to more than simply having poor handwriting. This term refers to those who struggle with the motor skills necessary to write thoughts on paper, spelling, and the thinking skills needed for vocabulary retrieval, clarity of thought, grammar, and memory.


“Dys” means difficulty with and “calculia” means calculations and mathematics – thus “difficulty with calculations and mathematics”. This term refers to those who struggle with basic number sense and early number concepts as well as have difficulties with math calculations and math reasoning.

These deficits can affect the following skills and academic areas:

Skill Areas

  • Visual / Auditory Perception
  • Visual / Auditory Memory
  • Visual / Auditory Sequencing
  • Visual-Motor Coordination
  • Spatial Relations (Sense of space)
  • Temporal Relations (Sense of time)
  • Abstract / Logical Thinking
  • Academic Areas

  • Reading (decoding/comprehension)
  • Writing (handwriting/expression)
  • Math Computation & Application