Learning Disabilities

Learning Disorders - 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. The skills most often affected are: reading, writing, listening, speaking, reasoning, and doing math. Learning disabilities vary from person to person and occur in approximately 18-20% of the general population. 

What might a Learning Disability look like in the classroom setting?
There is no particular symptom of a learning disability (LD). Psychological testing is used to demonstrate the presence of a LD by showing significant evidence of discrepancy between a student's achievement and their intellectual functioning. While no student, despite having been diagnosed with a LD, will likely show global deficits, many students have problems in one or more of the following areas:

  • language development and language skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and spelling)
  • social sciences
  • mathematics
  • social skills
  • cognitive development and memory
  • attention and organization
  • test-taking

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.

Learning Disorders - Types of Learning Disabilities

Below is a list of the most commonly diagnosed learning disabilities for students attending Duke University.
Academic skills disorders (the person is delayed by years in the development of one of these skills):

  • Reading (developmental reading disorder, or dyslexia). The person may have difficulty identifying different word sounds, comprehension, or have a slow reading rate.
  • Writing (developmental writing disorder, or dysgraphia). The person may have problems with handwriting or with creating sentences that make sense to others or with writing fluency.
  • Arithmetic skills problems (developmental arithmetic disorder, or dyscalculia). The person has problems with calculations or with abstract mathematical concepts.

The list of learning disabilities below consist of less commonly diagnosed disorders for Duke Students:

  • Nonverbal Learning Disorder (These may include auditory or visual processing deficits.)

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.