Learning disabilities are neurological disorders that can make it difficult to acquire certain academic and social skills - they are not the result of poor intelligence or laziness. Learning disabilities will vary in terms of their impact on an individual child, teenager or adult. Knowledge of the particular learning disability will enable parents and sufferers to advocate for success in their learning, their education and in life.
Learning disabilities can be general or specific in nature.
General Learning Disabilities
A general learning disability is more than a “difference” or a “difficulty” with learning - it is a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store and respond to information.
Children with general learning disabilities (GLD), find it more difficult to learn, to understand and to do things than other children of the same age. They can continue to learn and make progress all through their lives but at a slower pace than other children.
A general learning disability can be at the level of mild, moderate, severe or profound. The impact of the disability can be very different for individuals, with each child showing a unique profile of particular strengths and needs.
Additional information on General Learning Disabilities is available here from the Special Education Support Service (SESS).
The NCCA have developed guidelines for teachers and others in meeting the needs of students with general learning disabilities. They can be used in mainstream primary and special primary schools, post-primary schools, and other educational settings. They are intended for use by all teachers and should also be accessible to a range of other personnel directly involved with the student’s education. These include Special Needs Assistants, therapists, management staff, parents, guidance counsellors, carers, advisory support services and professionals from health, social services and the voluntary sector.
The range of Guideline resources for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities can be accessed here.
Specific Learning Difficulties
A specific learning disability (SpLD) is a difficulty in a specific area of learning such as reading, writing, spelling or maths. Research statistics for Ireland show that as many as 9 per cent of the population may have a specific learning disability.
SpLDs are just that - they are 'specific' and are not due to other causes, such as general ability being below average, or defective sight, defective hearing, emotional factors or a physical condition.
The Special Education Support Service includes the following as Specific Learning Difficulties:
Dyslexia which is a difficulty in learning to read. This may mean that a child finds spelling hard, or finds it hard to read words or to understand what is written. Dyslexia is the most commonly diagnosed SpLD.
Dyscalculia which is a difficulty with numbers. This may mean that the child finds it hard to understand how numbers work or learn to count or add, subtract, multiply and divide.
Dysgraphia which is a difficulty with writing/spelling. This means that the child finds it difficult to write legibly and may have problems with spelling. They may find it hard to order their thoughts when writing a story or essay.
Specific learning difficulties can range from mild to severe. Many of those diagnosed as having dyslexia, find that it impacts on one or more of the basic processes involved in using or understanding written or spoken language.
People with SpLDs may have trouble finding the right words to express their ideas and experience difficulties in understanding other people's use of language. SPLDs may affect a person's ability to interact socially and to understand other people's feelings and emotions. They can also impact on a person's motor skills and can cause difficulty in undertaking many normal everyday tasks, to varying degrees.
Students with SpLDs may have difficulties with memory, organisation and co-ordination. The may also have average or above average intelligence, but they perform less well in some aspects of learning than in other activities.
Grouping Specific Learning Difficulties
In Ireland, the legal definition of disability in the Disability Act 2005, is:
“A substantial restriction in the capacity of the person to carry on a profession, business or occupation in the State or to participate in social or cultural life in the State by reason of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual impairment.”
The Act also states people are entitled to services if their disability is permanent (or likely to be permanent), results in significant difficulty in communication, learning or mobility or in significantly disordered cognitive processes and requires that services be provided continually to them.
For children with disabilities, services should be provided in early life to ameliorate their disability.
NALA, the National Adult Learning Association defines specific learning difficulties as an umbrella term that includes: Dyslexia, Asperger Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Dyspraxia (also known as Developmental Co-ordination Disorder).
Individuals experiencing SLD have a specific problem with learning or processing information. They learn differently, so normal mainstream teaching methods may not work for them. The ways SLD affect the individual vary from person to person. All individuals experiencing SLD will have different patterns of strengths and weaknesses.
The British Dyslexia Association includes Dyslexia, Dysphasia, Dyspraxia, Attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD), Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and Tourette Syndrome under Specific Learning Difficulties.
The A-Z section [Left] gives the General definitions and characteristics of the different SpLDs, and their characteristics in the context of educational and career progression. It outlines tips and strategies to assist learners who are experiencing a particular SpLD, together with advice for career choice and progression:
- How does the disability impact learning skills and development?
- How does the disability impede educational opportunity and progression?
- What learning tips and strategies are there for students with this difficulty?
- What supports are out there for students with this particular difficulty or disability?
- How will it impact on career choice?
Each section additionally includes links to relevant resources and information.