Skip to main content

Learning Disability Definitions

Knowledge is the key to understanding. To help someone with a learning disability, familiarize yourself with the language around common disabilities.

Definition of a Learning Disability

A learning disability is a permanent disorder that affects the manner in which individuals with normal or often above average intelligence acquire, retain, and express information. Such difficulties in processing information can significantly interfere with academic or social development. Learning disabilities are commonly recognized in adults as difficulty in one or more of these areas: reading, comprehension, spelling, written expression, handwriting, mathematics, oral expression, and problem-solving. Adults with learning disabilities may also have perceptual difficulties. It is important to remember that no two students with learning disabilities have the same profile of strengths and weaknesses.

Common Learning Disabilities


Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD)

AD(H)D is a disorder characterized by inappropriate degrees of attention, impulsiveness, or hyperactivity. Although these areas are considered to be core symptoms, all three characteristics are not necessarily present in those affected. Symptoms are generally first manifested early in childhood and may persist in varying degrees throughout adult life. The difference between ADD and ADHD is the absence or presence of hyperactivity. Attention deficit disorders are commonly manifested in difficulty with sustaining attention and focusing on information for long periods of time. AD(H)D is a medical diagnosis (LD is an educational one), and people diagnosed with AD(H)D are often prescribed medication to stabilize attention and activity levels.


Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

TBI is a permanent disorder which results from a serious head injury. Often, the person has fallen or been in a severe car accident. Common problems faced by students with TBI are loss of train of thought, short-term memory deficits, difficulty with word recall, difficulty concentrating, and rigidity of thinking.


Epilepsy/seizure disorders

This category includes a group of disorders of the central nervous system that are characterized by sudden seizures, muscle contractions, and partial or total loss of consciousness.


Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD)

CAPD is a permanent disorder which affects the manner in which people understand or remember words or sounds due to a language processing problem in the brain. Parents and doctors can often mistake this as a hearing problem. However, CAPD causes problems with processing and memorizing information, not with actually hearing the information.



Dyslexia is a reading disability typified by problems in expressive or receptive, oral, or written language. Problems may emerge in reading, spelling, writing, speaking, or listening. People with dyslexia often show talent in areas that require visual, spatial, and motor integration.



Dyscalculia causes people to have problems with arithmetic and grasping mathematical concepts. While many people have problems with math, a person with dyscalculia has a much more difficult time solving basic math problems than his or her peers.



Dysgraphia is a writing disorder that causes people to have difficulty forming letters or writing within a defined space. People with this disorder need extra time and effort to write neatly. Despite their efforts, their handwriting may be almost illegible.



Dyspraxia is a problem with the body's system of motion that interferes with a person's ability to make a controlled or coordinated physical response in a given situation.