Specific learning disorders are neurodevelopmental disorders that are typically diagnosed in early school-aged children, although may not be recognized until adulthood. They are characterized by a persistent impairment in at least one of three major areas: reading, written expression, and/or math.
Learning disorders are categorized as mild, moderate and severe. Accommodation and support services align with the severity to facilitate a person’s most effective functioning.
Learning disorders, if not recognized and managed, can cause problems throughout a person’s life beyond having lower academic achievement. These problems include increased risk of greater psychological distress, poorer overall mental health, unemployment, underemployment and dropping out of school.
To be diagnosed with a specific learning disorder, a person must meet four criteria.
- Have difficulties in at least one of the following areas for at least six months despite targeted help:
- Difficulty reading (e.g., inaccurate, slow and only with much effort).
- Difficulty understanding the meaning of what is read.
- Difficulty with spelling.
- Difficulty with written expression (e.g., problems with grammar, punctuation or organization).
- Difficulty understanding number concepts, number facts or calculation.
- Difficulty with mathematical reasoning (e.g., applying math concepts or solving math problems).
- Have academic skills that are substantially below what is expected for the child’s age and cause problems in school, work or everyday activities.
- The difficulties start during school-age even if some people don’t experience significant problems until adulthood (when academic, work and day-to-day demands are greater).
- Learning difficulties are not due to other conditions, such as intellectual disability, vision or hearing problems, a neurological condition (e.g., pediatric stroke), adverse conditions such as economic or environmental disadvantage, lack of instruction, or difficulties speaking/understanding the language.