What is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability is a neurologic disorder that causes difficulties in learning that cannot be attributed to poor intelligence, poor motivation, or inadequate teaching. Dyslexia is perhaps the most common form of learning disability. Learning disabilities may occur in the following academic areas:

As many as 80% of all people with learning disabilities have dyslexia. Dyslexia is often thought to be characterized by writing letters backwards but in fact it is much more. Dyslexia is a "reading disability," and is characterized by an unexpected difficulty in reading by people who possess the intelligence, motivation, and schooling necessary to read.

It is a persistent, chronic condition rather than a transient developmental lag.

The process of reading involves two processes: decoding the written word and comprehending the word. People with dyslexia usually have no difficulty with comprehension; they generally have adequate reasoning skills, vocabulary and syntax. The problem is that people with dyslexia cannot use these skills until the printed word has first been decoded and identified. For example, a woman may know the precise meaning of the spoken word "eligibility"; however, until she can decode and identify the printed word on the page, she will not be able to use her knowledge of the meaning of the word and it will appear that she does not know the word's meaning. New advances have documented that people with reading disabilities have different pattern of brain activity than individuals without reading disabilities.

Reading disabilities are perhaps the most common neurobehavioral disorder affecting children in this country. It is estimated that between five and ten percent of the population experiences learning disabilities.


Dr. Sally E. Shaywitz, "Current Concepts: Dyslexia," 338 New England Journal of Medicine 307 (Jan. 29, 1998).

Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities, "ABCs of LDD/ADD," (last modified May 4, 1998) <http://www.ldonline.org>

"Clue to Dyslexia Found," Washington Post, March 2, 1998 at A1.

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May 27, 1998