1.1 Definition, Types and Characteristics

Individuals with disabilities act idea- reauthorized definition of learning disabilities (1997)

Specific Learning Disability:

''(A) IN GENERAL.–The term 'specific learning disability' means a disorder in 1 or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations."

''(B) DISORDERS INCLUDED.–Such term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia."

''(C) DISORDERS NOT INCLUDED.–Such term does not include a learning problem that is primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage."

ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases, 2010)

 A condition of arrested or incomplete development of the mind, which is especially characterised by impairment of skills manifested during the developmental period, which contribute to the overall level of intelligence, i.e. cognitive, language, motor and social abilities.

According to RCI :

“Specific Learning Disabilities means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, speak, read, spell or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia. The term does not include child learning Disabilities who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing or motor handicaps, or mental retardation, emotional disturbance or environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages.”

Learning disabilities (LEARNING DISABILITYs) are real. They affect the brain's ability to receive, process, store, respond to and communicate information. LEARNING DISABILITYs are actually a group of disorders, not a single disorder.

Learning disabilities are not the same as intellectual disabilities (formerly known as mental retardation), sensory impairments (vision or hearing) or autism spectrum disorders. People with LEARNING DISABILITY are of average or above-average intelligence but still struggle to acquire skills that impact their performance in school, at home, in the community and in the workplace. Learning disabilities are lifelong, and the sooner they are recognized and identified, the sooner steps can be taken to circumvent or overcome the challenges they present.





Specific types of learning disabilities and related disorders

                                         LEARNING DISABILITY Terminology


Area of difficulty

Symptoms include trouble with



Processing language

·         Reading

·         Writing

·         Spelling

Confusing letter names and sounds, difficulties blending sounds into words, slow rate of reading, trouble remembering after reading text


Math skills

·         Computation

·         Remembering math facts

·         Concepts of time and money

Difficulty learning to count by 2s, 3s, 4s, poor mental math skills, problems with spatial directions


Written expression

·         Handwriting

·         Spelling

·         Composition

Illegible handwriting, difficulty organizing ideas for writing


Fine motor skills

·         Coordination

·         Manual dexterity

Trouble with scissors, buttons, drawing



Information Processing Disorders

Auditory Processing Disorder

Interpreting auditory information

·         Language development

·         Reading

Difficulty anticipating how a speaker will end a sentence

Visual Processing Disorder

Interpreting visual information

·         Reading

·         Writing

·         Math

Difficulty distinguishing letters like “h” and “n”

Other Related Disorders

Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Concentration and focus

·         Over-activity

·         Distractibility

·         Impulsivity

Can't sit still, loses interest quickly, daydreams

What causes Learning Disabilities?

Experts aren’t exactly sure what causes learning disabilities. In fact, there is often no apparent cause for LEARNING DISABILITY. LEARNING DISABILITY may be due to

·         Heredity. Often learning disabilities run in families. Child learning Disabilities with LEARNING DISABILITY are likely to have parents or other relatives with similar difficulties.

·         Problems during pregnancy and birth. An illness or injury during or before birth may cause an LEARNING DISABILITY. Drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, low birth weight, lack of oxygen and premature or prolonged labor may also lead to LEARNING DISABILITY.

·         Incidents after birth. Serious illness, head injuries, poor nutrition and exposure to toxins such as lead can contribute to LEARNING DISABILITY.

Learning disabilities are not caused by economic disadvantage or cultural differences, nor are they the result of lack of educational opportunity. That said, child learning Disabilities who are denied timely and effective instruction during critical times during their development are at high risk for showing signs of LEARNING DISABILITY during the school years and beyond.

1.2 Tools and Areas of Assessment

The LEARNING DISABILITY identification process is not set in stone and will vary from state to state (for school age child learning Disabilities) and from one adult to another depending upon the nature of the presenting difficulties and the professionals enlisted to provide testing and guidance. For example, an elementary school age child learning Disability who shows signs of dyslexia (specific LEARNING DISABILITY in reading) might demonstrate excellent skills in math, so an evaluation be tailored to better understand the specific components of reading (i.e., phonemic awareness, comprehension, automaticity) that help with planning an appropriate course of instruction and intervention.

If a parent suspects that their child learning Disability might have a learning disability, it is important that they record (in writing) their observations and share them with, teachers, physicians and others who might be able to confirm or add important detail. If informal efforts to help the child learning Disability overcome these difficulties is not successful (over a short period of time the next step is to initiate (in writing) a request to begin a formal evaluation process.

Tools for assessment

The Schwab Foundation for Learning has a grade specific checklist to help identify “at risk for LD” children. This list is comprehensive and usually followed by organizations working in the field of LD (Schwab Learning, 2002).

The checklist for LD in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Manual (SSA, 2003) is also a helpful tool for initial screening by teachers in the schools. However, at present, the assessment itself is being used as a screening/identification procedure. The children are referred for assessment by the school/teacher for reasons of failure, underachievement or behavioural problems. For the same reasons, parents may take the child directly, and avail of examination concessions that exist in some states. In the rural areas, there is near zero awareness of LD and practically no assessment facilities.


Before a specialized evaluation of a student is conducted, pre-referral discussions by teachers regarding the nature of the problem, and what possible modifications to instructions in the classroom might be made are important.

The child must be assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability such as health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, and motor abilities. (National Information Centre for Children and Youth with Disabilities, 2000).

An ideal assessment for LD is a long process requiring several sessions with a qualified educational psychologist. Apart from administering a battery of tests, the psychologist also gathers relevant information about the child from the teachers and school records.

The assessment procedure for LD involves the following steps:

Parental Consent and Parent Interview:

·        Parents’ consent must be obtained before evaluating the child. The academic, developmental and medical history along with the linguistic usage and communications patterns of the child must be obtained from the parents.

·        The parent must be involved in the planning of the intervention program such as attending a resource room, provision of accommodation and modifications to the child.

Gathering Information from the Teachers/School: The psychologist must also observe the child in his/her school setting to know about the child’s performance and behavior in the class, and gain insights from the teacher.

Looking at Student Workbooks: Regrettably, in the present educational set up, very often the notebooks don’t reflect the learning difficulties faced by the child due to rote learning especially when the child can easily copy from the blackboard. The examination papers may give a clearer picture of the specific nature of difficulty.

Interview with the Child: “An Interview should be a conversation with a purpose” (Wallace, Larsen, & Elksnin, 1992, p. 16), with questions designed to collect information that “relates to the observed or suspected disability of the child”.

Testing: Though increasingly controversial, most assessments for LD include standardized tests.

There are two types of tests.

·        Criterion-referenced tests are scored according to a standard, or criterion decided by the teacher, the school, or the test publisher. An example of a criterionreferenced test might be a teacher-made spelling test.

·        Norm-referenced tests: Scores on these tests are not interpreted according to an absolute standard or criterion (i.e., 8 out of 10 correct, etc.) but, on how the student’s performance compares with that of the norm group (a large number of representatives of that age group).

The recommended Psycho-educational tests are discussed below under various heads:

1. Intellectual Assessment: Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale Third Edition (WAISIII), Woodcock Johnson Tests of Cognitive Ability.

2. Achievement: Recommended tests include: Woodcock Johnson Psycho- Educational Battery-Revised, Nelson Denny Reading Test, SATA.

3. Cognitive Processing Abilities: Woodcock Johnson Psycho-Educational BatteryRevised (Part 1 - Tests of Cognitive Ability), Weschler Memory ScalesRevised, Benton Visual Retention Test, Berry Visuo-Motor Integration Test, Raven Colored Progressive Matrices, Rex Auditory-Verbal Learning Test, Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test, Halstead-Reitan Neuropsychological Test Battery, Memory-For-Designs Test, Nimhans Index (Hirisave U, et al., 2002).

Assessments in India

The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore has developed the index to assess children with LD (Hirisave U, et al., 2002).

There are two levels of this index. They are: Level I for children 5-7 years and Level II for 8-12 years. The index comprises of the following tests:

·        Attention test (Number cancellation).

·        Visuo-motor skills (the Bender Gestalt test and the Developmental test of Visuo – Motor integration).

·        Auditory and Visual Processing (discrimination and memory).

·        Reading, writing, spelling and comprehension.

·        Speech and Language including Auditory behaviour (Receptive Language) and Verbal expression.

·        Arithmetic (Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fraction) (Hirisave U, et al., 2002 ).


1.3 Strategies for reading, Writing and Maths


·        Provide a quiet area for reading activities.

·        Use books on tape, and books with large print and big spaces between lines.

·        Provide a copy of class notes to student.

·        Allow alternative forms for book reports.

·        Have students use both visual and auditory senses when reading text.

·        Present material in small units.

·        Use graphic organizers to connect ideas.

·        Read and share stories with students.

·        Provide students with chapter outlines or study guides that highlight key points in their reading.

·        Announce reading assignments well in advance.

·        Offer to read written material aloud, when necessary.

·        Share informational texts and invite students to wonder about the new ideas presented.

·        Point out ways in which reading is important in everyday life (e.g., on labels, instructions, and signs).

·        Teach students how books are organized.

·        Use stories that have predictable words and words that occur frequently in the text.

·        Label objects in classroom.

·        Help students notice the letters in the environmental print that surrounds them.

·        Engage students in activities that help them learn to recognize letters visually.

·        Teach students to attend to the sounds in language.

·        Model and demonstrate how to break short sentences into individual words.

·        Have students clap out syllables and listen for and generate rhymes.

·        Focus on activities that involve sounds of words, not on letters or spellings.

·        Model specific sounds, and ask students to produce each sound in isolation.

·        Teach students to blend, identify sounds, and break up words into sounds.

·        When teaching the letters of the alphabet, activities should be explicit and unambiguous.

·        When teaching decoding, begin with small, familiar words.

·        Model sounding out words, blending the sounds together, and saying the word.

·        Have students read new stories and reread old stories every day to build fluency.

·        Engage students in discussion of reading topics that are of interest.

·        Provide high interest reading selections whenever possible.

·        Model comprehension strategies and provide students with guided assistance.

·        Point out how titles, headings, and graphics reveal main ideas and tell what a book is about.

·        Teach students to identify main ideas presented in the text, as well as the supporting details.

·        Point out unfamiliar words, revisit them, and explore their meaning.

·        Teach students to use contextual clues to figure out meanings of unfamiliar words.

·        Build background for reading selections and create a mental scheme for text organization.


·        Use oral exams in place of written exams when possible.

·        Allow use of tape recorder in class.

·        Assign a note taker for student.

·        Provide notes or outlines to reduce the amount of writing.

·        Provide a partially completed outline that allows student to fill in details under major headings.

·        Allow use of a laptop or other computer for writing assignments.

·        Provide computer with spell check, grammar, and cut and paste features.

·        Reduce copying that the student is required to do (e.g. offer pre-printed math problems).

·        Have wide rule paper, graph paper, and pencil grips available.

·        Provide alternatives to written assignments (video-taping or audio recording).

·        Use mnemonic devices to teach writing process (e.g. COPS:  Capitalization, Organization, Punctuation, Spelling).

·        Teach students spelling conventions systematically, such as the “silent e” rule.

·        Allow the student to use print or cursive.

·        Teach pre-organization strategies, such as use of graphic organizers.

·        Use a speech recognition program combined with the word processor so students can dictate rather than type (for older students).

·        Do not count off for poor spelling on first drafts, in-class assignments, or on tests.

·        Have student proofread papers using a checklist (not immediately after writing).

·        Shorten writing assignments and allow extra time if necessary.

·        Have students complete writing tasks in small steps.

·        Stress or de-emphasize certain task requirements during a complex assignment.

·        Allow use of abbreviations in writing assignments, and have student keep a list of appropriate abbreviations available.



·        Allow use of fingers and scratch paper.

·        Use diagrams and draw math concepts.

·        Present activities that involve all sensory modalities – auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic.

·        Arrange peer assistance and tutoring opportunities.

·        Have graph paper available so students can align numbers in math problems.

·        Use colored pencils to differentiate problems.

·        Offer manipulatives throughout instruction.

·        Teach students to draw pictures of word problems.

·        Use mnemonic devices to teach steps of a math concept (e.g. order of operations: “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”).   

·        Use rhythm and music to teach math facts and to set steps to a beat.

·        Schedule computer time for drill and practice with math facts.

·        Practice new strategies until students are comfortable with them.

·        Explain why learning math strategies are important while teaching, and match strategies with the material.

·        Encourage and monitor use of strategies to ensure correct usage and generalization.

·        Teach students to understand the problem, develop a plan to solve the problem, carry out the plan, and look back to be sure the answer solves the problem.

·        Use materials such as games for practice, which are interactive and motivational.

·        Use distributed practice, meaning practice in small increments (e.g. two 15-minute sessions per day, rather than an hour session three times a week).

·        Use small numbers of math facts per group for mastery, and frequently practice with mixed groups.

·        Emphasize "reverses," or "turnarounds" (e.g., 1+ 2/2 + 1, 1x2/2x1) in vertical, horizontal, and oral formats.

1.4 Curricular Adaptation, IEP, Further Education,

Curriculum adaptation is an ongoing dynamic process that modifies and adapts the prescribed program of studies to meet the learning requirements of a student with special needs. It enables the teaching team to welcome learners of all abilities and ensures that every student is challenged to learn.

Inclusion of a student with special needs is the collective responsibility of the entire school community, not the sole duty of the classroom teacher or education assistant. Curriculum adaptation is needed in every part in the student’s day. Learning, socialization, independence and safety are assured for the student when all school staff are aware of their teaching roles in the classroom as well as in the halls, library, gym, playground and lunchroom.

As a special education teacher you will be required to adapt the curriculum and make necessary modifications to increase the student’s chances of success. In the last part we discussed the various techniques that can be used to adapt and modify curriculum for children with special needs.

How to make adjustments in the type, difficulty, amount and sequence of materials

1. Give shorter but more frequent assignments.

2. Shorten the length of the assignments to insure a sense of success.

3. Copy chapters of textbooks so that the child can use a highlighter pen to underline important facts.

4. Make sure that the child's desk is free from all unnecessary materials.

5. Correct the student's work as soon as possible to allow for immediate gratification and feedback.

6. Allow the student several alternatives in both obtaining and reporting information--tapes, interviews and so on.

7. Break assignments down to smaller units. Allow the child to do 5 problems at time, or 5 sentences, so that they can feel success, receive immediate feedback if they are doing the assignment incorrectly and direct their energy to more manageable tasks.

8. Hold frequent, even if short conferences with the child to allow for questions, sources of confusion, sense of connection and avoidance of isolation which often occurs if the work is too difficult.

How to adjust space, work time and grouping

1. Permit the child to work in a quiet corner, a study carrel when requested or necessary. This should not be all the time since isolation may have negative consequences. This technique depends on the specific learning style of the child who may be less distracted by working under these conditions.

2. At first the teacher may want to place the child closer to her/him for more immediate feedback.

3. Try to separate him/her from students who may be distracting.

4. Alternate quiet and active time to maintain levels of interest and motivation.

5. Make up a work contract with specific times and assignments so that the child has a structured idea of his/her responsibilities.

6. Keep work periods short and gradually lengthen them as the student begins to cope.

7. Try to match the student with a peer helper to help with understanding assignments, reading important directions, drilling him/her orally , summarizing important textbook passages and working on long range assignments.

IEP Development for a Student with a Learning Disability

Seek to understand the whole child, their strengths as well as their needs. Review all data and assessments and confer with appropriate colleagues, parents/guardian and the student. The prioritized needs will be addressed in the IEP and the strengths should be leveraged.

Seek to understand the diagnosis or exceptionality. For a student with a learning disability, we know that there will be difficulties in one or more cognitive processes (e.g. memory and attention) resulting in difficulties in the development of skills such as reading and writing. We also know that their assessed intellectual abilities are at least in the average range. This information helps us to be cognizant of the integrity of the grade level curriculum, with the long-term goal to allow multiple pathway options as the student moves through the elementary and secondary panels.

The goal of an IEP for students with learning disabilities is to provide a program that maximizes the student’s ability to access the curriculum and to demonstrate their learning. Modification of learning expectations (a decrease in the number and/or complexity of expectations at the grade level) may be necessary at times to fill in knowledge/skill gaps. Modified learning expectations drawn from a lower grade level is only considered if the student cannot demonstrate learning with the other approaches.

The individualized accommodations you provide for a student with a learning disability through an IEP can be the difference needed for a positive school experience and the difference needed to allow the student to proceed on a path toward success.

1.5 Transition Education, Life Long Education

What Is Transition?

The term transition refers to passing from one state or condition to another. Many important transitions occur throughout each person’s life, and many of them are associated with predictable life events, such as beginning preschool, leaving elementary school, and entering middle adulthood. One of the most critical transition periods for students with learning disabilities (LD) is the transition from school to young adulthood.

The 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defined transition services for this particular transition as:
a coordinated set of activities for a student, with a disability, that: (a) is designed within an outcome oriented process, that promotes movement from school to post school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation; (b) is based on the student’s needs, taking into account the student’s preferences and interests; (c) includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school objectives, and when appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.

This concept is straightforward and fairly simple, including three major components (Storms, O’Leary, & Williams, 2000). First, every student and his or her family should be coached to (a) think about post high school goals and (b) develop a plan for how to achieve those goals. Second, a high school experience should be designed so that the student acquires the skills and competencies necessary to obtain his or her desired post high school goals. Finally, the linkages to post high school services, supports, and programs need to be identified and made before the student exits high school.

The transition from high school to young adulthood is a critical stage for all teenagers; for students with learning disabilities (LD), this stage requires extra planning and goal setting. Factors to consider include post-secondary education, the development of career and vocational skills, as well as the ability to live independently. The first step in planning for a successful transition is developing the student’s transition plan. A transition plan is required for students enrolled in special education who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). In this article, we will define and describe transition planning and how it can be utilized to maximize your teenager’s future success.

Why Is Transition Planning Important for Individuals with LD?

Even though transition planning has been mandated for all students with disabilities for more than 10 years, transition planning for individuals with LD has lagged behind that of other groups. A major reason for this lack of attention has been an assumption that individuals with LD have a mild disability that primarily affects academic achievement; therefore, they have the ability to move from secondary to postsecondary environments without a lot of difficulty. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many students with LD. The results of a number of recent studies have suggested that many adolescents with LD do encounter difficulties in making the transition to adult life, including problems related to unemployment, underemployment, job changes, participation in community and leisure activities, pay, dependency on parents and others, satisfaction with employment, postsecondary academics, and functional skills.

When Should Transition Planning Begin?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 04) requires that in the first IEP that will be in effect when the student turns 16 years of age, his annual IEP must include a discussion about transition service needs (some states may mandate that the process start even earlier). A statement of those needs, based upon his transition assessment and future goals, must then be written into his IEP. IDEA 04 mandates that the annual IEP meeting focus on more specific planning and goal setting for the necessary transition services. Factors to be included are: academic preparation, community experience, development of vocational and independent living objectives, and, if applicable, a functional vocational evaluation. The agreed upon plans must then be documented in the student’s IEP. The law also requires that a statement of the student’s transition goals and services be included in the transition plan. Schools must report to parents on the student’s progress toward meeting his transition goals.

The IEP team may begin discussing transition services with the student before he turns 16, if they see fit. If the IEP team hasn’t begun to focus on transition planning by the time your child turns 16, it is important for you, as the parent, to initiate that process.

What is the Role of a High School Student in Transition Planning?

A student needs to begin thinking about what he wants to do as an adult before his first transition planning meeting takes place. This is his chance to take an active role in planning his education and make school relevant to his future. This is the time for the student to propose dreams and set goals for reaching them. It is an avenue to prove what he can accomplish, to identify things he enjoys and feels competent doing, and to set himself on a path of his choosing. At the same time, he should be realistic about how he’ll need to accommodate for his learning difficulties while pursuing his education and vocation. In general, the transition plan can emphasize a student’s abilities rather than his areas of difficulty.

Some steps a high school student can take to prepare for the transiton planning process include:

·        Using his school’s career center to identify his interests and find out what education and training are required.

·        Completing interest inventories to identify his interests, skills, abilities, and aptitudes as they relate to employment.

·        Doing volunteer work or entry-level jobs in his field(s) of interest.

·        Observing and interviewing adults who perform the type of work that interests him.

·        Visiting training institutes and colleges to learn about entrance requirements; this will help your teenager choose the necessary classes in high school. For example, students interested in forestry need to take science; engineers need advanced math courses; actors need drama courses, and graphic artists need art as well as computer design classes.

Transition Planning Activities at Home and in the Community

Many transition planning activities and objectives are carried out at school. However, unlike traditional IEP objectives, many objectives stated in the transition plan take place outside of school – at home and in the community. These activities may include:

At Home:

Giving your teen chores and responsibilities will encourage his independence and responsibility. As you do this, think ahead to the skills he’ll need as an independent adult. For example:

·        He should open his own checking or savings account(s) and learn how to manage his money.

·        When he’s learning to drive and studying to pass his driver’s license test, he should also learn about automobile insurance and routine vehicle maintenance.

·        It’s never too early to teach your child self-advocacy skills; these skills will continue to help him move toward independent adulthood.

In the Community:

Look within your own community for opportunities to expose your teenager to future possibilities. Consider:

·        Taking your teenager to work.

·        Networking with friends and relatives about their jobs. Consider having your child take a workplace tour and conduct informational interviews.

·        Researching and visiting local colleges and training schools your teenager is interested in attending.

Learning disabilities is a field is constantly changing. The hope is that we will be able to prevent learning disabilities or, at the least, to develop innovative and successful interventions. It is also hoped that we will become more adept at identifying child learning Disabilities at earlier ages to prevent some of the emotional and social difficulties that can be associated with a learning disability. Neuroscience is now promising new avenues in our study of learning disabilities as is genetics. Families who have a history of learning disability need further study to provide appropriate support for them as well as to assist with early interventions. Schools are becoming more adept at working with child learning Disabilities with differing types of learning disability and it is hoped that our ability to assess minority child learning Disabilities appropriately will also improve.