Unit 5: Learning Characteristics of Students with SLD


5.1. Basic understanding of specific learning disability, definition and description (concept, etiology, prevalence, incidence, historical perspective cultural perspective, myths, recent trends and updates), dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and developmental aphasia.

5.2       Attention, perception, memory, thinking characteristics, motor perception,

5.3       Reading related characteristics

5.4       Writing related characteristics

5.5       Math related characteristics













5.1           Basic understanding of specific learning disability, definition and description (concept, etiology, prevalence, incidence, historical perspective cultural perspective, myths, recent trends and updates), dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and developmental aphasia.


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.


‘Learning disability includes the presence of:

• a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills (impaired intelligence), with;

• a reduced ability to cope independently (impaired social functioning);

• which started before adulthood, with a lasting effect on development.


 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.


Specific learning disability refers to heterogeneous clusters of disorders that significantly impede the normal progress of academic achievement in 2%-3% of the school population. The lack of progress is exhibited in school performance that remains below expectation for chronological and mental ages, even when provided with high-quality instruction. The primary manifestation of the failure to progress is significant underachievement in a basic skill area (i.e., reading, math, writing) that is not associated with insufficient educational, interpersonal, cultural/familial, and/or sociolinguistic experiences. The primary severe ability-achievement discrepancy is coincident with deficits in linguistic competence (receptive and/or expressive), cognitive functioning (e.g., problem solving, thinking abilities, maturation), neuropsychological processes (e.g., perception, attention, memory), or any combination of such contributing deficits that are presumed to originate from central nervous system dysfunction. The specific learning disability is a discrete condition differentiated from generalized learning failure by average or above (> 90) cognitive ability and a learning skill profile exhibiting significant scatter indicating areas of strength and weakness. The major specific learning disability may be accompanied by secondary learning difficulties that also may be considered when planning the more intensive, individualized special education instruction directed at the primary problem.

Specific types of learning disabilities and related disorders


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


Dyslexia is a term that refers to difficulty in acquiring and processing language that is typically manifested by the lack or proficiency in reading, spelling and writing. People with dyslexia have difficulty connecting letters they see on a page with the sounds they make. As a result, reading becomes slow and effortful and is not a fluent process for them.

Problems in reading begin even before learning to read. For example, children may have trouble breaking down spoken words into syllables and recognizing words that rhyme. Kindergarten-age children may not be able to recognize and write letters as well as their peers. People with dyslexia may have difficulty with accuracy and spelling as well. It’s a common misconception that all children with dyslexia write letters backwards or those who write letters backwards all have dyslexia.

People with dyslexia, including adolescents and adults, often try to avoid activities involving reading when they can (reading for pleasure, reading instructions). They often gravitate to other mediums such as pictures, video, or audio.

Dysgraphia is a term used to describe difficulties with putting one’s thoughts on to paper. Problems with writing can include difficulties with spelling, grammar, punctuation, and handwriting.

Dyscalculia is a term used to describe difficulties learning number related concepts or using the symbols and functions to perform math calculations. Problems with math can include difficulties with number sense, memorizing math facts, math calculations, math reasoning and math problem solving.

Dyspraxia is a neurological disorder that impacts an individual’s ability to plan and process motor tasks.

Individuals with dyspraxia often have language problems, and sometimes a degree of difficulty with thought and perception. Dyspraxia, however, does not affect the person’s intelligence, although it can cause learning problems in children.

Developmental dyspraxia is an immaturity of the organization of movement. The brain does not process information in a way that allows for a full transmission of neural messages.

Aphasia is a disorder that results from damage to areas of the brain that produce and process language. A person with aphasia can have trouble speaking, reading, writing, and understanding language. Impairment in these abilities can range from mild to very severe (nearly impossible to communicate in any form). Some people with aphasia have difficulty in only one area of communication, such as trouble putting words together into meaningful sentences, trouble reading, or difficulty understanding what others are saying. More commonly, people with aphasia are limited in more than one communication area. Nearly all patients with aphasia have word-finding difficulties – that is, coming up with the correct name of persons, places, things, or events.

Learning disorder can vary in severity:



Experts say that there is no single, specific cause for learning disabilities. However, there are some factors that could cause a learning disability:

·       Heredity: It is observed that a child, whose parents have had a learning disability, is likely to develop the same disorder.

·       Illness during and after birth: An illness or injury during or after birth may cause learning disabilities. Other possible factors could be drug or alcohol consumption during pregnancy, physical trauma, poor growth in the uterus, low birth weight, and premature or prolonged labor.

·       Stress during infancy: A stressful incident after birth such as high fever, head injury, or poor nutrition.

·       Environment: Increased exposure to toxins such as lead (in paint, ceramics, toys, etc.)

·       Comorbidity: Children with learning disabilities are at a higher-than-average risk for attention problems or disruptive behavior disorders. Up to 25 percent of children with reading disorder also have ADHD. Conversely, it is estimated that between 15 and 30 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD have a learning disorder.

Researchers do not know all of the possible causes of learning disabilities, but they have found a range of risk factors during their work to find potential causes. Research shows that risk factors may be present from birth and tend to run in families. In fact, children who have a parent with a learning disability are more likely to develop a learning disability themselves. To better understand learning disabilities, researchers are studying how children’s brains learn to read, write, and develop math skills. Researchers are working on interventions to help address the needs of those who struggle with reading the most, including those with learning disabilities, to improve learning and overall health.

Factors that affect a fetus developing in the womb, such as alcohol or drug use, can put a child at higher risk for a learning problem or disability. Other factors in an infant’s environment may play a role, too. These can include poor nutrition or exposure to lead in water or in paint. Young children who do not receive the support they need for their intellectual development may show signs of learning disabilities once they start school.

Prevalence of specific learning disability in India ranges from 5%–15% in various studies. There appears to be a gender predilection with boys being more affected than girls. Co-morbidities include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, conduct disorder, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and other behavioral and emotional disorders

1. Myth:  People with LDs cannot learn.


2.  Myth:  People with LDs are just lazy.


3. Myth:  Accommodations give an unfair advantage.


4. Myth:  All LDs are outgrown by adulthood.


5. Myth:  LDs are all the same.




5.2           Attention, perception, memory, thinking characteristics, motor perception


Individuals with visual perceptual/visual motor deficits have poor eye-hand coordination, lose their position frequently when reading, and struggle using pencils, crayons, glue, scissors, and other fine motor skills. When reading or completing tasks, they may also confuse similar-looking letters, have difficulty navigating their surroundings, or display atypical eye activity. It impairs a person’s ability to grasp information that they see, as well as their ability to draw or copy and understand information collected by visual means. Due to faults in the way a person’s eyes move, sensory data gained through sight may be affected. These children’s visual impairments limit reading comprehension skills, cause a short attention span, and make it difficult to draw or copy information.

The brain can process visual information in a variety of ways, as per National Center for Learning Disabilities (2003) and individuals with this disability may experience difficulty in a variety of areas, and they are not limited to experiencing difficulties in just one of the categories listed below.

These are some of the categories

Visual discrimination: Visual discrimination refers to a person’s capacity to use their eyes to detect and compare the characteristics of different items in order to distinguish one item from another. An individual with issues in this area may have difficulty distinguishing between two similar letters, objects, or patterns.

Visual figure-ground discrimination: It entails determining the difference between a figure and its surroundings. A person who struggles in this category may have trouble finding a specific piece of information on a page full of words or numbers. They may also struggle to notice an image if there is distracting background.

Visual sequencing: The is the ability to tell the difference between symbols, words, and images. Individuals with problems in this category may be unable to stay in the correct spot while reading (skipping lines or re-reading the same line over and over), struggle with using a separate answer sheet, reversing or misreading letters and words, and have difficulty understanding mathematical equations.

Visual motor processing: It is the feedback from the eyes that allows other body components to move in coordination. Individuals may struggle to stay between the lines while writing (or coloring), copying from a board onto paper, moving about without tripping over things, and playing sports that involve timed and exact space motions.

Visual memory: Visual memory problems can be divided into two categories. The first has to do with recalling something that happened a long time ago. The second is the ability to recall something that has recently been viewed. A person may have trouble remembering and spelling common words, remembering phone numbers, reading comprehension, and typing on a keyboard or pad.

Visual closure: Refers to the ability to determine what an object is while only a portion of it is visible. An individual may have difficulty recognizing an object in a picture that is not presented in its entirety (for example, portraying an elephant without a trunk), identifying a word with a letter missing, and recognizing a face with only one feature missing (such as the ears).

Spatial relationships: It refers to the skill to identify an object in space and relate it to oneself. According to National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2003, an individual child with this difficulty will have trouble going from one place to another, spacing of words and letters on a page, judging time, and reading maps

Learning disabilities are historically characterized as having a strong impact on psychological processes, academic achievement, and social/emotional development.

Psychological Processes

Psychological processes is a broad term that incorporates the wide range of thinking skills we use to process and learn information. The five psychological, or cognitive, processes that are affected by a learning disability are perception, attention, memory, metacognition, and organization.


Perception is the ability to organize and interpret the information experienced through the sensory channels, such as visual or auditory input. Perception is important to learning because it provides us with our first sensory impressions about something we see or hear. A student relies on his perceptual abilities to recognize, compare, and discriminate information. An example would be the ability to distinguish the letter "B" from the letter "D" based on the overall shape, direction of the letter, and its parts. Some children with learning disabilities reverse letters, words, or whole passages during reading or writing.


Attention is a broad term that refers to the ability to receive and process information. Attention deficits are one of the disorders teachers most frequently associate with individuals with learning disabilities. Teachers may describe their students with learning disabilities as "distractible" or "in his own world." The inability to focus on information can inhibit the student's ability to perform tasks in the classroom at the appropriate achievement level.


Memory involves many different skills and processes such as encoding (the ability to organize information for learning). Students with learning disabilities may experience deficits in working memory which affects their ability to store new information and to retrieve previously processed information from long-term memory.


Metacognition is the ability to monitor and evaluate performance. This process supplies many of the keys to learning from experience, generalizing information and strategies, and applying what you have learned. It requires the ability to:

§  Identify and select learning skills and techniques to facilitate the acquisition of information

§  Choose or create the setting in which you are most likely to receive material accurately

§  Identify the most effective and efficient way to process and present information

§  Evaluate and adapt your techniques for different materials and situations

A deficit in any of these skills can have a major impact on the ability of a student to learn new information and apply it to any situation.


Organization is the underlying thread of all these cognitive processes. The inability to organize information can affect the most superficial tasks or the most complex cognitive activities. Students with learning disabilities may have difficulties organizing their thought processes, their classwork, and their environment. Any deficit in these areas can have a detrimental effect on the academic success of the student.

Together, these five key processes enable us to receive information correctly, arrange it for easier learning, identify similarities and differences with other knowledge we have, select a way to learn the information effectively, and evaluate the effectiveness of our learning process. If a student has problems doing any or all of these things, it is easy to see how all learning can be affected.



5.3           Reading related characteristics


Because of the effect on cognitive processes, students with learning disabilities may have difficulty in a variety of academic areas as well as social and emotional development. While a student with a learning disability may have difficulties in all academic areas, major problems are more often found in reading, language arts, and mathematics.


Reading is the most difficult skill area for the majority of students with learning disabilities. Learning disabilities in reading encompass a vast array of reading issues including dyslexia. Some of the most common reading disabilities are word analysis, fluency, and reading comprehension.

§  Word analysis includes the ability to associate sounds with the various letters and letter combinations used to write them, to immediately recognize and remember words, and to use the surrounding text to help figure out a specific word. Word analysis is a foundational skill for reading. For students with learning disabilities, it is a major issue to overcome to be a successful reader.

§  Fluency is the rate of accurate reading (correct words per minute). With processing and word analysis issues, a high rate of reading fluency is often quite difficult for a student with a learning disability.

§  Reading comprehension is the ability to understand written material. If a student with learning disabilities has difficulty reading written material, then comprehension will always be greatly affected. While problems with word analysis can affect reading comprehension, other factors that may contribute to problems with reading comprehension include the inability to successfully identify and organize information from the material.

Strategies for reading

·      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.



5.4           Writing related characteristics


Language Arts

Language arts is often another problematic academic area for students with learning disabilities. While language arts is a broad subject, students with learning disabilities have problems with three major skill areas that affect the entire subject. These include spelling, spoken language, and written language. Because of the close relationship of some of these skills to reading ability, they tend to be areas of great difficulty for many students with learning disabilities.

§  Spelling requires all the essential skills used in the word-analysis strategies of phonics and sight-word reading. The difficulties students with learning disabilities have in learning and applying rules of phonics, visualizing the word correctly, and evaluating spellings result in frequent misspellings, even as they become more adept at reading.

§  Spoken language, or oral language, is a deficit area for many students with learning disabilities, impacting both academic and social performance. Spoken language issues may include problems identifying and using appropriate speech sounds, using appropriate words and understanding word meanings, using and understanding various sentence structures, and using appropriate grammar and language. Other problem areas include understanding underlying meanings, such as irony or figurative language, and adjusting language for different uses and purposes.

§  Written language is often an area of great difficulty for students with learning disabilities. Specific problems include inadequate planning, structure, and organization; immature or limited sentence structure; limited and repetitive vocabulary; limited consideration of audience, unnecessary or unrelated information or details; and errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, and handwriting. Students with learning disabilities often lack both the motivation and the monitoring and evaluation skills considered necessary for good writing.

Strategies for writing

·      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.



5.5           Math related characteristics


Mathematics does not receive the same attention as reading and language arts, but many students with learning disabilities have unique difficulties in this subject area. Specific problems may include difficulty understanding size and spatial relationships and concepts related to direction, place value, decimals, fractions, and time and difficulty remembering math facts. Remembering and correctly applying the steps in mathematical problems (such as the steps involved in long division) and reading and solving word problems are significant problem areas.

Strategies for Math

·      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.