Learning is a complex and individual process. There is no single best way to learn, but most students follow a well-defined trajectory of learning milestones as they move from preschool through high school. Students with learning disabilities, on the other hand, do not perform well within the confines of traditional formal education.
A learning disability (LD) is not simply a difference in approaches to learning, or a lack of motivation to learn; but rather it represents deviations in the way information is processed (i.e., received, manipulated, organized, categorized, synthesized and expressed), leading to below-expected performance (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1991).
Learning disability is a "generic term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across the life span” (NJCLD, 1990).
The resource website, LD Online, offers both:
- A plain-English definition of "learning disability"
Links to the history and explanation of its formal definition:
National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities Archives
Understanding Learning Disabilities
Students with LD are smart, creative and just as motivated as their non-LD peers. A student can be gifted and LD, just as it is possible for someone to have below-average cognitive abilities and also have a learning disability.
- A learning disability is a neurological/developmental condition that is intrinsic to the individual. Identification of learning disabilities requires psychoeducational or neuropsychological evaluation by trained diagnosticians.
- No two individuals with LD are exactly alike. Profiles of individuals with LD are varied and follow a normal distribution, similar to the population of non-LD individuals. Learning disabilities can be mild or quite severe. Cognitive abilities of individuals with LD can vary from low average to high average, and even fall within the gifted range.
Learning disabilities affect the way an individual processes information. A primary characteristic of LD is that academic performance, functional behaviors or even employment outcomes do not reflect the individual’s cognitive abilities. There is often a significant discrepancy between expected and actual accomplishments. Although no two individuals with LD are alike, there are some areas where student with LD may experience difficulties.
- Information processing (visual processing, auditory processing, speed of processing)
- Executive functioning (time management, self-awareness, inhibition and initiation of actions)
- Academic achievement (reading, writing, problem solving)
- Social and interpersonal relationships (making friends)
- Vocational outcomes (getting a job, following directions on the job)
- LD are not the result of other conditions such as intellectual disabilities, physical, sensory, motor impairments or external factors such as inconsistent formal educational training, cultural differences or inappropriate instruction.
Specific learning disabilities (SLD) may occur in one or more areas of learning. The most common type of learning disability is a language-based LD.
- Specific learning disability or disorder in the area of reading is known as dyslexia.
- SLD in the area of mathematics is referred to as dyscalculia.
- SLD in writing is called dysgraphia.
- A learning disability is a lifelong condition. Individuals can learn to compensate for their LD over time so that it no longer poses significant impediments to functioning, but that does not imply that they no longer have an LD.
Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) http://www.ahead.org/
AHEAD is a professional membership organization that addresses policy and service issues relating to disabilities in higher education
Council for Learning Disabilities (CLD) http://www.cldinternational.org/
CLD provides evidence-based strategies and approaches for educating individuals with LD
International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities (IARLD) http://www.iarld.com/
The IARLD is a professional organization dedicated to conducting and disseminating research about LD.
International Dyslexia Association (IDA) http://www.interdys.org/
The IDA provides research and resources on the effective treatment of dyslexia and other language-based LD.
Learning Ally www.LearningAlly.org
Founded in 1948 as Recording for the Blind, Learning Ally serves K-12, college and graduate students, as well as veterans and lifelong learners - all of whom cannot read standard print due to blindness, visual impairment, dyslexia, or other learning disabilities.
Learning Disabilities Worldwide (LDW) http://www.ldam.org/
Learning Disabilities Worldwide seeks to educate the international audience on how to effectively address LD.
LD Online http://www.ldonline.org/
A comprehensive website resource on LD for educators, parents and students.
National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) http://www.ncld.org/
The NCLD, also known as LD.org, provides information and events to educate and empower individuals living with an LD.
Society for Disability Studies (SDS) http://www.disstudies.org/
The SDS focuses on researching and promoting disability studies as an academic discipline, and includes national and international experts.
Teaching LD http://teachingld.org/join
Teaching LD, a division of the Council for Exceptional Children, is an international professional organization that provides resources for students with LD.
For scholarly publications, grants, and research on learning disabilities visit
Landmark College Institute for Research & Training (LCIRT).
For books, articles and general information on Learning Disabilities visit
Landmark College Library LD, ADHD & ASD Research Collection.
For additional information:
Landmark College Institute
for Research and Training
PO Box 820
1 River Road South
Putney, VT 05346