Alfred A. Strauss, M.D., in the 1940s, was the first to describe the
behaviors of children now identified as learning disabled or LD. Children
and adults with learning disabilities are not mentally retarded or "slow
to learn;" rather, most of these individuals have average or above-average
For an individual with a learning disability the messages to the brain
become jumbled. This makes it difficult for them to learn in one or more
of the academic areas; however, they can learn and become successful.
For example, you may recognize some of these individuals who had LD: Thomas
Edison, Albert Einstein, Beethoven, Louis Pasteur, Woodrow Wilson, Winston
Churchill, and Nelson Rockefeller. They learned to compensate for their
difficulties by learning in ways that are different from how other people
may have learned.
Experts believe that there are between 6 to 10 million children with
some type of learning disability. Research indicates that undetected learning
disabilities may be the problem of a large number of children who do not
do well in school.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities (http://www.ncld.org/)
lists some words commonly associated with learning disabilities that will
be helpful as you work with youth with learning disabilities.
- Dyslexia, perhaps the most commonly known, is primarily used to describe
difficulty with language processing and its impact on reading, writing,
- Dysgraphia involves difficulty with writing. Problems might be seen
in the actual motor patterns used in writing. Also characteristic are
difficulties with spelling and the formulation of written composition.
- Dyscalculia involves difficulty with math skills and impacts math
computation. Memory of math facts, concepts of time, money, and musical
concepts can also be impacted.
- Dyspraxia (Apraxia) is a difficulty with motor planning, and impacts
upon a person's ability to coordinate appropriate body movements.
- Auditory Discrimination is a key component of efficient language use,
and is necessary to "break the code" for reading. It involves
being able to perceive the differences between speech sounds, and to
sequence these sounds into meaningful words.
- Visual Perception is critical to the reading and writing processes
as it addresses the ability to notice important details and assign meaning
to what is seen.
- Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADD/ADHD) may co-occur
with learning disabilities (incidence estimates vary). Features can
include: marked over-activity, distractibility, and/or impulsivity which
in turn can interfere with an individual's availability to benefit from
As with many other disabilities, there is no one simple explanation that
can be given for why a child or adult has a learning disability. Many
factors may be responsible for learning disabilities. Some researchers
believe that learning disabilities result from complications that occur
before, during, or shortly after birth. Males are more likely to have
a learning disability than females. Learning disabilities tend to occur
Sometimes parents and others working with youth with learning disabilities
are unaware about the disability and may think of the person as lazy,
undisciplined, bored, stubborn, spoiled, underachieving, or daydreaming.
It is important to remember that an individual with a learning disability
usually does not show all the characteristics; likewise, an individual,
without a learning disability may exhibit some of the characteristics.
Some of the most common characteristics follow.
- Short attention span/easily distracted
- Poor memory/forgetful
- Difficulty following directions
- Poor reasoning ability
- Inability to set realistic goals
- Poor reading ability (e.g., adds, omits, skips words when reading)
- Difficulty distinguishing between p, g, b, d, and q
- Reads "on" for "no", "was" for "saw",
- Difficulty with concepts left-right, above-below, up-down, yesterday-tomorrow,
- Difficulty telling time
- Difficulty writing
- Poor eye-hand coordination
- Clumsy/accident prone
- Disorganized/loses things
- Quick tempered/easily irritated
- Gets caught up in details
- Childish and bossy behavior
- Needs constant recognition
- A loner
Help For Leaders
- Have the individual's attention before you begin to do activities.
- Explain directions carefully, simply, and slowly.
- Repeat directions aloud to help the individual remember them.
- Encourage children to ask questions. If no questions are asked, review
the important points, step-by-step.
- Have the child with a learning disability sit close to you so you
can give extra help when necessary. He or she may feel more comfortable
if he or she can bring a friend.
- Try various methods to see how the individual learns best. Determine
if he or she learns best by seeing, hearing, reading silently, or reading
aloud. If a child is good at remembering what he or she hears, then
it might be a good idea to have someone read directions or record the
information on a tape for the child to listen to.
- If you are reading from a book or manual, point out where you are
in the text.
- Allow the individual to answer questions or keep records on a tape
recorder if he or she has difficulty writing and spelling.
- Allow the individual to type if he or she has difficulty writing and
- Be patient. Children with learning disabilities need more time to
think and complete projects.
- The breaking of any routine produces great anxiety. Provide security
- Each child is unique. Be sure to look at the whole child: his or her
feelings, emotions, opinions, and problems. Be accepting and provide
positive feedback. The child needs to know that he or she is "okay."
Children with learning disabilities often feel that "I can't do
anything right." "I'm no good." "I'm dumb."
"Nobody likes me." "Everybody is picking on me."
These feelings cause the individual to feel frustrated, discouraged,
alone or angry and to have a poor self-image, as well as difficulty with
relationships. Be sure to talk about these feelings when they arise.
- Look for a spark and encourage the interest.
- Tasks may need to be divided into smaller pieces.
- Use modeling and demonstrations.
- Have youth repeat and rephrase directions to make certain they understand
what you want them to accomplish.
Please note the University of Illinois Extension does not endorse any
products advertised on the following internet sites. Also, the content
of these internet links is subject to change, and thus their appropriateness
as a resource may also change.
Learning Disabilities Association
The National Attention Deficit Disorder Association
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder -
Sarkees-Wircenski, M., & Scott, J.L. (1995). Vocational Special
Needs. Homewood, IL: American Technical Publishers, Inc.