A specific learning disability (specific learning disorder) is characterised by persistent difficulties learning a key academic skill. This academic underachievement is unexpected, and is not the result of a more general learning difficulty, such as an intellectual disability. There are a number of specific learning disabilities that have the potential to impact on a student’s school performance:
- A specific learning disorder with impairment in reading, often referred to as dyslexia.
- A specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression, often referred to as dysgraphia.
- A specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics, often referred to as dyscalculia.
Dyslexia is the most common form of learning disability, accounting for 80% of all children identified. Problems with reading, and related difficulties in comprehension, spelling and writing are common for these children. Many people with dyslexia also experience difficulties with working memory, attention and organisational skills.
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Dysgraphia is a specific learning disability that often remains undiagnosed. It is a persistent difficulty with written expression, handwriting and/or spelling that may occur in isolation but, more often, occurs in conjunction with dyslexia.
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Dyscalculia is an innate difficulty in learning or comprehending mathematics. Children with Dyscalculia have trouble understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, learning mathematical facts, and a number of other related difficulties.
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Do students with specific learning disabilities learn differently?
Students with specific learning disabilities do not require an inherently different teaching approach in order to learn. Essentially, all students benefit from exposure to high-quality, evidence-based programs and teaching strategies, including explicit instruction and dual coding (the simultaneous presentation of verbal and visual information). However, this is especially the case for individuals with specific learning disabilities. The main learning difference observed between individuals with a specific learning disability and those without is the length of time it takes them to learn particular academic subskills. Individuals with specific learning disabilities often require more time and more repetition in order to master these skills. However, once they have mastered the skill, or developed an understanding of the new concept, they are likely to perform as well as, or possibly even better than, their peers. It is also the case that although individuals with learning disabilities have difficulty in specific areas, they will often excel in others.