What are Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder?

The skilled tutors at Score At The Top can help a student with learning or attention challenges to master academic subjects, learn coping strategies and compensatory skills, and become better organized.

Also known as learning disabilities and ADHD, these conditions cause many students to struggle with school work. The term "learning disability" covers a broad spectrum of problems – with listening, thinking, math, speaking, reading, or writing. A learning disability is more than a difference or difficulty with learning; it is a neurological disorder that affects the brain's ability to receive process, store, and respond to information. It can hamper or slow down a student's ability to make sense out of information. ADHD (formerly known as ADD) can include inattentive, impulsive, and/or hyperactive behaviors. It can affect a student's ability to focus, stay organized, finish an assignment, sit still, or even follow instructions.

Common Types of Learning Disabilities
Dyslexia Difficulty processing language Problems reading (decoding), writing (encoding), spelling, speaking
Dyscalculia Difficulty with math Problems doing math problems, understanding time, using money
Dysgraphia Difficulty with writing Problems with handwriting, spelling, organizing ideas
Dyspraxia (Sensory Integration Disorder) Difficulty with fine motor skills Problems with hand–eye coordination, balance, manual dexterity
Auditory Processing Disorder Difficulty hearing differences between sounds Problems with reading, comprehension, language
Visual Processing Disorder Difficulty interpreting visual information Problems with reading, math, maps, charts, symbols, pictures
ADHD (formerly known as ADD) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), while not considered a learning disability, can certainly disrupt learning. Children with ADHD often have problems with sitting still, staying focused, following instructions, staying organized, and completing homework.

Students with learning disabilities or attention deficit disorder cannot try harder, pay closer attention, or improve motivation on their own; they need help to learn how to do those things and how to compensate for their challenges. Learning and attention challenges are not problems with intelligence. (In fact, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Walt Disney were dyslexic!) Rather, they are caused by a difference in the brain that affects how information is received, processed, and/or communicated. Students with learning disabilities have trouble processing sensory information: they see, hear, and understand things differently. 

The diagnosis of a learning disability is an inexact science. Even the experts disagree on the best ways of determining whether a learning disability exists. Why the confusion?

  • Methods used to diagnose learning disabilities in public schools are different from those used by evaluators in private practice.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regulations governing diagnosis of learning disabilities in public schools are somewhat general and leave the diagnostic details up to states to define.
  • Regulations governing evaluators in private practice (licensed psychologists or psychiatrists) are less specific than those used in public schools.
  • Different states may have different standards for diagnosing a learning disability. Thus, a student may qualify for a diagnosis of learning disabilities in one state but not in another.
  • Public school systems typically use a combination of:
    • Formal evaluations, using an aptitude achievement discrepancy to determine the severity of a learning disability, and
    • Response to Intervention methods to determine if a learning disability could be the cause of a student's academic problems.
  • Evaluators in private practice tend to use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), which relies heavily on an evaluator's professional judgment. However, these evaluations tend to be the most detailed and informative.

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