LEARNING DISABILITIES/DISORDERS – TERMS

LEARNING DISABILITIES/DISORDERS – TERMS

One of the first challenges to tackle when you or your child have been diagnosed with a learning disability (or learning disorder) is to understand the terms that people in the education and psychology fields use to describe different LDs and the terms for supporting or treating the LD.

And it can be more challenging because the terminology used will depend upon which official definition and criteria is used in the assessment.

We have grouped many of the terms according to learning challenges here.

To learn more about LD terms and learning/academic challenges – including how to improve those skills, accommodate for them, and build upon your strengths, go to:

Manage my LD/ADHD –Learning/Academic Challenges

Resources

Events Calendar – for upcoming workshops, webinars, etc.

TERMS:

Reading Challenges:

Word Reading Accuracy, Fluency:
Dyslexia

Phonological Processing, Phonemic Awareness

Language Processing

Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) in Reading:

Comprehension (understanding what you hear and read):
Language Processing

SLD in Reading: Comprehension

Spelling/Writing Challenges:

Dyslexia

Language Processing

SLD in Writing

Math Challenges:

Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) in Math

Dyscalculia

LDAC –Processing Impairments

Other Terms:

Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD)

Fine and Gross Motor Challenges:

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)

Dysgraphia

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Reading Challenges:

Accurate Word Reading and Fluency

Accurate Word Reading, also known as Word Recognition or Decoding.
If you are weak in this area it means that you struggle to associate the letters (graphemes) within a word with their sounds (phonemes) and to blend those sounds together to read the word accurately.

Fluency means you can read at a good pace and with expression. People who struggle with accurate word reading also have a hard time reading fluently, particularly if the material you are reading (text) is quite hard for you to read accurately.
If you have to work hard to read the words accurately and at a steady pace, then that might distract you from being able to focus on comprehending (understanding) what you are reading. That is why assistive technology, like ‘text to speech’ is a really helpful tool for people who struggle with word reading (decoding).
TERMS psychologists or educators may use to describe challenges with accurate word reading and fluency:

Dyslexia
Dyslexia is a well-known term used to describe a reading disorder characterized by deficits in accurate and fluent word recognition. Spelling accuracy is impaired as well.

The term, dyslexia, is not commonly used by psychologists as an official diagnosis when assessing for an LD. However, dyslexia is a term widely known in parts of the world, particularly by organizations, educators, and parents (i.e. organizations like International Dyslexia Associations and Decoding Dyslexia).

Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC) may identify an impairment in phonological processing and possibly language processing.

Phonological Processing
is the ability to identify the different sounds that make words and to associate and manipulate these sounds within words we speak and write (sound blending, segmenting, playing with sounds, rhyming).

Phonemic awareness skills:
blend the individual sounds into a word (reading/decoding)
segment – break a word into syllables or individual sounds (spelling/encoding)
manipulate or change the sounds within a word. Example: Change ‘cat’ to ‘sat’.

Phonological processing, including the more specific phonemic awareness skills,

is a foundational skill needed for learning to read words accurately.

DSM-5 Assessment tool: Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) in Reading; word reading accuracy, reading rate/fluency.

Comprehension Skills – Understanding what you Hear or Read

If comprehending, or understanding what you read or hear, is what you struggle with it

may be because you have weaker language processing skills.

Language processing (LDAD): LDAC defines Language Processing skills as  the understanding and expression of oral and written language; includes vocabulary, word structure, sentence structure and meaning across sentences.

Language Learning Disability (LDAC): A language learning disability is a disorder that may affect the comprehension and use of spoken or written language as well as nonverbal language, such as eye contact and tone of speech, in both adults and children

Vocabulary can be described as oral vocabulary or reading vocabulary. Oral vocabulary refers to words that we use in speaking or recognize in listening.
Vocabulary also is very important to reading comprehension.

Readers cannot understand what they are reading without knowing what most of the words mean.

Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) in Reading – Comprehension (DSM-5)
DSM-5 does not focus on the underlying processing skills that may be causing you problems, but instead the criteria is if you struggle academically with reading.

Spelling and Writing Challenges

Spelling (encoding) is also hard for someone who struggles with reading words accurately because you have to do the reverse process – break the word into its individual sounds (segmenting), remember which letters represent those sounds – and then write them down in order.

Dyslexia
People who are identified as being ‘dyslexic’ will struggle with spelling, along with accurate word reading and fluency.

LDAC definition:  Processing impairments related to spelling/writing:

Spelling – Phonological Processing (LDAC definition):
is the ability to identify the different sounds that make words and to associate and manipulate these sounds within words we speak and write (sound blending, segmenting, playing with sounds, rhyming).

Writing – Language processing is the understanding and expression of oral and written language; includes vocabulary, word structure, sentence structure and meaning across sentences.

DSM-5 definition. SLD with impairment in writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity or organization of written expression)

Math Skills – Challenges

DSM-5: Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) with impairment in Math:
Number sense
Memorization of arithmetic facts
Accurate or fluent calculation
Accurate math reasoning

Dyscalculia
is a common term for a math disability characterized by poor number sense and arithmetic calculation.

Dyscalculia was considered a subtype of a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) in math in the DSM-4 manual, but was removed in the DSM-5 manual.

LDAC Definition – Common Terms for Processing Impairments

The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC):

Learning disabilities result from impairments in one or more processes related to perceiving, thinking, remembering or learning.

These include, but are not limited to:

Language processing:
is the understanding and expression of oral and written language; includes vocabulary, word structure, sentence structure and meaning across sentences.

Phonological processing:
is the ability to identify the different sounds that make words and to associate and manipulate these sounds within words we speak and write.

Visual processing:
is the ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes. Difficulties with visual processing affect how visual information is interpreted, or processed by the brain.

Processing speed:
refers to the pace at which you are able to perceive information (visual or auditory), make sense of that information, and then respond.

Memory and Attention:
Short-term memory is the process by which you hold on to information as long as you are concentrating on it.

Long-term memory refers to the process by which you store information that you have repeated often enough.

Attention:  is the ability to sustain attention to a task

Executive Functions
is needed for planning, organization, strategizing, attention to details and managing time and space.

Other Terms:

Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD) describes a well-defined profile that includes strengths in verbal abilities contrasted with deficits in visual-spatial abilities.
Individuals with NVLD often have trouble with some of the following: organization, attention, executive functioning, nonverbal communication, and motor skills.

Fine and Gross Motor Challenges:

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)
Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a lifelong condition that makes it hard to learn motor skills and coordination. It’s not a learning disorder, but it can impact learning. Kids with DCD struggle with physical tasks and activities they need to do both in and out of school.

Dysgraphia
Is having difficulty with the physical act of writing.

Dysgraphia is not an official term used in DSM-5 or LDAC but is commonly used in websites like www.Understood.org

More recently, DCD has become the more recognized term used to describe challenges with motor skills and coordination, such as difficulty with the physical act of writing.

Occupational Therapists (OTs) may work with a person struggling with DCD (including ‘dysgraphia’) to improve motor skills.

 

Resources/References

LDAC Official Definition:
https://www.ldac-acta.ca/official-definition-of-learning-disabilities/

DSM-5 Definition
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK332886/

Understood.org.
www.understood.org

LD Online
http://www.ldonline.org/indepth

LD Association of America (LDAA)
https://ldaamerica.org/