According to the DSM-5, Specific Learning Disorder is characterized by one or more difficulties in learning and using academic skills. The difficulty lasts at least six months despite interventions aimed at addressing it and can include difficulty with:
- Reading (The individual may read inaccurately or slowly and with effort.)
- Understanding the meaning of what is read
- Written expression
- Understanding numbers or calculation
- Mathematical reasoning
For diagnosis of a Specific Learning Disorder, the affected skills must be markedly and measurably below what is expected for the individual’s age, and the difficulty must significantly interfere with performance or daily activities. The difficulty begins during school years, though it may not become fully apparent until the demands on the affected skills exceed the individual’s capacity, such as in timed tests.
The difficulties must not be better explained by intellectual disabilities—those with learning disabilities often have average or above-average intelligence—and are also not accounted for by other disorders, uncorrected vision or hearing, psychosocial adversity, or inadequate instruction or knowledge of the language used to teach.
Symptoms can range from mild—involving difficulty in one or two domains that is responsive to accommodations or support—to severe, where an individual is unlikely to learn the affected skills without intensive, individualized teaching.
While the causes of learning disabilities are not fully understood, a number of risk factors have been identified.
Specific learning disorder seems to run in families. Individuals are more likely to have such a disorder if a first-degree relative such as a parent or sibling has one. The increased risk is 4-8 times greater for a reading disorder and 5-10 times greater for a math-related disorder, according to the DSM-5.
Other factors that may increase one’s risk for a learning disability include premature birth, very low birth weight, the use of nicotine, alcohol, or drugs during pregnancy, and severe deficits in nutrition or exposure to lead in infancy.
Learning disabilities are most commonly addressed with special education. Educators may assess both a child’s academic performance and potential and then teach learning skills by expanding a child’s existing abilities and correcting or compensating for disabilities.
Treatment may also involve the services of therapists who specialize in particular domains, such as speech and language. In some cases, medications may be used to increase a child’s ability to focus.
The specific details of interventions for learning disabilities differ based on the type of disability and its severity, but can include specialized, intensive teaching methods and the use of audio recorders, audiobooks, word-processing programs, and other forms of technology to help compensate for a disability during learning.
From Psychology Today