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Learning Disabilities

Definition Of Learning Disabilities, The Discrepancy Issue, Learning Disability Subtypes, Causes And Diagnosis, OutcomesConclusions

It is estimated that 5 percent to 10 percent of school-age children and adolescents have learning disabilities (LDs), with some estimates approaching 17 percent. LDs fall on a continuum and range in severity from subtle to marked impairment. A substantial number of learning-disabled students receive special education services. In 1975 the U.S. Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142), which was an educational bill of rights assuring children with disabilities a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. Disabilities that qualified for services under this law included mental retardation, hearing deficiencies, speech and language impairments, visual impairments, emotional disturbances, orthopedic impairments, a variety of medical conditions (categorized as "other health-impaired"), and specific learning disabilities. This law was reauthorized under the Education of the Handicapped Act amendments and, subsequently, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Children with learning disabilities also may receive services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (a civil rights law that protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination by recipients of federal financial assistance). The latter law is designed to provide modifications and accommodations to minimize the negative effect on "major life activities"; all IDEA children qualify under Section 504, but the reverse is not true. As many as 50 percent of children with LDs have concomitant disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety problems, school refusal, depression, Tourette's syndrome, or behavior problems. It is estimated that 35 percent to 50 percent of students seen in mental health clinics have language and/or learning disorders.

To adequately understand an LD, the following areas must be considered: educational achievement, educational opportunity, cognitive functioning, potential emotional issues, peripheral sensory and neurological function (e.g., vision, hearing), family history, academic history, and age of onset of the LD. More specific tests need to be employed as necessary. Only in this way can a proper diagnosis and effective intervention plan be made.


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Glen P. Aylward

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