A specific learning disability is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes persistent difficulties in learning key academic skills.
This disorder occurs during formal education and is not the result of lack of learning opportunities or adequate instruction (1).
It can affect how individuals learn in a variety of ways, including their ability to remember, understand or express information. The most common forms of learning disability are in reading (dyslexia) and spelling, but they may also be found in other areas of functioning such as writing and mathematics.
Individuals can present with a specific difficulty in one or more areas and have average or above average performance in other areas. For example, a child who has a specific difficulty in reading may have above average performance in mathematics. However, for others there may be several areas of difficulty.
Does my Child have a Specific Learning Disability?
Usually a parent or teacher first indicates that a learning difficulty might be present when a child is in the early years of school.
However, there may be some signs of difficulty much earlier, particularly if the learning disability affects language skills. Children with learning difficulties may be delayed in reaching certain “milestones” of development such as the first words. Skills delays in areas such as attention span, memory and learning in the pre-school years may be reported.
It is important if parents or teachers suspect that a child is experiencing difficulties in learning, that they are referred for detailed assessment to a psychologist who will conduct testing to identify if a specific learning disability is present. Diagnosis involves gathering information from the parents, the school, and administering a cognitive and academic achievement test. Academic skills must be substantially below cognitive ability and there must be evidence of a lack of response to intervention, for a diagnosis of specific learning disability to be made.
Treatment for Learning Disabilities
Once diagnosed, the approach to helping individuals experiencing a learning disability includes providing evidence based intervention to teach skills by building on the individual’s strengths, while providing strategies to support areas of weakness.
As well as psychologists, other professionals may be involved in supporting the child (eg speech pathologists), working as a team to improve outcomes. Some students may benefit from counselling to support non-academic difficulties that can sometimes occur alongside the learning difficulty. This might include low self-esteem, poor social skills, and behavioural difficulties.
If you would like to find out more about specific learning disabilities, or about how a cognitive and educational assessment could be beneficial for your child with recommendations to support their learning at school, please call 1800 877 924 to book an initial appointment with Angela to discuss your needs.
Angela Bromfield is a psychologist working primarily with children, adolescents and young adults. She is a registered Psychologist in Australia and has extensive training and experience in educational assessments. She is also a registered teacher in Queensland and has over 10 years’ experience working as a teacher in schools both in Australia and internationally.
Angela is currently on extended leave.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
- Flanagan, D.P., & V.C, Alfonso (2011). Specific Learning Disability Indentification. New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons.
- Understanding Specific Leaning Disabilties: Australian Psychological Society (APS) Retrieved from http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/learning/#s1