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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Learning Disability

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Types of Learning Disabilities

Learning Disabilities (LD) are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing, or math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, and abstract reasoning.

The types of LD are identified by the specific processing problem. They might relate to getting information into the brain (Input), making sense of this information (Organization), storing and later retrieving this information (Memory), or getting this information back out (Output). Thus, the specific types of processing problems that result in LD might be in one or more of these four areas.


Information is primarily brought into the brain through the eyes (visual perception) and ears (auditory perception). An individual might have difficulty in one or both areas.

Auditory Perception (Also called Receptive Language)

The individual might have difficulty distinguishing subtle differences in sound (called phonemes) or might have difficulty distinguishing individual phonemes as quickly as normal. Either problem can result in difficulty processing and understanding what is said. Individuals might have difficulty with what is called auditory figure-ground. They have difficulty identifying what sound(s) to listen to when there is more than one sound.

Visual Perception

One might have difficulty distinguishing subtle differences in shapes (called graphemes). They might rotate or reverse letters or numbers (d, b, p, q, 6, 9); thus misreading the symbol. Some might have a figure-ground problem, confusing what figure(s) to focus on from the page covered with many words and lines. They might skip words, skip lines, or read the same line twice. Others might have difficulty blending information from both eyes to have depth perception. They might misjudge depth or distance, bumping into things or having difficulty with tasks where this information is needed to tell the hands or body what to do. If there is difficulty with visual perception, there could be problems with tasks that require eye-hand coordination (visual motor skills) such as catching a ball, doing a puzzle, or picking up a glass.


Once information is recorded in the brain (input), three tasks must be carried out in order to make sense or integrate this information. First, the information must be placed in the right order or sequenced. Then, the information must be understood beyond the literal meaning, abstraction. Finally, each unit of information must be integrated into complete thoughts or concepts, organization.


The individual might have difficulty learning information in the proper sequence. Thus, he might get math sequences wrong, have difficulty remembering sequences such as the months of the year, the alphabet, or the times table. Or, she might write a report with all of the important facts but not in the proper order.


A person might have difficulty inferring the meaning of individual words or concepts. Jokes, idioms, or puns are often not understood. He might have problems with words that might have different meanings depending on how they are used. For example, "the dog" refers to a pet. "You dog" is an insult.


An individual might have difficulty organizing materials, losing, forgetting, or misplacing papers, notebooks, or homework assignments. She might have difficulty organizing her environment, such as her bedroom. Some might have problems organizing time. They have difficulty with projects due at a certain time or with being on time. (Organization over time is referred to as Executive Function.)


Three types of memory are important to learning. "Working memory" refers to the ability to hold on to pieces of information until the pieces blend into a full thought or concept. For example, reading each word until the end of a sentence or paragraph and then understanding the full content. "Short-term memory" is the active process of storing and retaining information for a limited period of time. The information is temporarily available but not yet stored for long-term retention. "Long-term memory" refers to information that has been stored and that is available over a long period of time. Individuals might have difficulty with auditory memory or visual memory.

One reads a sentence and hold on to it. Then the next and the next. By the end of the paragraph, he pulls together the meaning of the full paragraph. This is working memory. He continues to read the full chapter and study it. Information is retained long enough to take a test and do well. This is short-term memory. But, unless the information is reviewed and studied over a longer period of time, it is not retained. With more effort over time, the information might become part of a general body of knowledge. It is long-term memory.


Information is communicated by means of words (language output) or though muscle activity such as writing, drawing, gesturing (motor output). An individual might have a language disability (also called expressive language disability) or a motor disability.

Language Disability

It is possible to think of language output as being spontaneous or on demand. Spontaneous means that the person initiates the conversation. Thoughts have been organized and words found before speaking. Demand language means that one is asked a question or asked to explain something. Now, she must organize his thoughts, find the right words, and speak at the same time. Most people with a language disability have little difficulty with spontaneous language. However, in a demand situation, the same person might struggle to organize her thoughts or to find the right words.

Motor Disability

One might have difficulty coordinating teams of small muscles, called a fine motor disability. He might have problems with coloring, cutting, writing, buttoning, or tying shoes. Others might have difficulty coordinating teams of large muscles, called a gross motor disability. She is awkward when running or jumping.

Each individual will have his or her unique pattern of LD. This pattern might cluster around specific common difficulties. For example, the pattern might primarily reflect a problem with language processing: auditory perception, auditory sequencing/abstraction/organization, auditory memory, and a language disability. Or the problem might be more in the visual input to motor output areas. Some people with LD will have a mixture of both.

(Learning Disabilities Association of America)

Accommodations for Regular Classrooms

Accommodations: Adjustments to make sure all students have equal access to curriculum and a way to be successful; providing different ways for students to take in information or communicate their knowledge back to you without lowering the standards or expectations for a subject or test.

Modifying the Presentation of the Material

  • Break assignments into segments or shorter tasks
  • When content mastery is questionable, investigate the use of concrete concepts before teaching abstract
  • Relate information to students' experiential base
  • Provide students with an overview of the lesson before beginning the lesson; tell students what they should expect to learn and why
  • Monitor the level of language you use to communicate ideas (Are you using vocabulary and complex sentence structures that are too advanced?)
  • Schedule frequent, short conferences with students to check for comprehension
  • Provide consistent review of any lesson before introducing new information
  • Allow students to obtain and retain information utilizing: tape recorders, computers, interviews, oral reports, projects, calculators, dictation, personal computers
  • Highlight important concepts to be learned in text or materials
  • Space practice and drill sessions over time
  • Monitor the rate in which you present material (Do you talk too fast or give too much material at one time?)
  • Give additional presentations
    • Repeat original presentations
    • Provide simpler, more complete explanation
    • Give additional examples
    • Model skills in several ways
  • Provide additional guided practice
    • Require more responses
    • Lengthen practice sessions
    • Schedule extra practice sessions
  • Recognize and give credit for student's oral participation in class
  • Make arrangements for homework assignments to reach home with clear, concise directions
  • Give tests orally
  • Make consequences more attractive
    • Increase feedback
    • Provide knowledge of results
    • Chart performance
    • Reward approximations
    • Give incentives to begin and to complete

Modify the Environment

  • Use study carrels
  • Use proximity seating
  • Seat student in area free from distractions
  • Let student select the place which is best for student to study
  • Help keep student's space free of unnecessary materials
  • Use checklists to help student get organized
  • Use notebook for organizing assignments, materials, and homework
  • Provide opportunities for movement

Modifying Time Demands

  • Increase amount of time allowed to complete assignments/tests (contract with student concerning time allotment)
  • Reduce amount of work or length of tests (as opposed to allowing more time)
  • Teach time management skills (use of checklists, prioritizing time)
  • Space short work periods with breaks or change of task
  • Set up a specific routine and stick with it
  • Alternate quiet and active time (short periods of each)
  • Give students a specific task to perform within specific time limits

Modifying the Materials

  1. For students with Visual Motor Integration difficulties
    • Avoid large amounts of written work (both in class and homework)
    • Encourage student to select the method of writing which is most comfortable (cursive or manuscript)
    • Set realistic and mutually agreed upon expectations for neatness
    • Let student type, record, or give answers orally instead of writing
    • Avoid pressures of speed and accuracy
    • Provide student with copy of lecture notes
    • Reduce amount of board work copying and textbook copying; provide student with written information
  2. For students with Visual Processing difficulties
    • Highlight information to be learned (color coding, underlining)
    • Keep written assignments and work space free from extraneous/irrelevant distracters
    • Worksheets should be clear and well-defined
    • Go over visual task with student and make sure student has a clear understanding of all parts of the assignment before beginning
    • Avoid having student copy from the board
  3. For students with Language Processing difficulties
    • Give written directions to supplement verbal directions
    • Slow the rate of presentation
    • Paraphrase material using similar language
    • Keep statements short and to the point
    • Avoid use of abstract language (metaphors, idioms, puns, etc.)
    • Keep sentence structures simple; gradually introduce more complex sentences as student masters the ability to comprehend them
    • Encourage feedback from student to check for understanding (Have students restate what you have said in student's own words)
    • Familiarize student with any new vocabulary before the lesson (Make sure student can use this vocabulary, not just recognize it)
    • Reduce amount of extraneous noise such as conversations, RV, radio, noises from outside, etc.
    • Alert student's attention to key points with such phrases as, "This is important" and "Listen carefully"
    • Ensure the readability levels of the textbooks used in class are commensurate with student's language level
    • Utilize visual aids to supplement verbal information (charts, graphics, pictures)
    • Utilize manipulative, hands-on activities whenever possible; establish the concrete experience base before teaching more abstract concepts
    • Always demonstrate to student how the new material relates to material student has previously learned
  4. For students with Organizational difficulties
    • Establish daily routine and attempt to maintain it
    • Make clear rules and be consistent enforcing them
    • Contract with student, using a reward for completion of the contract
    • Provide a planner for organization with sections for
      • assignments due
      • calendar
      • homework
      • time management schedules
      • study guides
      • prioritized to-do lists
      • class notes
    • Avoid cluttered, crowded worksheets by utilizing techniques such as
      • Blocking—block assignments into smaller segments
      • Cutting—cut worksheets into fourths, sixths, or eights and place one problem in each square
      • Folding—fold worksheets into fourths, sixths, or eights and place one problem in each square
      • Color-coding
      • Highlighting
      • Underlining
    • Hand out written assignments with expected dates of completion typed or written on one corner
    • To prevent misplaced assignments, provide student with file folders, notebooks or trays in which he can immediately place his work
    • Set aside a specific time for cleaning desks, lockers, organizing notebooks, etc.
    • Teach goal-setting skills
    • Teach decision-making/prioritizing skills
    • Teach time management skill

Adapted from LDA, Alabama