Specific Learning Disability

What is a Specific Learning Disability?

  • Has your child been classified as having a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in public school?
  • Is that phrase confusing to you?
  • Are you unsure what steps to take next?

You are not alone!  Most parents feel exactly the same way when first told their child has been classified as having SLD.

Specific Learning Disability is an “umbrella” term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.  Your child may have been classified as having SLD, but the school will not tell you exactly which one…and this is both confusing and frustrating.  Sadly, most often it is the parent’s responsibility to determine which disabilities may apply to your child (and it can be more than one).   Only after you know what learning disabilities your child has can the appropriate education be applied in school.

Learning disabilities should not be confused with learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of intellectual disability; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages.   People with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement in school. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities”: the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.

A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.

See “5 Questions Parents and Educators can Ask to start Conversations…” for more details.

Step One is to learn more about which disability may apply to your child…below are the most common disabilities that are classified under SLD (per https://ldaamerica.org).

Step Two learn more about the disability and find professionals to help you and/or make a more detailed diagnosis (click here for more information)

Step Three is to work with your school to address your child’s specific needs.  Request Accommodations.  Get more targeted education.  Explicit teaching.

Note…Many have found outside tutors bridge the gap of school education for their child.  Once you have clear focus on the disability, finding proper tutoring/expertise can be critical.  Act quickly as early intervention is paramount to student success long term.

Young boy listening to a friend talking into his hear, demonstrating symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)

Also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder, this is a condition that adversely affects how sound that travels unimpeded through the ear is processed or interpreted by the brain. Individuals with APD do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even when the sounds are loud and clear enough to be heard. They can also find it difficult to tell where sounds are coming from, to make sense of the order of sounds, or to block out competing background noises.

Young femaile student having difficulty with math problem on chalkboard displaying symptoms of Dyscalculia.


A specific learning disability that affects a person’s ability to understand numbers and learn math facts. Individuals with this type of LD may also have poor comprehension of math symbols, may struggle with memorizing and organizing numbers, have difficulty telling time, or have trouble with counting.

Student having difficulty writing while doing school work, expressing symptoms of Dysgraphia.


A specific learning disability that affects a person’s handwriting ability and fine motor skills. Problems may include illegible handwriting, inconsistent spacing, poor spatial planning on paper, poor spelling, and difficulty composing writing as well as thinking and writing at the same time.

Young female student expressing frustration while rereading, demonstrating symptoms of Dyslexia.


A specific learning disability that affects reading and related language-based processing skills. The severity can differ in each individual but can affect reading fluency, decoding, reading comprehension, recall, writing, spelling, and sometimes speech and can exist along with other related disorders. Dyslexia is sometimes referred to as a Language-Based Learning Disability.

Little girl holding up toy blocks that spell "LEARN".

Language Processing Disorder

A specific type of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) in which there is difficulty attaching meaning to sound groups that form words, sentences and stories. While an APD affects the interpretation of all sounds coming into the brain, a Language Processing Disorder (LPD) relates only to the processing of language. LPD can affect expressive language and/or receptive language.

Young boy sitting alone holding his knees

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities

A disorder which is usually characterized by a significant discrepancy between higher verbal skills and weaker motor, visual-spatial and social skills. Typically, an individual with NLD (or NVLD) has trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language, and may have poor coordination.


Young girl having difficulty painting displaying symptoms of Visual Perception/Visual Motor Deficit disorder.

Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit

A disorder that affects the understanding of information that a person sees, or the ability to draw or copy. A characteristic seen in people with learning disabilities such as Dysgraphia or Non-verbal LD, it can result in missing subtle differences in shapes or printed letters, losing place frequently, struggles with cutting, holding pencil too tightly, or poor eye/hand coordination.

Related Disorders

Distracted teenage student looking out of classroom window during school displaying symptoms of ADHD.


A disorder that includes difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior and hyperactivity. Although ADHD is not considered a learning disability, research indicates that from 30-50 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability, and that the two conditions can interact to make learning extremely challenging.

Young child playing in children's ball pit.


A disorder that is characterized by difficulty in muscle control, which causes problems with movement and coordination, language and speech, and can affect learning. Although not a learning disability, dyspraxia often exists along with dyslexia, dyscalculia or ADHD.

Young adult woman writing in her organizer

Executive Functioning

An inefficiency in the cognitive management systems of the brain that affects a variety of neuropsychological processes such as planning, organization, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space. Although not a learning disability, different patterns of weakness in executive functioning are almost always seen in the learning profiles of individuals who have specific learning disabilities or ADHD.

Young man with string tied to finger trying to remember something.


Three types of memory are important to learning. Working memory, short-term memory and long-term memory are used in the processing of both verbal and non-verbal information. If there are deficits in any or all of these types of memory, the ability to store and retrieve information required to carry out tasks can be impaired.


Oregon State Department of Education defines SLD as this:

Specific Learning Disability

OAR 581-015-2170 (i): Specific Learning Disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations. Specific learning disability includes conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, dyslexia, minimal brain dysfunction and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

(1) If a child is suspected of having a specific learning disability, the following evaluation must be conducted:

(a) Academic assessment. An assessment of the child’s academic achievement toward Oregon grade-level standards;

(b) Review. A review of cumulative records, previous IEPs or IFSPs and teacher collected work samples;

(c) Observation. An observation of the child in the child’s learning environment (including the regular classroom setting) to document the child’s academic performance and behavior in the areas of difficulty, which must consist of:

(A) Information from an observation by a qualified professional in routine classroom instruction and monitoring of the child’s performance before the child was referred for an evaluation; or

(B) An observation conducted by a qualified professional (who is a member of the evaluation team) of the child’s academic performance in a regular classroom after the child has been referred for an evaluation and parent consent obtained; or

(C) For a child who is less than school age or out of school, an observation in an age-appropriate environment.

(d) Progress monitoring data, including:

(A) Data that demonstrate that before, or as part of, the referral process, the child was provided appropriate instruction in regular education settings, delivered by qualified personnel; and

(B) Data-based documentation of repeated assessments of achievement at reasonable intervals, reflecting formal assessment of student progress that is directly linked to instruction.

(e) For a student evaluated using a response to intervention model as part of a comprehensive evaluation process to determine if the child has a specific learning disability, the evaluation must include documentation of:

(A) The type, intensity, and duration of scientific, research-based instructional intervention(s) provided in accordance with the district’s response to intervention model;

(B) The student’s rate of progress during the instructional intervention(s);

(C) A comparison of the student’s rate of progress to expected rates of progress.

(D) Progress monitoring on a schedule that:

(i) Allows a comparison of the student’s progress to the performance of peers;

(ii) Is appropriate to the student’s age and grade placement;

(iii) Is appropriate to the content monitored; and

(iv) Allows for interpretation of the effectiveness of intervention.

(f) For a student evaluated using a model that is based on the student’s strengths and weaknesses, the evaluation must include an assessment of the student’s strengths and weaknesses in classroom performance and academic achievement, relative to age, Oregon grade-level standards, or intellectual development.

(g) Other:

(A) If needed, a developmental history;

(B) If needed, an assessment of cognition, fine motor, perceptual motor, communication, social or emotional, and perception or memory if the child exhibits impairment in one or more these areas;

(C) If needed, a medical statement or health assessment indicating whether there are any physical factors that may be affecting the child’s educational performance; and

(D) Any other assessments required to determine the impact of the suspected disability:

(i) On the child’s educational performance for a school-age child; or

(ii) On the child’s developmental progress for a preschool child.

(2) For consideration of eligibility in the area of specific learning disabilities, the eligibility team must include:

(a) A group of qualified professionals and the parent;

(b) The child’s regular classroom teacher or, if the child does not have a regular classroom teacher, a regular classroom teacher qualified to teach a child of his or her age, or, for a child of less than school age, a preschool teacher; and

(c) A person qualified to conduct individual diagnostic examinations of children, such as a school psychologist, speech-language pathologist, or other qualified professional.

(3) To be eligible as a child with a specific learning disability, the child must meet the following minimum criteria:

(a) The child does not achieve adequately for the child’s age or to meet Oregon grade-level standards in one or more of the following areas when provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the child’s age or Oregon grade-level standards:

(A) Basic reading skills:

(B) Reading fluency skills;

(C) Reading comprehension;

(D) Mathematics calculation;

(E) Mathematics problem-solving;

(F) Written Expression;

(G) Oral expression; or

(H) Listening comprehension.

(b) For a student evaluated using a response to intervention model, in relation to one or more of the areas in subsection (3)(a), the student does not make sufficient progress to meet age or Oregon grade-level standards based on the student’s response to scientific, research-based intervention.

(c) For a student evaluated using a model that is based on the student’s strengths and weaknesses, in relation to one or more of the areas in subsection (3)(a), the student exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in classroom performance, academic achievement, or both, relative to age, Oregon grade-level standards, or intellectual development, that is determined by the group to be relevant to the identification of a specific learning disability.

(d) The child’s rate of progress in subsection (3)(b) or pattern of strengths and weaknesses in subsection (3)(c) is not primarily the result of:

(A) A visual, hearing, or motor impairment; mental retardation or emotional disturbance;

(B) Cultural factors;

(C) Environmental or economic disadvantage; or

(D) Limited English proficiency.

(4) For a child to be eligible for special education services as a child with a specific learning disability, the eligibility team must also determine that:

(a) The child’s disability has an adverse impact on the child’s educational performance; and

(b) The child needs special education services as a result of the disability.

(5) The eligibility team must prepare an evaluation report and written statement of eligibility documenting its findings, including:

(a) The evaluation data considered in determining the child’s eligibility;

(b) A determination of whether the child meets the minimum criteria for a specific learning disability;

(c) The relevant behavior, if any, noted during the observation of the child and the relationship of that behavior to the child’s academic functioning;

(d) The educationally relevant medical findings, if any;

(e) If the child participated in a response to intervention process, documentation that the parents were notified in a timely manner about: the state’s policies regarding the amount and nature of student performance data that would be collected, and the general education services that would be provided, as part of the response to intervention process; strategies for increasing the child’s rate of learning; and the parent’s right to request an evaluation.

(f) The determination of the team concerning the effects of a visual, hearing, or motor disability; mental retardation; emotional disturbance; cultural factors; environmental or economic disadvantage; or limited English proficiency on the child’s achievement level; and

(g) A determination of whether the primary basis for the suspected disability is:

(A) A lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math; or

(B) Limited English proficiency;

(h) A determination of whether the child’s disability has an adverse impact on the child’s educational performance;

(i) A determination of whether, as a result of the disability, the child needs special education services; and

(j) The signature of each member of the team indicating agreement or disagreement with the eligibility determination.


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