What is a Specific Learning Disability?

What does it mean to have a “Specific Learning Disability (SLD)” in public school?

Many parents and guardians do not know exactly what this means. You are not alone!  The term comes from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which requires public schools to provide special education and related services to eligible students. 

According to the IDEA, “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, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.  Specific Learning Disability does NOT include learning problems that are primarily the result of a visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.”  IDEA Sec. 300.8 (c)(10)


So what does a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) have to do with Dyslexia?

Schools may use the broader label of SLD rather than the specific diagnostic term dyslexia.  Parents and guardians should become familiar with the process in their state and district to understand the impact of their child’s eligibility determination. The bottom of this page has information about Oregon and Washington.


What about terms such as Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalculia? Can we use these terms in our IEP meetings and documents?

Yes!  Here is the Department of Education guidance letter which states “OSERS [Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services] reiterates that there is nothing in the IDEA or our implementing regulations that would prohibit IEP Teams from referencing or using dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia in a child’s IEP.”   Read more and download this letter.

Here are 5 Questions Parents and Educators Can Ask to Start Conversations about the terms that will help describe your child’s needs. 



 ➡ STEP 1: Understand which Learning Disability may apply to your child…refer here for the most common disabilities that are classified under SLD (per LDA)

 ➡ STEP 2: Learn more about the Learning Disability and find professionals to help you and/or make a more detailed diagnosis  Click here for more information

 ➡ STEP 3: Work with the school to address your child’s specific needs.

Note – some families have found private tutors bridge the gap in school education for their children.  Click here for our Local Provider Directory 


Oregon State Department of Education defines SLD as this:

Specific Learning Disability

(J) “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, intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.


See Oregon Department of Eduction – Dyslexia


Washington State defines SLD as this:

Specific learning disability—Determination.

The group described in WAC 392-172A-03050 may determine that a student has a specific learning disability if:
(1) The student does not achieve adequately for the student’s age or meet the state’s grade-level standards when provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the student’s age in one or more of the following areas:
(a) Oral expression.
(b) Listening comprehension.
(c) Written expression.
(d) Basic reading skill.
(e) Reading fluency skills.
(f) Reading comprehension.
(g) Mathematics calculation.
(h) Mathematics problem solving.
(2)(a) The student does not make sufficient progress to meet age or state grade level standards in one or more of the areas identified in subsection (1) of this section when using a process based on the student’s response to scientific, research-based intervention or the group finds that the student has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability in one or more of the areas identified in subsection (1) of this section; and
(b) When considering eligibility under (a) of this subsection, the group may also consider whether the student exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to age, state grade level standards, or intellectual development, that is determined by the group to be relevant to the identification of a specific learning disability, using appropriate assessments, and through review of existing data.
(3) The group determines that its findings under subsection (2) of this section are not primarily the result of:
(a) A visual, hearing, or motor disability;
(b) Intellectual disability;
(c) Emotional disturbance;
(d) Cultural factors;
(e) Environmental or economic disadvantage; or
(f) Limited English proficiency.
(4) To ensure that underachievement in a student suspected of having a specific learning disability is not due to lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math, the group must consider:
(a) Data that demonstrate that prior to, or as a part of, the referral process, the student was provided appropriate instruction in general 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 during instruction, which was provided to the student’s parents.
(5) The district or other public agency must promptly request parental consent to evaluate the student to determine if the student needs special education and related services, and must adhere to the time frames for an initial evaluation under WAC 392-172A-03005:
(a) If, prior to a referral, a student has not made adequate progress after an appropriate period of time when provided instruction, as described in subsection (4)(a) and (b) of this section; or
(b) Whenever a student is referred for an evaluation.
[Statutory Authority: RCW 28A.155.090, 20 U.S.C. 1400 (c)(12)(C), 20 U.S.C. 1401 (3)(A)(i), and 20 U.S.C. 1401 (30)(C). WSR 11-06-052, § 392-172A-03055, filed 3/1/11, effective 4/1/11. Statutory Authority: RCW 28A.155.090(7) and 42 U.S.C. 1400 et. seq. WSR 07-14-078, § 392-172A-03055, filed 6/29/07, effective 7/30/07.]
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