Learning Disabilities Definition (the clinical one)

According to the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition, the official learning disabilities definition is as follows:

    “Learning Disorders are diagnosed when the individual’s achievement on individually administered standardized tests in reading, mathematics, or written express is substantially below that expected for age, schooling, and level of intelligence. The learning problems significantly interfere with academic achievement or activities of daily living that require reading, mathematical, or writing skills.”


In 2002 a body called the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities came up with this learning disabilities definition at their Roundtable Conference:

    “Specific learning disabilities are specific in the sense that these disorders each significantly affect a relatively narrow range of academic and performance outcomes. SLD may occur in combination with other disabling conditions, but they are not due primarily to other conditions, such as mental retardation, behavioral disturbance, lack of opportunities to learn, or primary sensory deficits.”


While these definitions were written for normal conversation, they are saying the same thing. Someone diagnosed with a learning disorder should take note of the hope that is weaved into each definition. The first definition references “standardized tests” and the second refers to a “narrow range” of problems.

The key information to take away from both of these is that learning disabilities can be countered. They can be beaten by merely understanding how the brain processes information and then knowing what it is about standardized tests and normal classroom instruction that is difficult to comprehend. Learning disabilities are merely speed bumps in learning.

Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, referred to the speed bumps in his life as brick walls.  He appropriately said,

“Brick walls (in our lives) are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. “

That should be part of the learning disabilities definition. Getting diagnosed with a learning disability doesn’t mean you can’t learn. It just means you’ve got to figure out how to learn first.

More about learning disabilities definitions



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