Learning Differences (LD)

What do we know about types of learning differences (LD)?

A specific learning disability (specific learning disorder) is characterised by persistent difficulties learning a key academic skill. This academic underachievement is unexpected, and is not the result of a more general learning difficulty, such as an intellectual disability.

There are a number of specific learning disabilities that have the potential to impact on a student’s school performance:

  • A specific learning disorder with impairment in reading, often referred to as dyslexia.
  • A specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression, often referred to as dysgraphia.
  • A specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics, often referred to as dyscalculia.

Here is a brief overview of the main learning differences frequently diagnosed.

Dyslexia is a disorder that affects language processing: reading, writing, spelling and speaking. Information is processed differently. For example, letters may be reversed, word order in sentences changed, words may move on the page, words or letters may take on a three dimensional appearance. The person may have difficulty reading from left to right or tracking down a page. He/she may have difficulty understanding abstract ideas, even jokes or puns.

Dysgraphia is a disorder that affects writing, spelling and handwriting. The person with dysgraphia will often find it difficult to write his/her thoughts on paper although he/she may communicate well verbally.

Dyscalculia is a disorder that makes math calculations, the memorization and application of math facts difficult. Ther person finds the processing of numbers extremely difficult.

Dyspraxia is a disorder affecting motor skill development. People with dyspraxia experience difficulty in areas that require fine motor skills.

Executive Function disorder affects a person's ability to plan and organize, to strategize and memorize, as well as to order space and time. People with this disorder find it difficult to use past experience for present situations and tasks.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) is different from LD. Although both are neurological in nature, LD is treated with educational and behavioral methods and ADD/ADHD is often treated with medication and therapy. ADD/ADHD affects a student's ability to focus and maintain focus, to control impulses, to control activity level.


Do students with specific learning disabilities learn differently?

Students with specific learning disabilities do not require an inherently different teaching approach in order to learn. Essentially, all students benefit from exposure to high-quality, evidence-based programs and teaching strategies, including explicit instruction and dual coding (the simultaneous presentation of verbal and visual information). However, this is especially the case for individuals with specific learning disabilities. The main learning difference observed between individuals with a specific learning disability and those without is the length of time it takes them to learn particular academic subskills. Individuals with specific learning disabilities often require more time and more repetition in order to master these skills. However, once they have mastered the skill, or developed an understanding of the new concept, they are likely to perform as well as, or possibly even better than, their peers. It is also the case that although individuals with learning disabilities have difficulty in specific areas, they will often excel in others.


Information reproduced from AUSPELD Understanding Learning Difficulties: A practical guide (Revised edition).