The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law, defines learning disabilities as follows:
"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 to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage.
Children who meet the following criteria are included in the definition of learning disabilities: 1) children who have average to above average intellectual abilities, yet 2) are failing, struggling with, or experiencing significant difficulties in learning one subject or a number of subjects despite exposure to a "normal" teaching environment, and (3) whose learning problems are not secondary to one or more of the exclusions listed in the federal law above (visual, hearing, motor handicaps, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage.)
Learning disabilities are the most common developmental disability found in children and adults. Of the approximately five million children receiving special education services in the U.S., more than half have specific learning disabilities. "Learning disabilities" describes a group of chronic neurological deficits that affect the ability to master new learning commensurate with a person's intelligence. Although a person with learning disabilities can benefit from early and accurate diagnosis, the impact of this disorder can persist throughout life.
Learning disabilities occur when the brain doesn't perform correctly all that it is supposed to do with regard to learning. It is important to remember that learning disabilities are not behavioral disorders or problems with motivation ("He could do it if he tried.") -- although, left untreated, inappropriate behavior and problems with motivation may develop.
Steps to Take
When a child is having trouble learning and is suspected of having learning disabilities, he/she should be evaluated by a comprehensive interdisciplinary team assessment. This assessment can be requested of the school by the parents or the school may initiate the assessment, with parental approval.
Generally, the assessment includes vision and hearing screenings, a health history, a physical examination, behavioral profiles, IQ tests, and educational testing. A detailed speech and language screening may also be conducted as well as a social work evaluation of the family history and current family functioning.
If a child is found to have a learning disability, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) will be developed by school personnel and the parent outlining the appropriate education program for the child. The assessment and development of the IEP are required by IDEA. Parents will find information regarding the special education process in this law and the regulations that implement it. Advocacy manuals included in resources listed below will also give guidance as parents begin to navigate the special education process.
What About Adults?
Sometimes learning disabilities are not identified in childhood. After struggling with learning problems for years, adults may pursue an evaluation to determine whether or not specific learning disabilities are involved.
Accardo, Pasquale J. The Invisible Disability. Understanding Learning Disabilities in the Context of Health and Education. Washington, DC: National Health & Education Consortium, 1996
Disability Rights Texas
Formerly: Advocacy, Inc.
Texas Education Agency (TEA)
Services for Texas Students with Disabilities Ages 3-5
Evaluation of Learning Disability (LD) Eligibility
Listed below are sources for diagnostic testing. If one of these sources is not located in your area, contact a four-year Texas College or a University from the College/University page and inquire if they have an "Evaluation/Diagnostic Center" that tests for learning disabilities. Testing services/professionals are also listed on the Wrightslaw website.
Scottish Rite Dyslexia Center of Austin
12871 N. US Hwy. 183
Austin, TX 78750
Phone: (512) 472-1231
Southern Methodist University (SMU)
SMU Diagnostic Center for Dyslexia and Related Disorders
5236 Tennyson Parkway, Bldg. 4, Suite 108
Plano, TX 75024
Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children
Scottish Rite Dyslexia Center
Dyslexia Parent Center
2222 Welborn Street
Dallas, TX 75210
(214) 559-5000; (800) 421-1121
The Learning Center of North Texas
The Learning Center of North Texas
101 Summit Avenue #612
Fort Worth, Texas 76102
(817) 336-0808 - Main
UTD (University of Texas at Dallas)
Callier Center for Communication Disorders
UTD/ Callier Center - Dallas
1966 Inwood Rd.
Dallas, TX 75235
UTD/ Callier Center - Richardson
(Speech-Language Delays and Disorders & Auditory Language and Processing Disorders)
811 Synergy Park Blvd.
Richardson, TX 75080