Learning Disability Terms

Special Education and Section 504


If it is determined that your child has a disability, then he or she may be entitled to services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. While there are a number of differences between the two statutes, the primary difference between them is that Section 504 is intended to “level the playing field” for a student with a disability whereas Special Education is remedial in nature. As a parent of a child with a disability, it is important to become familiar with both statutes in order to ensure your child receives the most appropriate education and services to which they are entitled.


Other Health Impairment


Other Health Impairment, also referred to as OHI, is one of the 13 disability categories included under IDEA or Special Education. This category includes various health problems, including Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder. In order to qualify for Special Education services under the classification of OHI, the health problem must adversely affect the child’s educational performance.


Individualized Education Plan


An Individualized Education Plan (more commonly referred to as an IEP) is a comprehensive, legally binding document created for a student who is found eligible for Special Education. The IEP describes the child’s disability, the impact the disability has on the child’s learning, necessary placement, services and accommodations required to address the child’s individual learning needs, and educational goals and objectives for the school year.


Learning Disability


A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects a broad range of academic and functional skills, including speaking, listening, organizing, reading, writing and math. A learning disability is diagnosed when a child’s achievement in one or more academic areas is substantially below those expected for the child’s chronological age. It is important to note that several factors must be considered before a learning disability can be identified as learning problems alone are insufficient in warranting a diagnosis.


Nonverbal Learning Disorder


Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD), also referred to as Nonverbal Learning Disability, is a developmental condition comprised of a cluster of skill deficits, including difficulties with spatial orientation, psychomotor coordination, adaptability, mental flexibility, executive function and organization, pragmatic language, social skills, and emotional stability. These deficits significantly interfere with both academic and life functioning. Contrary to initial assumptions, a child with NLD exhibits strengths in the verbal domains while their deficits lie within the nonverbal domains.




Dyslexia is a language-based learning disorder that interferes with reading, writing and spelling. Most individuals with dyslexia have been found to demonstrate weak phonological processing skills, which directly impacts their ability to decode words, to read fluently and to comprehend text. These difficulties may also be accompanied by weaknesses in spoken language and short-term memory. As a result of their reading difficulties, individuals with dyslexia often exhibit delays in vocabulary development and general knowledge.




Dysgraphia is a disorder of written expression. Students with dysgraphia may have difficulty with spelling, handwriting and putting thoughts down on paper. While young writers may present with difficulties with letter formation and spacing, older children may struggle to write legibly and to communicate their thoughts and ideas in writing.




Dyscalculia refers to difficulty learning and understanding mathematics. The cause for math difficulties varies from person to person as do the challenges they face. Young children with dyscalculia may have trouble learning, recognizing and remembering numbers while school-age children may present with difficulties in acquiring basic math facts and developing math problem-solving skills. Older children and young adults with dyscalculia often have trouble using mathematical applications to solve real life problems involving math, such as balancing a checkbook or budgeting.


Executive Functioning


Executive functioning refers to a set of cognitive processes involved in the regulation of thoughts and actions and goal-directed behaviors. Key areas of executive functioning include planning/prioritizing, organizing, task initiation, working memory, flexible thinking (shift), self-monitoring, inhibition/emotional control, and sustained focus/attention. Weaknesses in executive functioning may present as difficulties in following multi-step directions, remembering the sequence of activities, learning from mistakes, initiating and staying focused for the duration of a task, organizing time, space and materials, and maintaining emotional control. Poorly developed executive functioning skills are considered to be central to Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder as well as other conditions (i.e.: dyslexia and other learning disorders, autism spectrum disorders, mood disorders, traumatic brain injuries).


Auditory Processing Disorder


Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder, is a disorder that makes it difficult for an individual to accurately process auditory information. Students with APD may have difficulty comprehending what is said to them, understanding speech in noisy environments, following directions and responding to verbal prompts/questions, holding on to verbal information in immediate memory, and/or difficulty discriminating between similar-sounding speech sounds. While various professionals (i.e.: psycho-educational specialists, psychologists, speech and language pathologists) can administer various assessments to assess different aspects of auditory processing, it is important to note that this diagnosis can only be made by an audiologist who is specifically trained in assessing and diagnosing APD.


Expressive and Receptive Language Disorder


A weakness in expressive and receptive language skills may be identified through psycho-educational testing; however, a full speech and language evaluation completed by a Speech-Language Pathologist is necessary for a formal diagnosis related to an underlying language disorder. While a child with an expressive language disorder has difficulty producing spoken and/or written language, a child with a receptive language disorder has difficulty processing spoken and/or written language. School-age children with expressive language delays will likely struggle to respond both verbally and in writing and will require additional time to produce spoken and written language. There are several ways in which a receptive language disorder may impact a child’s performance in the classroom, but the most common difficulties include following directions, poor listening skills and problems differentiating between sounds. Children with weak receptive language skills need additional time to process what they hear as well as additional time to respond. It is important to realize that language disorders may also impact a child’s social and emotional functioning because of their difficulty communicating with and/or understanding others.


Learning Disability and ADHD Resources


Smart Kids with Learning Difficulties: Overcoming Obstacles and Realizing Potential by Rich Weinfeld, Sue Jeweler, Linda Barnes-Robinson, and Betty Shevitz


Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at School: Educating Students with NLD, Asperger Syndrome, and Related Conditions by Pamela B. Tanguay


The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain by Brock L. Eide M.D. M.A. and Fernette F. Eide M.D.


Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner by Linda Kreeger Silverman, PhD Visual-Spatial Learners by Alexandra Shires Golon


Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level by Sally Shaywitz, M.D.

The Misunderstood Child, Fourth Edition: Understanding and Coping with Your Child's Learning Disabilities by Larry B. Silver, M.D.


Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger's, Depression, and Other Disorders by James T. Webb, PhD, Edward R. Amend, PsyD, Nadia E. Webb, PsyD, Jean Goerss, MD/MPH., Paul Beljan, PsyD, and F. Richard Olenchak, PhD


Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary "Executive Skills" Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson, EdD, and Richard Guare, PhD


Smart but Scattered Teens: The "Executive Skills" Program for Helping Teens Reach Their Potential by Richard Guare, PhD, Peg Dawson, EdD, and Colin Guare


Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents' Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning by Joyce Cooper-Kahn, PhD, and Laurie Dietzel, PhD


Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D.


Answers to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D.


Taking Charge of ADHD, Revised Edition by Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D, ABPP


For the Children: Redefining Success in School and Success in Life by Rob Langston


Online Resources

Learning Disabilities Association of America

International Dyslexia Association

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)

Decoding Dyslexia OH

Understood: For Learning and Attention Issues

ADDitude: Strategies and Support for ADHD and LD

Understanding Special Education: A Parent Guide to Special Education, the IEP Process and School Success

LD Online: The Educators’ Guide to Learning Disabilities and ADHD

National Center for Learning Disabilities

Local Resources:


South Carolina Branch of the International Dyslexia Association

Trident Academy is one of thirteen schools in the United States accredited by the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE). In addition to their full-time academic program, they also offer after-school tutoring and summer programs.

Sprouting Minds also has an extensive list of related resource providers that we recommend to our families for follow-up, including Speech and Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Audiologists, Psychiatrists, Therapists and Counselors, Life-Skills Coaches, and academic tutors, including Orton-Gillingham trained tutors. Please feel free to contact us to learn more about related service providers that we recommend in the Charleston area.

Please note that the above mentioned resources provide additional information on a variety of topics related to exceptional learners, and while considered credible sources of information, Sprouting Minds does not endorse the following books and websites and is not responsible for the accuracy of content.