What is a Specific Learning Disability?

A specific learning disability is a disorder that interferes with a student’s ability to listen, think, speak, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.1 Students with a specific learning disability may struggle with reading, writing, or math.2

The term “specific learning disability” is commonly used in federal and state law, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and by many private and public schools.3

  • 63% Of people know someone who has a learning disability5
  • 43% Of people wrongly think that learning disabilities are correlated with IQ5
  • 10-15% Of school-aged children have a learning disability4

types of specific learning disabilities

“Specific learning disability” is an umbrella term that can describe many different types of learning issues. An educational evaluation may show that your child has a specific learning disability in a certain subject area.

For example:

  • A specific learning disability in reading, also known as dyslexia
  • A specific learning disability in writing, also known as dysgraphia
  • A specific learning disability in mathematics, also known as dyscalculia

signs of specific learning disabilities

  • Persistent difficulties in reading, writing, arithmetic, or mathematical reasoning5
  • Inaccurate or slow and effortful reading or writing5
  • Poor written expression that lacks clarity5
  • Difficulties remembering number facts5
  • Inaccurate mathematical reasoning5

What to Do if You Notice Signs of a Specific Learning Disability

  • Take Notes

    If your child struggles with listening, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, or math, take note of the specific issues you see. The more information you have when talking to a specialist, the better.

  • Talk to Your Child’s Teacher

    With your list of observations in hand, make an appointment to speak with your child’s teacher. Bring up your concerns and ask whether he or she has noticed any issues in the classroom.

  • Request an Evaluation

    To find out whether these issues are related to a specific learning disability, you’ll need a full educational evaluation, including reading, language, writing, and math tests. Talk to your child’s teacher to see if he or she may qualify for testing through the public school district. You can also set up testing with a private evaluator.

  • Be Proactive and Trust Your Gut

    The sooner your child’s learning issue is identified, the sooner you can arrange for the proper interventions. As a parent, you know your child best, and it’s up to you to get the evaluation process in motion.

What to Do if Your Child is Diagnosed with a Specific Learning Disability

  • Get to Know Your Child’s Specific Diagnosis

    The more you know about your child’s specific learning disability, the more you can do to help. Develop a deep understanding of your child’s diagnosis, as well as his or her strengths.

    For more information on specific diagnoses, see Churchill’s learning disability guides, including:

  • Find a Specialist

    Look for a specialist with ongoing professional education in learning disabilities as well as your child’s required subject area — whether that’s reading, writing, math, or a combination of those.

  • Request Classroom Accommodations

    Have another conversation with your child’s teacher about making simple classroom changes that will benefit your child. The right accommodation for your child will depend on which specific learning disability he or she is struggling with.

  • Create an Individualized Education Plan

    Ask your child’s teacher and school administrators about creating an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to map out a blueprint for intervention, including your child’s needs and how the school will meet those requirements. Request a copy of this document for your records.

Common Specific Learning Disability Myths

Myth:Smart students don’t have specific learning disabilities.


Specific learning disabilities and IQ are not connected, and many individuals who struggle with reading, writing, or math are bright and successful students.

Myth:All specific learning disability diagnoses are the same.


“Specific learning disability” is an umbrella term that can describe many different types of learning issues including dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. Different types of specific learning disabilities require different interventions.

Myth:Specific learning disabilities are rare.


According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 10-15% of school-aged children have a learning disability.4

Myth:If my child is struggling in school, he or she probably has a specific learning disability.


The only way to find out whether your child has a specific learning disability is by completing a full educational evaluation. You can request this testing through your public school, or through a private evaluator.

Myth:Specific learning disabilities are a result of a poor diet or too much TV.


Specific learning disabilities are brain-based disorders, and are not caused by external factors such as diet or activity.


  1. IDEA – Building The Legacy of IDEA 2004. Retrieved from http://idea.ed.gov/explore/view/p/,root,statute,I,A,602,30
  2. What’s the Difference Between Learning Disabilities and Learning and Attention Issues? Understood. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/getting-started/what-you-need-to-know/difference-between-learning-disabilities-and-learning-and-attention-issues
  3. Types of Learning Disabilities. Learning Disability Association of America. Retrieved from https://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/
  4. Lowell, S. C., Felton, R. H., & Hook, P. E. Basic Facts About Assessment of Dyslexia: Testing for Teaching
  5. Cortiella, Candace and Horowitz, Sheldon H. The State of Learning Disabilities: Facts, Trends and Emerging Issues. New York: National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2014, from http://www.ncld.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/2014-State-of-LD.pdf

Contact Churchill for More Info on Specific Learning Disabilities

For questions or more information about specific learning disabilities, contact Anne Evers, Admissions Director, at 314-997-4343.

Churchill's proven methods and well-trained faculty change the lives of children who struggle with dyslexia, ADHD and other learning disabilities.