There are a number of definitions of a learning disability. We use the definition that is given in Title V of the California Code of Regulations. All of the California Community Colleges utilize this same definition. We follow the guidelines set forth by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.
A more accurate term than disability is learning difference. Just as there are endless variations in the way people look, so too are there variations in the way our brains work. One person may be great at doing crossword puzzles, but can’t figure out how to work the VCR. Another person may be great at math, but can’t read a map.
Everyone has their learning differences. However, a person with learning disabilities has more significant differences in the way they process information. There may be some areas of the brain that are just not as effective at processing certain types of information. In contrast, there may be other areas that are very well developed in that same person.
Students can have significant differences in the way they process information. The term learning disability is applied when the processing issues have a negative affect on their academic achievement.
Lastly, having a learning disability does not negate one’s intelligence. By definition, a person with learning disabilities has at least average intelligence. Sometimes, not always, we see people with learning disabilities who are very much above average.
Some of the More Common Characteristics
Every learning disability is unique. These are just some examples of typical difficulties.
- It takes you forever to read an assignment. You have to start a paragraph over several times. You’ll read for awhile, and then realize you haven’t been taking any of it in and have to start all over. It takes you twice as long to read an assignment as it does everybody else.
- Your spelling is terrible. Perhaps you get the beginning and ending of the word spelled correctly, but the middle is a mess. You can’t remember whether to use their, they’re or there. Sometimes it’s the little words that you confuse, like was and saw, or then and than.
- You have great thoughts, but you don’t know how to put them on paper in an organized form so they make sense to your instructor.
- You find it difficult to take good notes. You can’t write and listen at the same time. The instructor goes too fast. It takes too long to copy things from the board.
- You are often late for class. You probably forgot to bring something. You write notes all over the place, and then can’t find where you wrote them. If you have a 3-ring binder, you probably don’t put your papers in it, separated by subjects or filed by dates.
- You can’t trust your memory. You know something one day, and then it’s gone the next. You study hard, and then forget everything when you go to take the test.
- If you have to take a time test, you’re doomed. You don’t think well under pressure, get distracted by the other people in the room, and run out of time before you can get your thoughts down.
- You just don’t get math. You make careless errors, like adding instead of subtracting. You don’t know all of your multiplication tables. Algebra is beyond you.
- You have difficulty with directions. Either you don’t read them correctly, get confused when they are too long, or forget what you were supposed to do.
Not everyone who experiences these difficulties has a learning disability. And not everyone with a learning disability experiences all of these difficulties. This list gives you an idea of how a cognitive processing problem can affect a student’s academic achievement.