Specific learning disabilities (SLDs) and dyslexia are commonly seen together, so some people may confuse them for being the same. If you’re a parent whose child has just been diagnosed with a specific learning disability, you may wonder: Is this the same as dyslexia? The answer is yes and no. Specific learning disability is an umbrella term that includes dyslexia, but not all specific learning disabilities are dyslexia. Let’s explore these two terms, and their relation.
What Is A Specific Learning Disability (SLD)?
A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to process information and interact with the environment. It is not a mental illness nor something that can be learned or overcome. The term “learning disability” is often used interchangeably with other terms like “speech impediments” and “dyslexia,” but these are all different things.
A person who has a learning disability may have problems with reading, writing, spelling, and math skills (arithmetic). They might also struggle with processing visual information (such as recognizing faces) or understanding numbers or time concepts (such as days of the week). Or they might have difficulties hearing sounds correctly (like distinguishing between similar noises like “mama” vs. “papa”).
The most common SLDs include:
- Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit
- Nonverbal learning disabilities
- Language processing disorder
- Auditory processing disorder
What Is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability characterized by difficulty recognizing words, lack of reading fluency, and poor spelling and decoding abilities. This disability can make it difficult for people with this disorder to read, write and spell.
Dyslexia is neurobiological, which means it’s related to our nervous system. It’s the result of differences in the parts of the brain associated with reading. It also tends to run in families and seems to be associated with specific genes related to brain processes and reading.
Are Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) The Same As Dyslexia?
Although dyslexia and SLD are terms that are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. Dyslexia is not classified as a learning disability since it does not affect all aspects of cognition but just one area (i.e., processing language). In contrast, SLD covers several areas, including learning, memory, and motor skills.
However, they are related terms because dyslexia lies within the scope of SLDs. That means that every child who has dyslexia is suffering from at least one SLD (dyslexia being the most common one). In contrast, the opposite is not always the case: a child suffering from one or more SLDs does not necessarily have dyslexia.
Despite being legally included with other disabilities in IDEA 2004, this classification of dyslexia is controversial. Many people argue that calling it a disability isolates those diagnosed with them by focusing too much on the cognitive challenges they face and how that makes them different from typical learners.
Some prefer to refer to dyslexia as a “learning difference,” a term that highlights how children with dyslexia overcome their challenges by focusing on other cognitive abilities they are more naturally gifted.
What does this mean for your child? If your child struggles with reading or writing, talk to their doctor about whether they have an underlying condition that could be causing those problems (like dyslexia or ADHD). If so, get your child tested so that you know what kind of support they need.
It’s essential to understand what specific learning disabilities are and how they can affect your child’s studies. As we mentioned at the start, both terms refer to specific learning disabilities but are not exactly synonymous.
Since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004), it has been legally mandatory for children with disabilities to receive education of equal quality as children who suffer from no disabilities. As a result, millions of American children receive special education they wouldn’t have otherwise received.
If you think your child might be struggling in school because of a learning disability like dyslexia or another one that hasn’t been diagnosed yet – or if they just seem to be struggling with reading and writing tasks more than their peers – you must get them assessed by an educational professional. It could make all the difference.