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Special Needs

Learning Disabilities

Learning Disabilities (LDs) are the result of impairment in one or more psychological processes that affect acquisition, retention, understanding, organization or use of verbal and/or non-verbal information. LDs are lifelong. LDs are distinct from intellectual disabilities as they are specific, not global impairments. LDs may co-exist with other conditions including attention disorders, behavioural and emotional disorders, sensory impairments or other medical conditions.

LDs are also related to difficulties in processing information:

  • the reception of information,

  • the integration or organization of that information,

  • the ability to retrieve information from its storage in the brain, and

  • the communication of retrieved information to others.


LDs can affect how a person interprets, remembers, understands and expresses information. LDs take many forms and vary in severity and intensity and may impact many areas of functioning from childhood into adulthood. LDs may affect academic performance (e.g. spelling, reading, listening, focusing, remembering and writing), social functioning, life skills (e.g. planning, organizing, predicting) and physical interaction with the world (e.g. balance, coordination, movement).

Between 5 and 10% of Canadians have LDs. LDs are not widely understood and are not caused by factors such as cultural or language differences, inadequate or inappropriate instruction, socioeconomic status or lack of motivation.

Typically, LDs are diagnosed by an educational psychologist only after the child enters school and is learning to read and write.


Current research indicates that early appropriate intervention can successfully mediate many disabilities, particularly those related to reading. The following is a list of characteristics that may point to a learning disability. Most people will, from time to time, see one or more of these warning signs in their children. This is normal.

If a child exhibits several of the following characteristics consider this a red flag:


 Speaks later than most children

 Has pronunciation difficulties

 Slow vocabulary growth, often unable to find the right word

 Has difficulty rhyming words

 Has trouble learning colours, shapes, days of the week, numbers and the alphabet

 Fine motor skills are slow to develop

 Is extremely restless and easily distracted

 Has difficulty following directions and/or routines

 Has trouble interacting appropriately with peers

School Age

Learning Disabilities are diagnosed by a psychologist, and generally after the child enters school and is learning to read and write.


The psychologist will assess:

  • auditory and visual perceptual skills (understanding)

  • processing speed

  • organization

  • memory (short and long term storage and retrieval)

  • fine motor skills

  • gross motor skills

  • attention (focus)

  • abstractions (interpreting symbolism)

  • social competence (effective interactions with others)

If a child is experiencing a delay in one or more of the following domains in this guide consider this a red flag:

  • Attention Difficulty and Hyperactive Behaviour

  • Behaviour

  • Fine motor skills

  • Social/emotional

  • Speech and language



Services and Information related to Learning Disabilities:

Having more general concerns about a child's development?

Having difficulty coping? Need some advice?

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