Online Course: Learning to Achieve Definitions of Learning Disabilities

The Learning to Achieve Definitions online course asks users to consider the questions below. Please post your responses to some or all here for discussion. We also invite you to read the responses of fellow teachers, as well as to ask questions or comment where you would like to know more.

  • Share examples of matching work environments to individual strengths from your experiences working with adults.
  • Share ideas and insights associated with the consensus statements and how they affect your work.
  • What additional insights do you have about what it means for an individual to have LD?
  • How might the information you learned in this module affect your work with adults? 



Thanks for sharing what I'm assuming is your experience working with individuals of limited economic means, who are trying to receive neuropsychological evaluations to determine the presence of learning disabilities.  I share your perspective, based on my own professional experience.  Two areas you may want to think about - if you haven't already - are your state's Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) system, and any graduate level training programs in your area, where students need to complete supervised evaluations as part of their studies. 

VR may support clients in accessing a neuropsychological evaluation, depending on eligibility for VR services, and disability.  Typically, VR funds for evaluations are determined based on a client's ability to pay for services independently.  Lower income clients may qualify for free, or very low-cost evaluations, based on their tax records, or lack thereof.

Graduate level programs where students must complete a certain number of hours in clinical evaluations are another option.  Since they are in training, these programs often do not charge, or charge a nominal fee, much lower than the local going rate.  As a result, these programs often have waitlists, which can be long; however, it is worth checking to see what may be available at a university near you.

Good luck, and don't give up on searching for resources for your program, and learners!

Mike Cruse

Disabilities in Adult Education Moderator 

I have noticed that adults that I instruct have wide range of skills and abilities, although they may struggle with reading. This is also apparent with those that do very well communicating orally, yet have great difficulty with written text. 

I have also worked with adults who are very verbally expressive, but had significant difficulty writing the very things that they verbalized.  This course provides perspective on why that may be.

This online course was an interesting read.   I learned some additional insights about what it means for an individual to have a LD.  First, I learned that LD is not easily observed.  Adults can have a LD as early as early childhood but did not diagnose it.    LD will be more prominent as an adult once they have children.  As I continue to work with adults, I will ensure that I observe how the student oral express themselves; observe their listening and reading comprehension; and their written expressions.  Completing this module will help me to be more sensitive to adults who may have a learning disability.

As a Reading instructor and Literacy Specialist in a community college ABE program, I see all too often, adult students who have undiagnosed learning disabilities. Even those students who have been diagnosed, often fail to have received the needed remedial help or accommodations in order  for them to be academically successful. Many do not understand the importance of having documentation of their disability as it pertains to reaching  educational goals(GED) and  retaining employment. While our program itself does not have accommodation protocols in place, when assessing students who have  documented learning disabilities, I strongly urge them to access these records for future use when applying to take the GED exam. Even so, many seem reluctant to "dredge up" the past as it is a reminder of failure.  In addition, for those who did not have access to LD testing due to age, location or other reasons beyond their control, I have referred students I suspect may have LD, to the Department of Rehabilitation or to the college Disabilities Services. 

I, personally, am not aware of anyone in our program who has any form of LD. We previously had a student who was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD. He is no longer in our class, though. I hope to learn more about LD through this course in case we have any students with LD in the future.

I have learned that learning disabilities are not easy to diagnose especially in older students because they tend to compensate for their LD by strengthening their other learning abilities.  I also learned that it is  important to note that LD occurs across ethnic, cultural, language, and economic groups. Often I felt my older students have outgrown any problems, but because of the information in this module, I am more aware of the possibility of LD in all my students who are struggling academically.  Another area of awareness that has occurred is how LD is diagnosed through testing in my district.  I am more sensitive to the indicators that may mean one of my students has a learning disability.

The two statements that are most meaningful to my work are these:

Individuals with LD show intra-individual differences in skills and abilities.

LD may occur in combination with other disabling conditions, but they are not due to other conditions.

For the first, I want to be able to continue to think of new ways to use learners' strengths to balance out their challenges. For the second, I am always curious about how to sort out what might be other conditions (health, trauma, etc.) from what might be a learning disability.

I have been teaching LD for several years and have gone through several definitions of what exactly LD is.  It still seems that LD is still an elusive term that can mean different things to different people.  I find that the idea of Rtl I have found that both the teaching process and the student can't really be separated.  Without good teaching processes the student can't be helped and then without student interest, the teaching process can't be done.  I am glad that LD is now found to be a genuine problem and not something that can be pushed aside to a special ed teacher and ignored.  Students need to be helped and shown that they can learn and learn things well.  Learning can be enjoyed and is not a chore.

Hi, Maryan -

Thanks for your post.  I'm glad that you have been reflecting on the L2A course.  If you're looking for additional resources to support both children and adult learners, you may want to check out The Playlists: Disability Resources for WIOA Practitioners.  These are a series of 10 'playlists', each focusing on resources to support persons with disabilities under the Workforce and Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA). 

Playlist 9 focuses on Students, by providing guidance on how to prepare youth with disabilities for the transition from secondary school to postsecondary education, training, and employment. 

Please have a look at the playlist, and others, and let us know if you have any questions, or observations in light of your experience.


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator


I was already familiar with the content of this entire module.  It did clarify for me the difference between a neurological impairment as say caused by a car accident or head injury and a learning disability.  It confirmed my conclusion regarding a number of students which upon intake into our program of ESL for adults or adults with learning problems that they had an learning disability that was undiagnosed due to their being born in a foreign country with no services for persons with disabilities or of an age that indicated they born and educated before there was any concept of learning disabilities and before PL 91-142.  Having an adult with this disability is unfortunate for them and us who would attempt to assist them and made them a candidate for the "out of luck" department.  They cannot benefit from early intervention, they often cannot get a tutor who feels capable of addressing their need for literacy, they are often depressed because they have a learning disability and don't know or understand why or what to do about it, and they have lots of problems being absorbed into an adult ESL classroom.  But I am more than happy to know that our educational system is helping their children in this regard by having programs in place to diagnose and address those with disabilities of every kind, but particularly Learning Disabilities because of their "hidden" aspect in the general population.

Hi, Jane -

Thanks for sharing your experience with the L2A modules.  I'm glad to hear you were familiar with a lot of what you read, but still learned something new about the difference between a neurological impairment caused by trauma, and a developmental learning disability. 

Your observation about the ESL learners in your program is interesting, and the context you provide for how we perceive disability in the U.S., versus how it is viewed in different parts of the world.  The Playlists: Disability Resources for WIOA Practitioners is a suite of 10 'playlists' with resources to support persons with disabilities in the U.S., from the classroom, to the workforce, and civic life.  

I encourage you to take a look at Playlist 1 - Guidance for WIOA Programs, Service Providers, and Practitioners to see how the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is helping to transform the landscape for persons with disabilities in the U.S.  Take a look, and let us know what you think!


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator


I have seen so many adult students who have internalized that they are somehow less than, stupid, or a failure because of one or more of intra-individual differences described here. I think one of the biggest services adult ed provides these students is showing them that these differences do not define their abilities and do not limit their worth or their likelihood of success in our program. A student who just graduated pointing out that s/he has the same difference goes a long way to removing shame, stigma, and fear.

I agree with your comment.  We have had many students come into our classroom who have little or no self confidence in their abilities.  They were labeled in special education in school and they may have been told they couldn't progress beyond a low level (elementary).  One of our challenges is to help them build up confidence that they can improve their academic skills.  We tutor them and after awhile they begin to have more confidence and see they can do it, if they are willing to put in the work it takes.  Our students have a choice as to whether or not they sign up for our classes or not; therefore, most of them are ready and willing to work hard.

I agree. I've had a student in my ESL and then HSED classes for a couple of years, and she struggles so much. Finally, she told us about a car wreck she'd been in decades ago and mentioned that there were some tests done that documented her learning disabilities. If only we'd known from the beginning! After much time getting her to get the doctor connected and sending documentation, she finally gets accommodations for testing, and the longer time has greatly relieved her stress, enabling her to succeed on the tests! What a wonderful thing! But so many of our students don't make those connections or have never been tested, so they continue to struggle. I have a student who is convinced he doesn't differentiate and cannot differentiate between capital and lower case letters. I'm interested to know if this is an actual LD or something else. Hopefully, going through this course will provide more insight.


Hi, Ginger -

Thanks for your post, and sharing your question about the student in your class who has difficulty distinguishing between upper and lower case letters.  Persons with dyslexia (reading) and/or dysgraphia (writing) often experience something similar to what you describe in your student's inability to discriminate between the two. 

Persons with dysgraphia may write with all capital letters, or mix capital letters within words. If the student is using a computer to write, it may be worth exploring the use of different fonts to see if this has an impact on their ability to differentiate capital and lower case.  There is a lot of research on the preferred fonts to use, but you may be best served by helping your learner explore for him/herself reading and/or writing in different fonts.  

As online writing evolves as the norm for most written communication, younger learners are challenging written conventions like using capital and lower case letters.  This may also be a contributing factor for learners who do not have a disability, but present similarly to others with neurological conditions, like dysgraphia and dyslexia.   


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator

The consensus statement # 5, "LD may occur in combination with other disabling conditions, but they are not due to other conditions.", is most relevant to my work as an adult education teacher.  In my ten years of education, of which six have been in the area of adult education, I have found that LD adult learners suffer from other disabling conditions such as, ADHD and ED. Also, I have witnessed that an adult learner with LD is not limited to just math or reading inability but also with writing, more specifically grammar and spelling.  There appears to be a linguistic gap with adult learners with LD that does not allow them to fully comprehend text or pick up a pattern.  The adult learners who are ED (Emotionally Disabled) typically suffer with LD in math and reading comprehension.  

I just have a question on the research based efficacy of RTI. Does anyone know about any studies synthesis and their conclusions?

Hi, Cesar -

Thanks for your question.  Are you familiar with the RTI Action Network?  You can probably find several studies here that will answer some of your questions. 


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator

I would like to know the following regarding dyslexia and LD: Is there an overlap in the MRI area of the brain where LD and dyslexia takes place?

I will pay greater attention to how the adult learners with whom I interact respond to activities given. I will be less judgmental about their levels of response now that I know this might relate to some type of learning challenge and not a disability.

Since I am a teacher of adult learners, I have to keep in mind that LD persists across the life span, so despite compensation skills or skills and strategies the student has acquired over time, their disbility will continue to challenge them in the classroom. I need to stay abreast of instructional strategies that are effective and will help them be successful.

I know adults with intra-individual differences.  One person is very intelligent; however, she finds it difficult to tell her left from her right.  I do not believe she has ever been officially diagnosed.  She is a special educator and recognized it in herself. By presenting material in multiple ways, I have tried to match learning environments to individual strengths.  I would like to learn more about how adults can get accommodations and/or modifications for classroom assessments and the TASC.

Hi, Sadeka -

Thanks for your comment, and interest in learning more about accessing accommodations for classroom assessments and TASC.  TASC has a website that outlines the process for test-takers.  When you ask about classroom assessments, would you tell us more what type of classrooms you're working in, and the types of students, and disabilities, teachers are encountering the most?


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes

I have seen how hard it is to detect LDs. It is especially hard in my setting because I am working with older adults and many might not disclose their LD or might not even be aware of it. I try to be more aware and accommodate their needs by changing up the teaching strategy. 

It is hard helping older adults who are unaware that they might have a LD. They might not know because they grew up in low income environments and were unable to be evaluated. If I detect an LD I would try my best to make the lesson easier to understand. 

It's also pretty impossible to tell (sometimes even w/ a formal evaluation) whether it's an LD issue or other deficits in the background.   Good news is it doesn't really matter -- if we accommodate and expect that we're going to get to understanding... and just keep working on it... it gets everybody doing better.

<p>What I have learned from the first module is as follows:</p>

<p>1. How much the definition of LD can affect an organization's funding and individuals' access to services</p>

<p>2. How the definition of LD seems more thorough and full-featured now compared to when I last studied the subject (pre-1999)</p>

<p>3. That adults may not realize they have LD until they see it in their children (who get more support in diagnosis and support than the parent had).</p>

What I have learned from the first module is as follows:

1. How much the definition of LD can affect an organization's funding and individuals' access to services

2. How the definition of LD seems more thorough and full-featured now compared to when I last studied the subject (pre-1999)

3. That adults may not realize they have LD until they see it in their children (who get more support in diagnosis and support than the parent had).

Hi, Sharon -

Thanks for sharing all that you've learned from the course, so far.  You've made some excellent observations.  I'm especially interested in your perspective on how HOW we define "LD can affect an organization's funding and individuals' access to services".  Is this something that you've had experience with in your work? 

I also was glad to hear you say that "adults may not realize they have LD until they see it in their children (who get more support in diagnosis...)".  I've also found this to be true in my work with adults and younger students.  I believe it's part of the educational process for parents of K-12 students going through the LD identification process.  K-12 special educators often have stories of speaking with parents about what the parents perceive as their own learning issues, and how they impact their child's difficulties with learning.

Thanks again, for sharing.

Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator


What is much clearer to me are the the two models used for diagnosing individuals as having LD

the IQ-Achievement discrepancy model

the Response to Intervention (RtI) model

The educator working with LD students can become very frustrated because they may not see their efforts helping the student. If all educators truly understood these two models, I think they would want to go beyond the first model, The IQ test. When we test a student and learn they have a learning disability, our work doesn't stop there. It continues to be our responsibility to provide intervention and instructional support to these students. Unfortunately, sometimes what happens is the educator feels like he/she is getting affirmation that the student had a learning disability and there isn't much that can be done.

The RTI model is set up to help the student and challenge the educator to explore different strategies to help the student be successful. The obejective of RT isTo assess IN ORDER TO determine progress and INFORM teaching. This models creates a shared responsibility between the student and the educator.

After working as an instructor in Adult Education, I see the Response to Intervention being used for return to school adults. We focus on areas of weakness and create a student learning plan that fits to the individual. 

Having taught in public elementary school I have seen the benefits of RTI.  It gives the opportunity for struggling students to be remediated in small groups. I like that students can move back and forth within the tiers as they show improvement.  They can even remain in the regular classroom while receiving help.And those who really need more rigorous interventions or one-on-one intervention can receive it without being labeled.

I think and QTI are wonderful methods to pinpoint mental disorder, but learning disability can be debilitating if not dealt with by professional psychologists and neurologists in some cases; especially if affects behavior issues in the classroom which can mask the real cause of under-performance and lack of social control. Further scientific evaluations should be made before diagnosing LD.

I really don' think the one statement weighs more than the other as I work with my students. Each concept is valuable and is pertinent to what instruction I complete with my LD students and how I interact with them. If students are struggling and wondering why, and they have not been diagnosed, and I feel they may have a disability, then my being able to intelligently talk to them about that possibility is important to their success in their learning and in my success in retaining the students long enough for them to reach their goals. The presentation of these six concepts in this course gives me a concise list of talking points as I counsel with my students. I am pleased to have the concise list!

LD in adults can be mistaken for other things because of the length of time they have not been in a formal school setting. Also, they have developed specific skills or various skills for their current or past jobs.  This made me aware that we need to know the condition(s) how they develop those skills and use that information to help them develop the skills needed to be successful, being in an Adult Education class.


  1. What kinds of significant intra-individual differences have you observed in the adults you’ve known?
  2. Do you think that any of these adults had a diagnosed LD?

I work with an adult incarcerated population. One particular student I have struggles in math computation. It takes him 5x as much time to "get" a lesson compared to the remainder of the class.

However, when he was out of prison, he was one of the best boat designers and manufacturers in my state. When we talked about his math struggles, he told me that he was diagnosed with LD

and thrown in a closet with the other MR students throughout High School.

Hi, Steven -

Thanks for your post.  Two things you said really resonated with me.  The idea that the learner you talk about was 'thrown in a closet with the other MR students...' is the first.  The harm done to students by K-12 special education is a significant obstacle that we face in adult education.  Hopefully situations like the one this man faced are chaning, but for him - and many others - it's an ongoing reality that we, as educators, have to help undo.  As anyone working with a learner like yours knows, it takes a lot of coaching and personal mentoring to undo the damage that's already been done.  I hope you're able to make progress with him, which brings me to the other comment you made.  This man's struggles with computation are very likely the result of a learning disability; however, even in that, he was able to demonstrate another talent with his spatial ability as a boat designer and manufacturer.  I wonder how he does with geometry, compared to computation, or whether he's ever even been shown geometry as a subject, since it's usually not introduced until after basic algebra.  Sometimes, it takes 'going out of order' to help learners like yours realize that they are ' book smart' too.  We all have areas where we struggle - LD or not - but we also have talents, which we need to help learners see, even and especially in the face of other challenges.  This is the work of 'undoing'. I'd be interested to hear more stories like this, and hope you find this course helps give you new perspectives and ideas on how to lead in this type of work.  Keep it up!

Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator