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? 


  1. LD persist across the life span.
  2. LD may occur in combination with other disabling conditions, but they are not due to other conditions.

I am in instructional assistant, and have only been working with ABE for about 18 months. I also have a 17 year old son who is on the Autism Spectrum and has been diagnosed with ADHD, depression, and anxiety. Since I am not always actively working with students, I can observe them more and share my feedback with the teacher. I feel the majority of our students, especially our older students, were either not diagnosed or under-diagnosed with some form of LD. 

  1. What additional insight do you now have about what it means for an individual to have LD?
  2. How might the information you learned in this module affect your work with adults?

Older adult students are more often diagnosed with LD as a result of limited understanding of LD in decades past.

As teachers and assistants, we need to learn more than one way to teach a subject.

Additional insights I have about what it means for an individual to have LD are:1. Allows me as a facilitator to be better prepared to serve these individuals; and (2) enables me to have additional resources to help adults where needed.

The information I learned will help me identify and diagnose the major areas in which the students are struggling and get the necessary help they need.

Consensus statement #3 regarding intra-individual differences, is most relevant to my teaching position. My students are adults preparing for their high school equivalency test. For various reasons they did not complete high school. All of them exhibit different strengths and weaknesses in their learning abilities. I taught high school biology for 30 years, so I have developed ways to compensate for Intra-individual differences in successful high school students. However, in dealing with adult learners, I have discovered that all of them have multiple issues that have affected, and are currently affecting, their ability to learn. This requires a wide variety of teaching methodologies and activities. This course has helped to clarify some of these issues.

My pre-course definition of LD was incorrect. I defined LD as someone who had an IEP or states that they have trouble learning. Through this course I have learned that LD is more specific and my concept is actually called learning difficulties. These learning difficulties may be overcome and not persist throughout their lifespan. Also these learning difficulties may not show up on an IQ test. My teaching style will not focus on a definition. I account for individual differences that occur in all adult learners.

 The Consensus Statements that most affect my work with Adult ESL students are:  that LD is intrinsic to the individual, LD's show intra-individual differences in skills and abilities, and LD is evident across cultures, ethnicities, language, and economic groups.  The third is rather obvious since my students are refugees and immigrants from all over the world and speak different languages and have a vast variety of previous educational experiences from Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) to adults who have received high school and some college degrees to students with no educational experience at all.  Some of my students can speak their language but have no written language and some are not literate in their own language.  These bring about challenges in and of themselves however, in my experiences I have noticed some students who have difficulty after years of learning and I can see that they have developed skills in other areas of their life where they are successful but in their ability to learn to speak and read and write in English is close to impossible.  I am also thinking of two particular students who show possible Learning Disabilities that are intrinsic to their own learning.  The challenge for me is to find the best accommodations and and ways in which I can help them to at least learn survival english. 


Hi, Lorraine - 

Thanks for sharing your experience working with this unique population.  Being an English Language Learners (ELL) can have many influences on how learners present in a classroom, and how teachers need to consider whether challenges are part of the language learning process, or a learning disability.  I wonder if you can share more about the two students you mention who "show possible Learning Disabilities that are intrinsic to their own learning."?  It would be good to share this conversation with our AELL community members to see what best practices they have for working with similar learners.


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator 

I have a better insight to LD and the 6 Consensus Statements make a great deal of sense to me.  I've applied these statements to my own learning, my children's learning, and to my students learning.  In a perfect situation I can see how strategies put into place to assist a learner on how to fortify their learning disability however, I find it terribly difficult in an Adult ESL class to address a learning disability.  It seems to me that it would need to be addressed in the learners native language and then that learner would need individual intensive time to learn a new language. The problem of course are resources to accommodate this.

I can relate the information from this article into my classroom. The students in my classroom have a variety of learning challenges and I agree with with the concept of the Instructor needing to find the right mode in which to reach the student.  Many times I have watched as simply changing the method in which you deliver the information to the student can help that student retain what the instructor wanted the student to understand.

The LD definition has clarified my understanding of what some of my students may be experiencing while learning English as a second language. I am going to use special strategies to facilitate their learning. I wish we had the opportunity to assess LD in adult education. How can we diagnose specific LDs? This still remains a problem in my daily instruction.

I'm going through the module and I must make a comment.

In the adult education program where I work, it is not possible to assess if someone is LD or not.  It is my understanding that to make such a determination credible testing must be done.  Our program has neither the funds or access to such services.

To date, I have had the privilege of teaching about 90-100 adults English from several countries both immigrants and refugees.  I have had students who were doctors and students whose native language does not have a written component.  Of all the students I have had to date only 4-6 may have had a true learning disability (LD).

These 4 students had little or no experience with any formal education in their home country. Of those only, 3 were male between the ages of 18 and 50. And the fourth was a female age, 50+ who did not appear to retain and remember much of my reading/writing instruction.

One male student dropped out of the program rather quickly due to personal problems outside of the classroom and another left due to illness.  The elderly lady moved to another state.  The last male has missed many classes because of demands from his employer. Instead of worrying about a student being LD or not I focus much more about how to make their English lessons interesting and also portable for the student. 

How? I make very short videos using the student's cell phones of the reading/writing/American pronunciation lesson or skill I want the student to practice. I also have created a private YouTube channel that holds recorded lessons for students to review as many times as they like that can only be accessed in my classroom on the classroom's computer.  I always spend time with the student before they watch one of my Youtube videos. They seem to like 'Lisa live' as well as 'Lisa-in-a-box.' 

When I am able to, I also make a short 2-3 minute video on the student's cell phone for review of a lesson or skill at home; usually for homework. The few students that I have done this for seem to recall the information presented in that lesson better. The videos are deleted before new ones are added to prevent maxing out their phone's memory. Of the 4 students mentioned earlier, only the elderly female did not have a cell phone.

I hope this satisfies the requirement for the module and the scope of this group.

Hi, Lisa -

Thank you for this very thoughtful post from your work with learners. I'm grateful to you for sharing an experience that I think many members can relate to in their classes.  You're right that the process of identifying LD in learners requires both time and money.  Many programs don't have the financial resources, and/or consistency in student attendance, to complete this process.  Despite this reality, knowing the indicators that suggest a possible LD diagnosis can help teachers think about ways to accommodate struggling learners. 

You provided some fantastic examples of accommodations that are responsive to your learners' needs, and the realities of your program.  Thank you for sharing these examples of what can be done to support learners, when more formal identification isn't possible.  


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator

I am working right now with a high functioning autistic man.  He is a great reader but has trouble understanding some of the "jokes" in the book we are reading together.  I find it very helpful to use the computer images when trying to explain something that he doesn't understand.  I also believe I have adults in my classroom who have not been tested for learning disabilities and because of this I find we are working very hard at trying to find the right learning style for them to retain and stay focused on what is to be learned.  

I find it interesting and would like to do some of my own research on LD and depression.  It is very interesting to me that all but one of my adult ed students have disclosed they have severe depression and or anxiety.  

This course was very informative.  It really is too bad that because LD can not be observed it, at times, goes unnoticed.  I can't imagine how many adults have figured out how to live and learn because no one diagnosed them with a Learning Disability when they were younger.  I am definitely going to be more aware of how my students learn.  What they struggle with and how I may need to switch up some of my teaching strategies.  I am also going to ask more questions about their history at schools.  

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

I teach in the lowest level ABE courses. My students are on a Pre-k to 1st grade level. Some of my students have been coming to school here for over 20 years never moving in to a higher educational level. Each student has very special abilities and disabilities. Some are able to great conversations with me, but unable to write without difficulty. Others hardly speak, but can communicate through written skill levels. We started using Ipads in our class about a year ago and this one tool has significantly helped wit students gain skills in technology, recognition of pictures and words.

I struggle with finding resources to keep them learning at their level while also having fun. Most resources I have found require some reading capabilities, my students cannot read at all.

As an ABE low instructor I often wonder what my students disabilities actually are. We are not allowed to have access to any of their medical situations (Diagnosis as autism, brain injury, down syndrome etc.) or past school records or tests. Although some are visually obvious several are not. The only type of testing we have access to is their TABE and CASAS scores. I would like to know more about how this information about disabilities in this module pours over into the classroom. What are  other instructors doing to meet students at their LD level and also how did they find out what their LD is?

Many people with varying intellectual disabilities also have learning disabilities. It would be refreshing to have a group for just this type of specific classes where we could share ideas and effective lesson plans.

Hi, Ashley -

Thanks for commenting on your experience as an ABE Low Instructor.  Regarding your comment that you're " not allowed to have access to any of their medical situations, diagnosis...", this is most likely because the student has either not disclosed their disability to anyone at intake, or because they have disclosed, but chosen not to share that information with some, or all, instructors.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the individual's decision to disclose, and to whom, is solely up to their discretion.  We can leave space open for learners to disclose, but there's nothing that can be shared with instructors, unless the client shares it directly with you, or gives express, written consent for others to share on their behalf.  

The best examples I have seen are when programs use registration as an addition opportunity for learners to disclose.  Often programs may only ask at initial intake, when learners might be reluctant to share that information.  Providing a routine of prompting at registration gives learners options to re-consider their willingness to share this information once they have made connections in the program.  You might also want to check with your program management about the expectations of learners who disclose.  In some cases, the learner may have to give express consent for their information to be shared with you, or they may have to personally share it with individual instructors.  Knowing your program's policy may also help you keep open communication with learners who have disclosed to program management, but have not yet opened that conversation with you personally.  In the end, staying neutral and open to learners' disclosure is often the best advice.   

I'm hoping colleagues who have had similar experiences might share those with us.  I also appreciate your comment on wanting to have a space to share ideas and lesson plans for working with learners with LD, and/or ID.   I'm curious if this is a need that others feel would benefit from a sub-group within this community?  If so, I encourage you to voice those requests, so we can consider options for the future.


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes    


I have definitely observed intra-individual differences in my students.  At the time, I wasn't sure if it was a language barrier or other cause.  Most of them have been able to express their thoughts, but struggled with writing those thoughts in complete sentences/paragraphs.  They were also adults who had been obviously overlooked and not diagnosed as having an LD.

To piggyback off my own comment above, and to reflect on all 6 consensus statements, here are the three statements that I have had an experience with in my classroom and among my coworkers:

  1. Individuals with LD show intra-individual differences in skills and abilities.
  2. LD persist across the life span.
  3. LD may occur in combination with other disabling conditions, but they are not due to other conditions.

These three statements have affected how I develop my lesson plans (to include accommodations) and how I approach project completion with fellow coworkers.

This module has helped me to be able to identify LD in my students and coworkers better.  This will affect the way I develop accommodations in my lesson plans, how I can now seek assistance for un-diagnosed LD learners in my classes, and how I can work with adults who may be LD (and not know it or share that information).

I have seen first hand students struggling with LD. At first it seemed that those students did not care about the class or learning, they were completely oblivious to everything that we discussed as a group. But when I learned that their lack of motivation had a neurological disorder attached to it, it enabled me to immediately change gears and help them achieve a passing grade and modify lesson plans for their sake.

I've posted my answers to the other activities in this module elsewhere but in terms of what I've learned in this module and how it will affect my work with my adult students, it will do so in many ways. Most of my experience with learning disabilities deals with students in elementary ages, but what this module has taught me is that the same concepts that apply in those situations can similarly be applied to my adult students. 

I'm no sure if I'm supposed to post here again, but I'm trying to follow directions. Primarily, what I learned through the study of these two guiding questions is that the knowledge that I gained and used to serve my elementary age students can simply be applied to my adult students as the underlying concepts and research are essentially the same. 

My math class has an excellent example of two students who both have a significant difference among distinct but related abilities in mathematics and writing. One student is extremely strong in solving word problems, and can translate the word problem into mathematical problem form effectively, but cannot calculate accurately and misses these problems in frustration. He also struggles greatly in writing, and avoids reading whenever possible because he struggles with comprehension. Another student writes sentences well, but she cannot calculate a basic multiplication problem placed in front of her because she cannot retain the memorized multiplication tables that she studied the night before, and loses her place in the math process to solve the problem by getting distracted searching for the times tables answer to plug in to the actual problem. Both these students have at least a two level gain differential in skill and task achievement, illustrating the possible presence of a learning disability.

I was already familiar with the IQ/Achievement Model, where standardized IQ tests are used to create an ability baseline, against which normed assessment test scores are compared. Different tests have different standard deviations, and generally there is a two-standard-deviation gap between ability and achievement scores that was historically used to legally certify the existence of the LD condition for students. But due to the proliferation of IQ testing options in the last 20 years, significant differences between states in terms of what quantitatively and qualitatively constituted a legitimate “learning gap” to justify the LD label and the funded services which came with it became inconsistent across states. What I had not been exposed to was the RTI (response to intervention) model, which has the advantages of eliminating the wasted time of proving the “gap” described above, and allowing for the quicker and more intensified provision of support services at an earlier point in the child’s development, thereby maximizing the identification and improvement of a child’s LD condition. I am glad this now a legal option, and am eager to learn more about it.


I teach literacy, and I know I have 3 students who were diagnosed with LD in school, and I have one who is Autistic. Of the others in my class, two display characteristics of LD. One has characteristics, but is a recovering drug addict, which I suspect is the cause of her symptoms. Another who has symptoms, had a neck injury at work which also affected his thinking abilities according to his doctors.  A third has many symptons, but is an elderly adult who had no diagnosis in school and dropped out at an early age. These students are a mixture of races and social-economic backgrounds. When looking at the work these students can do, the ability to retain information from one class to the next is the biggest challenge. They learn skills best it I use a variety of learning styles and many hands on activities. 

Based on the students in my class, the LD ruling that those who came from K-12 learning to Adult Education shows that the diagnosis is valid and on going throughout their lives. They display many differences in abilities within the skills we work on. They are varied in learning styles and in the ability to retain knowledge gained.

  • LD cannot be easily observed.
  • How LD are defined affects funding for many different organizations.
  • How LD are defined affects access to services for many different individuals.
  • The field’s understanding of LD has changed over time.

I work with students with disabilities. They all learn in different ways and finding what works for each student takes time and effort. This lesson gave me some insight and made me think outside the box to better serve my students. 

Learning disabilities are evident across ethnic, cultural,language and economic groups. I have found there are learning disabilities in ELL students that are more difficult to determine due to communication barriers.

Would like more information on RtI. As I don't understand how student are determine to participate in the process. Also with the adult learner, how to determine if it is a learning disability?

Hi, Claudia-

Thanks for sharing your post!  There is a lot of great info on RTI if you're interested.  The Learning to Achieve (L2A) courses in the LINCS Learning Portal give a good overview, and more details if you go on to take other courses.  You might also check out the RTI Action Network, which has an RTI-Based SLD Identification Toolkit that will help you to think through that process.  As for determining a learning disability, this is something that can only be done through a formal evaluation process by a psychologist.  There are numerous informal inventories that educators can, and should, use to help screen for learning difficulties, but a full psychological evaluation is required for an official diagnosis.  This can be a challenge for adult learners, and programs where there isn't a psychologist on staff able to complete an evaluation to determine a disability.  State vocational rehabilitation services, Veteran's Affairs, and some social and human services programs provide these psychological evaluations for learners in need.  Your adult education program manager might be able to provide you with a list of potential referral sources.   

Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator 

One example I have of a LD in an adult learning that fits with consensus #3 'Individuals with LD show intra-individual differences in skill and ability is: An adult learner who struggles with math seriously and with some reading skills.  This individual exhibited this at an early age and although did get through grade school without to much difficult and some accommodations; moving on to high school and higher level learning where he had to work more independently revealed the problem to be on-going and more brain related.  In elementary school there was much group work, reading aloud etc. and the individual relied on this, he could process the work and retain the answers and information, but later when left to access the material on his own could not do it.  If this person had something read to him, he could repeat it almost completely and discuss it with full understanding, he had even developed good writing skills but he could not get the same results with reading on his own.  With math it was even more difficult, he could not really retain the information learned past very basic math skills, like recognizing numbers and adding or subtracting simple numbers, he could memorize multiplication facts but could not do a multiplication problem on paper.  As an adult this person is a successful motivational speaker and counselor and has learned to take advantage of modern tools such as audio books; text aloud; etc. and dictating programs to help in his career as his disabilities continue , they have not limited him from being successful. 

There are several things I learned in this module.  I, being a math/science person appreciate that LD is supported by scientific and neurological evidence.  The consensus statement that I experience most often with my higher level GED students is that students with LD often show intra-individual differences in skills and abilities according to different subjects.  Often, students who have LD in Math, will have much higher scores in Reading and Language or vise versa. Big discrepancies in scores of different subjects are often indicators that something is amiss.

There are two implications from this training that come to my mind.  Because LD persists over a life span, it it extremely important for individuals with LD to learn how they best learn.  I as a teacher need to make sure that I am teaching LD students strategies to help them learn things in the future.  Also, the Response to Intervention model shows that all students can benefit from high quality instruction, and that students don't have to have LD to receive that type of instruction.

My experience with adults in economically depressed areas is that they are vastly unidentified or under-identified. Many times they do not want the identification due to real or perceived discrimination. They may even discriminate against themselves with the things they have heard or think about their LD. Sometimes, I have found myself being quite subversive in my unorthodox "testing" techniques. Most of my time has been spent in workforce education and I know how hard they have worked to keep their LD a "secret". The last thing they want is to be exposed as "stupid." UGH! Biggest hurdle... ego. Can't say I blame them, after working 2 years in self-contained sped for 3rd-5th graders. Most of our egos still hang out there somewhere in middle school. 

So I show computer "short cuts" use "manipulatives" and allow varying methods of exhibiting mastery. Does any of this help with computer-based learning or testing? Maybe...

I just hope we do not get so far away from student centered learning into technology that it is so student centered, no one is learning. Scary

It is essential that a student be self-aware of their individual weakness so that they can address those areas and target them with practices and strategies to enhance their learning experience.

It is essential that a student be self-aware of their individual weakness so that they can address those areas and target them with practices and strategies to enhance their learning experience.

It is essential that a student be self-aware of their individual weakness so that they can address those areas and target them with practices and strategies to enhance their learning experience.

This course has been very interesting. I teach ABE/ASE at an Adult Education center. I don't know if we have any students with "true" learning disabilites, however, we seem to have plenty of students with learning deficits. Many students struggle with a wide variety of reading challenges. We read out load and discuss the material as much as possible in class. 

   I learned some additional insights about what it means for an individual to have a LD.  I learned that LD is not easily observed. Many adults have developed skills to compensate for their LD, so that is less noticeable. Another thing that  learned is that LD is found in all socio-economic levels and cultural communities.  I plan to more closely observe students' oral expressions, listening and reading comprehension, and  written expression.   Completing this module will help me to be more sensitive to adults who may have a learning disability.

1. The Accommodations Types were organized in a way I have not seen before.: Response, Scheduling, and Setting.

I think the concept of Universal Design would be a good one for me to consider. Though creating a universal design will be time consuming and lots of work, I think it will be very effective.

I think the Setting Accommodations, for instruction, would be the easiest for me to implement.

2. Video instructional programs have been the most effective for my students. These programs guide and move the student along in a chronological order and keeps them on track and moving at a reasonable pace.