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? 


Not all schools or school systems have the same resources. Students with disabilities are not always identified until high school.

Teaching 60hour adult ESOL classes, I felt it was the student's responsibility to learn - They signed up for the class, so they need to do the homework, and participate in class. However, after reading L2A: Definitions of Learning Disabilities, I realize that it's also my responsibility to investigate more closely as to why a student hasn't submitted a writing assignment, why he/she never volunteers to read, why he/she is not participating in group activities. While I'm aware of different learning styles and have adjusted lessons accordingly, my program has resources to accommodate those with LDs, so I need to ensure the students with LDs get the assistance they need from me and our program in order to be successful. Thank you!

The  base challenge seems to be that LD may be invisible to students and teachers/family alike for years and/or a lifetime.  As adult students must self-disclose they also must be exposed to the information that will help them to self-evaluate.  They must de-clutter from all the times they were told they were a bad student, stupid or just bad at math before they can look at themselves clearly.

  • Share examples of matching work environments to individual strengths from your experiences working with adults. Disclaimer: This is not from my experience working with adults, but from my acquaintance with a hairdressing salon owner. The 50-something owner is dyslexic, and runs two businesses. She said that in her childhood she had been diagnosed with dyslexia and then coached in something called speed reading. She still uses it, and is successful in running her businesses.
  • Share examples of matching work environments to individual strengths from your experiences working with adults. Disclaimer: This is not from my experience working with adults, but from my acquaintance with a hairdressing salon owner. The 50-something owner is dyslexic, and runs two businesses. She said that in her childhood she had been diagnosed with dyslexia and then coached in something called speed reading. She still uses it, and is successful in running her businesses.

Both ADHD and Dyslexia are brain-based, and both are life-long, yet it appears that dyslexia qualifies as a Learning Disability and ADHD does not. Why is this? Thanks.

Hi, Bonnie -

Thanks for your comment and question.  You're right that the course distinguishes between ADHD and Dyslexia, noting that the first is a learning disability and the latter is not.  I had the same question at first. 

The Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) defines ADHD as, "a disorder that includes difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior and hyperactivity."  They go on to point out that,  "although ADHD is not considered a learning disability, research indicates that from 30-50 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability, and that the two conditions can interact to make learning extremely challenging."

I've heard it explained that other learners (the 50-70 percent who experience ADHD without an accompanying learning disability) don't experience issues with processing visual/written or auditory information.  Therefore, it's not a learning disability.  I've also heard that ADHD is more treatable through medication, which also distinguishes it from learning disabilities, which are not.

I'm curious what others have been told and will share your question in the main thread of the Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes group to see what other responses are out there.

Thanks again for your post!


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator  

I’m currently working with a Puerto Rican with dyslexia coming from a poor school system with no LD assistance programs and a Brooklyn man who left school at 8 because of violence in the classroom. PTSD plays a role in both students lives as well as dyslexia and memory problems. They have developed strong coping skills to overcome there illiteracy such as mimicry and diversion. They are reciting difficult postal vocabulary such as 114th, have written a children’s story, and try to read and understand the dmv drivers manual using pictures and real life examples. Neither has very good health insurance so delving into mri images is least likely to happen. There main interests are for survival skills and this will heavily influence my lesson plans now and in the future.

Working with adults with undiagnosed LD is challenging.  Using our best judgement and accommodations can help them in the classroom but in a high stakes testing situations without approved accommodations fails them and leads to more frustrations. Low income and undocumented learners do not have easy access to approval for accommodations.

The RtI assessment model was new to me. I wonder how it will affect the testing for LD that we access through our state's rehab programs?

With the student population I work with, I believe that intra-individual differences and across the life span are the two most relevant. I could also make a case for 5 and 6 as well. When I am given a student with an IEP and LD is 'diagnosed', I often times find that they have a wide range of strengths and weaknesses depending on the subject. I have a 65 year old woman who reads and loves to read a lot however has a communication disability and finds it hard to always find the word she needs in a sentence. She can as well be an example of #4. She is 65 and has the same issues as she did in elementary school. She also reports they give her the same frustration. I also have a 22 year old with LD, and he is very articulate and socially aware but when given comprehension skills he can not perform. He also reports that it has been the same way since he began school and the reason for his lifelong frustration. He is aware he learns differently and will even let you know.

Just knowing the clear defintion of the LD and the 6 consensus is helpful. I found it interesting the percentage differences in students diagnosed and serviced and that difference has to be due to the testing. I am a data person and appreciated seeing the difference in the brains of LD and not LD.  It will affect my teaching hopefully in the understanding of the struggles that have been lifelong and how to talk to students about compensating for them. Hopefully, I can help build a bridge to help build the weak areas.

As educators we need to think outside of our own intellectual box. We must look at each individual student as a separate entity and proceed as such. Each individual learns differently and understands concepts differently. There are many variables that contribute to how a student learns as well as retains information. We must get to know each student and eliminate our own biases.

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

LD are neurologically based and intrinsic to the individual.

Over the years of working in an ABE classroom, I have seen students come with very limited awareness of their learning disability.  They often think there is just something wrong with them and feel very discouraged by consistent past academic failures.  Since accurate diagnosis of a learning disability is difficult to obtain, ABE teachers have to accept and validate the strengths and weaknesses of each student.  We celebrate the successes and help students accommodate for the weaknesses.  We can help them become more aware of their abilities and better able to advocate for themselves.




An an Administrative Assistant, these definitions will prove beneficial in identifying behaviors that may indicate an applicant may have a learning disability prior to any testing sessions. 

Having read the information, I wonder how many adult learners have not been successful in long term employment due to "undiagnosed LD" in the work environment.  Some students seem to constantly be either quitting or losing a job. The cycle seems to continue.  It points to the possible need for the classroom teacher to spend time helping students think about what they like to do, have an interest in, etc. and matching that info with possible future employment.

There is a lot to think about in this course.  I have often told students who question why so and so is "getting it" more rapidly than he/she, that folks have learning differences.  This stresses the need for me to have a classroom environment that is welcoming, non-judgmental, and equipped with a variety of materials to address the learning needs of students.  I can't provide neurological testing, but the suggestion of university students who might need to do case studies was an interesting concept. Another issue again is cost related I imagine, but there is definitely a need for "culturally and linguistically appropriate tests." I have wondered more than once why an ESL learner was struggling so, but have never had an ESL learner provide information re.  any type of IQ test or any type of achievement test in K-12.  Many of my ESL learners came to the US with little formal education so is that the cause or is it undiagnosed LD? Food for thought.

I choose the concept of LD is valid and is supported by strong converging evidence. This is especially important because not everyone thinks that learning disabilities are valid, which they are. This course has helped me with being able to explain how and why a learning disability is valid. This is relevant to my administrative assistant position because I do intake and I explain why it is important to know about a learning disability. I also have personal experience with my younger brother that has a learning disability. This course helped me be able to understand some of the struggles he deals with daily.

This reflection activity cannot be properly done due to the nature of my work.  I have had clients admit to having learning disabilities- diagnosed or not; however, since my time with them is very short, there is little opportunity to explore them.  For those who say they are dyslexic or had reading problems, I offered overlays to help them read  but I cannot give them an accurate assessment.

Though I understand that LD are real neurological differences, I am not experienced or trained to help much except by using accommodations I used in the public school classroom or as a SpEd aide.

I agree with all of the consensus statements but, at this point, I am still unsure how best to help my clients.

I have been opposed in the past with regard to testing.  I have seen diagnoses in lower grades be used to label and student and become the excuse for the teacher as to why the student doesn't perform well in the classroom instead of seeing it as a tool to inform teaching techniques.  

As a teacher of adults in English Language Acquisition, I have had difficulty distinguishing LD from cultural issues and lack of education in their home country.  This course has given me food for thought on how to better equip myself to assist my students.

I have always viewed a person's behavior as statement(s) of what is really going on with them - an amplification, if you will, of what they say with their words.  Taking this further, I will consider the impact of a learning disability on how they greet and treat assignments.  This is to insure that I am not putting a student "on the spot" by asking them to perform in a way that is negatively impacted by a possible learning disability.

What I have learned in this course is more difficult to apply in our current on-line learning environment than it is in the classroom.  I shall have to consider carefully how to apply these concepts in the "two-dimensional" environment in which I currently teach.

My husband is dyslexic and was never diagnosed during his school years.  He does not read for pleasure as it is still a struggle for him.  This makes me quite sad as reading is one of my great pleasures.  I truly feel the same way about those in my classes for whom reading is a struggle.  I intend to explore resources for those in this situation.

LD are evident across ethnic, cultural, language, and economic groups.

I think it is important to realize and accept that LD occurs at every status--ethnic, cultural, language, and economical. Accepting this affords leaders in education to create an environment that will serve everyone.

LD students are not always aware that they have a disability. LD are not easy to diagnose but can still be determined an adult age. It is important that we instill the confidence and support to encourage the student to reach out for assistance in finding a way to overcome struggles with encouragement. This course has helped me see that students have baggage too. An as an instructor it is my job to help them unload the bag.

Although I have been working with adults with learning disabilities for only 6 or 7 months, it is easy to see that each has unique strengths and weaknesses. Some are strong in reading, and very low in math. Some exhibit strong comprehension skills, put struggle to put their words into writing. I have one student in particular who has strong comprehension and metacognitive skills, yet has difficulty reading and then retaining the information in a very short paragraph. This variety within a single reading class can make planning challenging.

I have found over the years in education that cost is a barrier to diagnosis of learning problems.  This is especially true for immigrant adults not yet citizens of the United States.  Most adult ed teachers will share their suspicion of learning disabilities in students.  They will also share their frustration from lack of convenient and affordable  resources for testing these students

Being old enough to have observed people with disabilities progress from childhood to adulthood, I can attest this statement is true.  Some adults adult life choices to fit their learning strength, instead of being frustrated and unsuccessful with choices that require strength where they are lacking. 

This course refreshed my memory regarding disabilities in adults.  It agave me some directions to look for help for them.  Also, some collaboration has happened with other teachers regarding strength we have in teaching students with LD.  I am able to address math learning problems better than in other areas of my teaching.  In those areas, I have found other teachers who have met some of my challenges.  Teachers helping teachers is a great module to use.

I think that alot of adults have learned to compensate for their LD.  The GED test tends to "catch" them becasue (esp the reading) is worded differently than they are accustomed to.  I have had a couple students say that they could read and understand but those questions were worded strangely.  We worked on just doing examples so they knew what each question was asking.


Individuals with LD show intra-individual differences in skills and abilities. I have observed this with individuals. It's important to recognize the strengths and challenges and provide appropriate support.

LD persists across the life span. They certainly can if not addressed early. I have seen strategies put in place at an early age that help an individual be successful.


In my ABE classes, several adult learners over the years have disclosed being in an LD classroom in school. although it can be a challenge to serve these students, there's usually some progress because of the lack of pressure to perform in any =set way. Alot of the time, I think I perceive LD issues with many, if not most, of my students. I've never had a course in special education so I've never really learned strategies or procedures to help the LD student. But I do know that the issues are there. This is one of the reasons I'm taking this learn to better help those who really need a different approach.

With LD being persist across the life span, I know the struggle must be very difficult for the learner. Imagine experiencing this throughout ones life. Perhaps, it has caused a low self-esteem and caused you to loose hope in your future. I hope this course will share ideas to help make learning a success at all levels. Everyone deserves to feel like they are achieving. 

Individuals with LD show intra-individual differences in skills and abilities. LD can include such a broad range of abilities. The practice of finding the students' weaknesses and strengths and going from there to set goals is great. It will allow the students to see growth and develop self-confidence. In addition, it will allow doors of opportunity to open and their success rate much greater. 

The two questions most relevant to me were #3 and #5.  I have worked with a client with LD diagnosis and another with FAS.  Both demonstrated learning challenges.  Both had LD, but because to diagnose is so intra-individualized, the second person presented with many other conditions, LD was not included.  Very interested definition.  I am enlightened by this course.

Learning Disability is a disorder that is unique to each affected individual and any instructor should focus intently on their differences to find their learning path.  This will help me as I attempt to help others based on their presentation without grouping.  Teaching someone with a learning disorder requires a patient focused instructor.

Sometimes, an adult can benefit from accommodations such as being given extra time to complete a task in class or at home. Response to intervention can be measured by noting whether the student can become more successful in learning and retaining information. It is beneficial for all students to repeat oral and visual short instructions when discussing what is to be retained.

It is necessary to keep in mind that some students may not have ever attended formal school at all in their native country. It is also important to establish whether the student experienced learning difficulties while in their own country. Students with LD's turn into adults with LD's.