Specific Learning Disabilities [SLD] is a general term used in New Zealand to describe a range of learning difficulties experienced by people with average or above average overall intelligence. The term ‘dyslexia’ is most commonly used in the United Kingdom [UK], and the terms ‘Learning Disability’ [LD] and Reading Disability [RD] in the United States of America [USA]. Other frequently used terms include phonologically based reading disabilities [PRD], and ‘specific learning difficulties’ (historically used in Australia).
Individuals with specific learning disabilities means those who have a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological learning processes that involves difficulties in understanding or using language, spoken or written.
It will be reflected predominantly in difficulties in listening, thinking, speaking, reading, hand-writing, written language, spelling and/or maths.
It does no include learning difficulties that result from visual, hearing or motor impairment, low ability, economic, cultural or environmental disadvantage.
Specific Learning Disabilities can be attributed to:
- Faulty brain structures i.e., damage to an area or the interconnections between these.
- A lack of sensory stimulation leading to a lack of the development in corresponding inter-connections, i.e. phonological awareness deficits.
- Minor physical faults i.e. squints, high frequency hearing loss, leading to imperfect information and faulty processing.
Other factors that may combine to make learning difficult for so many children may include the following:
- Biochemical factors
Dr B Feingold investigated the chemical structure of food and its effect on the human body. He believes that the consumption of food additives, such as artificial food colouring and flavouring, and a child’s sensitivity to sugar, help to contribute to hyperactivity attention deficit which can cause Specific Learning Disabilities.
- Neurological irregularities
According to some researchers Specific Learning Disabilities can be a result of incomplete or interrupted neurological organisation in the child’s nervous system. Since the child’s neurological organisation is not complete, difficulties in learning occur.
It has been established that Specific Learning Disabilities are NOT caused by:
- Intellectual disability
- Deficit in the sense organs - Children with SLD are not usually visually or auditory impaired. They may need glasses or use a hearing aid but their difficulties in learning are not primarily caused by these physical defects.
- Environmental and emotional deprivation - A child living with substance, emotional and/or sexual abuse may be considered environmentally deprived, but is not necessarily a child with a Specific Learning Disability.
- Cultural or economic deprivation - A child living in an environment with few stimuli such as books, music or human contact may show some signs of having learning difficulties, but will usually respond well to learning opportunities following a change of environment.
- Other disabilities -The similarities and differences of children with aphasia, intellectual handicap, autism deafness, cerebral palsy and Specific Learning Disabilities is complex and must rest on a total overall view.
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