Learning disabilities is a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical skills. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across the life span. Problems in self-regulatory behaviors, social perception, and social interaction may exist with learning disabilities but do not, by themselves, constitute a learning disability.
Although learning disabilities may occur concomitantly with other disabilities (e.g., sensory impairment, mental retardation, serious emotional disturbance), or with extrinsic influences (such as cultural differences, insufficient or inappropriate instruction), they are not the result of those conditions or influences. (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, Learning Disabilities: Issues on Definition, January, 1990.)
General documentation guidelines listed in Appendix D of the USG Academic & Student Affairs Handbook.
Clear and specific identification of a learning disability must be stated. For example, the terms "Learning styles" or "Learning differences" are not synonymous with a learning disability.
Documentation of a developmental and educational history consistent with a learning disability.
Since the manifestations of a learning disability may change over the period of childhood and adolescence, documentation must reflect either data collected within the past three years or after the age of 18.
Information gained from standardized assessment instruments is one essential piece of the methodology used to diagnose learning disabilities. Therefore, documentation of learning disabilities must include standardized measures of academic achievement and cognitive processing abilities that have age-appropriate normative data for high school/college students or older adult non-traditional students. All standardized measures must be represented by standard scores and percentile ranks based on published norms.
Documentation of a functional limitation(s) in one or more of the following areas of academic achievement:
Documentation of relative strength(s) in academic achievement in order to establish the presence of a significant discrepancy between academic domains. The presence of a significant discrepancy will typically require a difference of one standard deviation between scores. However, qualified professionals may use other widely accepted metrics for documenting a significant difference between two scores (e.g., standard error of measurement).
Documentation that alternative explanations for the academic limitation(s) have been considered and ruled out (e.g., low cognitive ability, lack of adequate instruction, emotional factors such as anxiety or depression).
Documentation of a pattern of cognitive processing weaknesses and strengths that is associated in a meaningful way with the identified area(s) of academic limitation.
Both processing weaknesses and processing strengths must be identified and must represent a significant discrepancy between cognitive domains. The presence of a significant discrepancy will typically require a difference of one standard deviation between scores. However, qualified professionals may document a significant difference between two scores using other widely accepted metrics (e.g., standard error of measurement).
Processing weaknesses and strengths must be evident on multiple measures and not based on a single discrepant score on an individual test or subtest. Cognitive Processing Skills (selection dependent upon case) include the following:
Documentation that alternative explanations for the cognitive limitation(s) have been considered and ruled out (e.g., low cognitive ability, lack of adequate instruction, emotional factors such as anxiety or depression).
These guidelines are intended to guide the review of documentation and cannot substitute for the expertise and clinical judgment of a qualified professional. Failure to fully meet each of the above criteria does not automatically preclude a diagnosis of learning disabilities. In some circumstances, this diagnosis may be justified, based on an expert's integration of a student's history, test performance, and current functioning.
Learn more about documentation requirements on the Documentation Criteria 101 page.