There are fourteen distinct disability categories where school-aged children may need additional educational services. They include autism, deaf blindness, deafness, developmental delay, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic or acquired brain injury and visual impairment.
Within the category of specific learning disability are listed four sub-categories of neurological differences/diversities. Dyslexia is identified as one of the sub-categories. The term specific learning disability is described as a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language and/or using concepts through verbal or written language. This also includes nonverbal means, such as thinking and listening. The unintended consequences of having a specific learning disability include deficits in memory, processing of information, reading, writing, spelling, calculation, social competence, emotional maturity, coordination, attention and communication.
The term learning disability is not a specific term; rather, it describes “specific” disabilities, all of which cause learning to be difficult. Federal law describes specific learning disabilities as disorders that are perceptual disabilities, brain injuries, minimal brain dysfunctions, dyslexia or developmental aphasia. Although most educational specialists/therapists acknowledge dyslexia as a learning disability, school districts get to decide which term to use —“dyslexia” or “specific learning disability”— when determining eligibility for special education services and/ or accommodations.
Some school districts prefer to define a learning disability based upon actual identifiable symptoms. For them, the term specific learning disability is too vague when designing an appropriate Individual Education Plan (IEP). If an evaluation identifies dyslexia signs or symptoms, then the child is dyslexic, and a generic term of specific learning disability would not describe this fact.
Others prefer to use the term specific learning disability, and believe the umbrella term covers similar evaluation procedures, educational therapies and support. This is problematic when designing an educational plan for a dyslexic student, as it will, in most cases, lack specific educational therapies and goals that help dyslexic students learn.