What is a learning disability?

Learning Disabilities can affect how a person interprets, remembers, understands and expresses information. Learning disabilities refers to a number of disorders that affect individuals of potentially average to above average intelligence by interfering with the central nervous system and its ability to process information. Living with a learning disability can have an ongoing impact on friendships, school, work, self-esteem and daily life. People with learning disabilities can succeed when solid coping skills and strategies are developed.

Learning disabilities results from impairments in one or more processes related to perceiving, thinking, remembering or learning. These include, but are not limited to: language processing, phonological processing, visual spatial processing, processing speed, memory and attention, and executive functions (e.g. planning and decision -making).

Learning disabilities can range in severity and may interfere with the acquisition and use of one or more of the following:

  • Oral language (e.g. listening, speaking, understanding);
  • Reading ( e.g. decoding, phonetic knowledge, word recognition, comprehension);
  • Written language (e.g. spelling and written expression); and mathematics (e.g. computation, problem solving)

Learning Disabilities are lifelong. The way in which they are expressed may vary over an individual’s lifetime, depending on the interaction between the demands of the environment and the individual’s strengths and needs. Learning disabilities are suggested by unexpected under-achievement or achievement which is maintained only by unusually high levels of effort and support.


Learning Disabilities are not uncommon by any means. In fact, approximately 10% of Canadians have a learning disability. This number translates loosely into approximately 3 million Canadians. The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada is currently reviewing the statistics in order to make sound policy and programming recommendations and decisions. For further information, on Canadian Statistics, please see the Putting a Canadian Face on Learning Disabilities (PACFOLD) project on the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada web site. http://www.ldac-taac.ca
For success, individuals with learning disabilities require early identification and timely specialized assessments and interventions involving home, school, community and workplace settings. The interventions need to be appropriate for each individual’s learning disability subtype and, at a minimum include the provision of:

  • Specific skill instruction,
  • Accommodation
  • Compensatory strategies
  • Self-advocacy skills

The Official Definition of Learning Disabilities – Adopted by the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, January 30, 2002

To view the Demystifying Learning Disabilities document click here.
To view the Understanding Learning Disabilities document click here.