These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate average to above- average thinking and/or reasoning abilities. As such, learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual disability.
The LDAC (2002) definition states learning disabilities result from impairment 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 are life-long. 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 academic underachievement or achievement that is maintained only by unusually high levels of effort and support (LDAC, 2002).
Learning disabilities have been difficult to define in school-age children and, generally, the label refers to what children are not. They are not intellectually, hearing or visually impaired, nor do they have any identifiable neurological problem such as cerebral palsy (LDAC, 2002).
“I remember how it feels to be put down, over and over again, because I could not spell-and I hated to write. I also remember how it feels to fail, although hard work in school and constant help from tutors gradually brought me success in learning” (adult learner Nosek, 1997)
There is greater recognition and acceptance of learning disabilities in most Canadian provinces in school-aged children than there has been in the past. However, many adults are undiagnosed and their learning disability unidentified. Challenges faced by adults are often considered to be related to other characteristics such as lack of intelligence, poor attitudes and in some cases psychiatric problems, rather than the disability itself (LDAC, 2001).
Adults with learning disabilities are often clients of literacy programs. LDAC (2001) reports that frequently adults are not aware of the learning disability they may have or, in contrast, they may be the only ones who are. Enrollment in an adult literacy program often provides the first hint that they may have some problems beyond inadequate education. Many have developed extraordinary coping strategies to mask their disability and assist functioning in areas they experience difficulties. Still others simply cannot cope.