Learning Disorders: Beyond Dyslexia


Learning disabilities (LD) – the unexpected academic difficulties experienced by many otherwise typically developing persons – are highly heterogeneous in nature. Thus, while at the academic level 80–90% of individuals with LD suffer from poor reading fluency and/or accuracy, at the cognitive level multiple processes are implicated including language, attention, perception and memory. Similarly, at the biological level many brain systems and processes are affected. In the auditory system alone, individuals with LD were shown to process sound abnormally at all levels of the auditory pathway from the brainstem to high level cortical areas. Taken together, current research suggests that a single core deficit model is unlikely to account for the aetiology of LD and furthermore, that the observed pattern of academic strengths and weaknesses is affected little by differences in underlying processes. Therefore, it appears that different underlying vulnerabilities result in similar academic outcomes.

Key Concepts

  • Auditory processing

    Physiological and perceptual processing of the acoustic elements of sound such as its duration, frequency, rate of presentation, etc.

  • Co‐morbidity

    The concurrent occurrence of two disorders. In the present context, an individual diagnosed with LD is more likely to be diagnosed with another form of learning or attention disorder compared to an undiagnosed individual.

  • Language disorders

    Disorders that involve the processing of linguistic information such as phonology, grammar and semantics. May reflect difficulties in expression, comprehension or both.

  • Perceptual anchor

    A mental representation of recently perceived stimuli that can be used to ease the perception of ongoing stimuli.

  • Phonological processes

    Processes related to the linguistic analysis of the basic units of speech such as the ability to segment words to syllables, phonemes or units that are thought to structure sound to convey linguistic meaning, or to remember a string of speech sounds in short‐term memory.

  • Working memory

    The ability to perform cognitive operations (e.g. repeating in backwards order) on items held in short‐term memory.

Keywords: learning disabilities; dyslexia; auditory processing

Further Reading

Ahissar M (2007) Dyslexia and the anchoring‐deficit hypothesis. Trends in Cognitive Science 11(11): 458–465.

Banai K, Abrams D and Kraus N (2007) Sensory‐based learning disability: insights from brainstem processing of speech sounds. International Journal of Audiology 46(9): 524–532.

Bishop DV (2006) Developmental cognitive genetics: how psychology can inform genetics and vice versa. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (Colchester) 59(7): 1153–1168.

Fletcher JM, Lyon GR, Fuchs LS and Barnes MA (2007) Learning disabilities from identification to intervention. New York: The Guilford Press.

Pennington BF and Bishop DV (2009) Relations among speech, language, and reading disorders. Annual Reviews Psychology 60: 283–306.

Plomin R and Kovas Y (2005) Generalist genes and learning disabilities. Psychology Bulletin 131(4): 592–617.

Ramus F (2004) Neurobiology of dyslexia: a reinterpretation of the data. Trends in Neuroscience 27(12): 720–726.

Snowling MJ (2008) Specific disorders and broader phenotypes: the case of dyslexia. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (Colchester) 61(1): 142–156.

Vellutino FR, Fletcher JM, Snowling MJ and Scanlon DM (2004) Specific reading disability (dyslexia): what have we learned in the past four decades? Journal of Child Psychology Psychiatry 45(1): 2–40.

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How to Cite close
Banai, Karen, and Yifat, Rachel(Sep 2009) Learning Disorders: Beyond Dyslexia. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0021404]