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Estimates of the prevalence of learning disabilities range from 4% to 20%, depending on how they are defined.1 Problems imposed by learning disabilities and different learning styles can significantly affect a child’s early sense of mastery and competence and can have lifelong implications on occupational functioning and psychological health. The Learning Disabilities Act of 1969 defined learning disabilities into federal law and mandated that the educational needs of children with these disabilities be addressed. This made interventions for learning disabilities a matter of public policy and has led to ongoing controversies in establishing functional definitions and criteria for diagnosis. Learning disabilities cannot be diagnosed at an earlier age than the skills are expected to develop, but high-risk factors can be ascertained. Learning disabilities can be identified at any time throughout the school years. They may present with difficulty in individual subjects, underachievement, behavior problems, attention problems, and, eventually, school failure. If unrecognized, a chronic lack of school success can lead to low self-esteem, behavior problems, truancy, depression, high-risk behaviors of adolescence, and school dropout.

Learning Preferences and Styles

Learning preferences and learning styles refer to an individual’s preferred modes of and different approaches to learning based on their individual strengths and weaknesses. Although various learning styles exist, the most commonly referenced types are auditory, visual, and kinesthetic (learning by doing). Ideally, students learn effectively using a combination of these styles. Those who do not are at a strong disadvantage if their school teaches in a manner that does not match their individual learning style. The use of learning style profiles to guide instruction requires careful monitoring of a student’s progress and learning effectiveness so that adjustments can be made as appropriate. Inventories and style indicators are useful as only guides; their reliability and benefit can be determined only through continual evaluation of a student’s performance. The intent of identifying learning styles or preferences is to enable a student to intake and output information in ways that are most comfortable and successful.


Underachievement refers to lower academic performance than expected based on abilities (IQ). It is reflected by poor grades and schoolwork production. It may also be accompanied by lower than expected performance on tests of academic achievement. Possible causes of underachievement include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning style and other educational issues, emotional and behavioral disorders, family and social factors, and engagement in high-risk behaviors such as drugs and delinquency. Underachievement can lead to or reflect poor self-esteem. Unaddressed, this may lead to school failure and dropout.

Learning Disabilities

The most common definition of a learning disability is a significant to severe (1.5–2 standard deviation) discrepancy between a child’s abilities (as measured by an individually administered IQ test) and the child’s achievement (as measured by individually administered tests of achievement in reading, written expression, and mathematics).2 This model is ...

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