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Specific learning disabilities in children: Clinical features

L Erik von Hahn, MD
Section Editors
Carolyn Bridgemohan, MD
Marc C Patterson, MD, FRACP
Deputy Editor
Mary M Torchia, MD


Learning disabilities (LDs) are a heterogeneous group of disorders characterized by the unexpected failure of an individual to acquire, retrieve, and use information competently. They are the most severe, pervasive, and chronic form of learning difficulty in children with average or above-average intellectual abilities [1,2].

LDs have a multifactorial etiology [3]. They typically manifest as a failure to acquire reading, writing, or math skills at grade- and age-expected levels. Learning problems that are outside of these traditional core domains, such as memory problems, attention problems, and difficulty managing social interactions, are not typically considered to be LDs. However, they can also be important contributors to academic failure and may require intervention.

The clinical features of LDs will be presented here. The evaluation, management, and prognosis of LDs and the role of the primary care provider are discussed separately. (See "Specific learning disabilities in children: Evaluation" and "Specific learning disabilities in children: Educational management" and "Specific learning disabilities in children: Role of the primary care provider".)

Educational definitions for LD and a review of special education law, which describes how students can access special education services in school settings, also are provided separately. (See "Definitions of specific learning disability and laws pertaining to learning disabilities in the United States".)


In this topic review, the term "learning disability" (or "specific learning disability") refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders characterized by the unexpected failure of an individual to acquire, retrieve, and use information competently.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 29, 2016.
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