Diagnosis of Specific Learning Disabilities

The year 2000 Diagnostic & Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) provides criteria for diagnosing Specific Learning Disabilities. The criteria are presented here in modified form in order to make them more accessible to the general public. They are listed here for information purposes and should be used only by trained health care providers to diagnose or treat Specific Learning Disabilities.

Reading Disorder DSM-IV TR Diagnostic Criteria:


  1. Reading achievement (measured by an individually administered standardized test of reading accuracy or comprehension) is substantially below the individual's expected level, given his or her chronological age, measured intelligence and age appropriate education.

  2. The disturbance in #1, significantly interferes with academic achievement and/or activities require reading skills.

  3. If a sensory deficient is present, reading difficulties are in excess of those usually associated with it.

Mathematics Disorders DSM-IV TR Diagnostic Criteria:


  1. Mathematic ability (measured by an individually administered standardized test) is substantially below the individual's expected level, given his or her chronological age, measured intelligence and age appropriate education.

  2. The disturbance in #1, significantly interferes with academic achievement and/or activities or daily living that require mathematical ability.

  3. If a sensory deficient is present, the mathematical difficulties are in excess of those usually associated with it.

Disorder of Written Expression DSM—IV TR Diagnostic Criteria:


  1. Written Expression (measured by an individually administered standardized test) is substantially below the individual's expected level, given his or her chronological age, measured intelligence and age appropriate education.

  2. The disturbance in #1 significantly interferes with academic achievement and/or activities require reading skills.

  3. If a sensory deficient is present, the reading difficulties are in excess of those usually associated with it.

Specific Learning Disability


The term shall have the meaning given in federal law at 34 C.F.R. §§300.7 and 300.541.

Federal Definition
Specific learning disability is defined as follows:
  1. General. The term means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

  2. Disorders not included. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Things to Consider About Specific Learning Disabilities:


  • A learning disability is not a disorder a student will outgrow. It is a permanent disorder affecting how students with normal or above-average intelligence process incoming information, outgoing information, and/or categorization of information in memory.

  • Learning disabilities are often inconsistently manifested in a limited number of specific academic areas, such as math or foreign languages. There might have been problems in grade school, none in high school, and problems again in college. Instructional design and presentation, workload, test or evaluation format often determine the manifestations.

  • Learning disabilities should not be equated with retardation or emotional disorders, although learning disabilities can coexist with other conditions.

  • Common accommodations for students with learning disabilities include alternative print formats, taped lectures, notetakers, alternative plans to complete assignments, course substitutions, time extensions for assignments and exams, priority registration, and consultations regarding study skills and strategies.