Learning Disabilities
Neurobiological/Genetic Factors

A computer-generated image of brain synapses and neurons firing.

According to the LDAC (2015) learning disabilities are “due to genetic and/or neurobiological factors or injury that alters brain functioning in a manner that affects one or more processes related to learning.”

These disorders are not due primarily to hearing and/or vision problems, socioeconomic factors, cultural or linguistic differences, lack of motivation or ineffective teaching, although these factors may further complicate the challenges faced by individuals with learning disabilities. Learning disabilities may coexist with various conditions including attentional, behavioural and emotional disorders, sensory impairments, or other medical conditions. 1

Approximately 10% of the population have LD, with both sexes equally represented. It is not caused by poor schooling, lack of a supportive environment, nor due to poor eyesight or hearing loss.2 LD is sometimes described as the brain being “wired differently” as a result of research on mapping the brain. Using MRI imagery, scientists have shown that people with LD are accessing parts of the brain for reading, for example, that others without LD are not using. The pathways used often require more time and effort.

Areas and Processes Affected

Learning disabilities result from impairments 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). 3

Although we often refer to a specific LD (e.g., disorder of reading, written expression, or math), rarely do we see individuals who have one LD without characteristics of others. Because LD refers to impairments in processes, the challenges may be in areas such as processing speed, memory, or executive functioning. The degree to which these disabilities affect a person are unique to that person and the coexisting nature of other factors or disabilities can also influence what works best for the person. Coexisting disorders that are often seen include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorder, depression and other mental health disorders. 4

  • 1. LDAC (2015).
  • 2. Learning Disabilities Association of America (2015).
  • 3. LDAC (2004).
  • 4. LDAC (2015).