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Students with Learning Disorders


"Learning disorders are diagnosed when the individual’s achievement on individually administered, standardized tests in reading, mathematics, or written expression is substantially below that expected for age, schooling, and level of intelligence. The learning problems significantly interfere with academic achievement or activities of daily living that require reading, mathematical, or writing skills” (DSM-IV, p. 46).

Learning disorders are best considered to involve difficulties in processing specific tasks such as reading, writing, and mathematics. Consistent with the standards used by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and those specified in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, a learning disorder is marked by performance on academic tasks which are substantially below that expected for age, schooling, and level of intelligence and which are not the result of sensory limitations (i.e., visual or hearing impairments); mental retardation; emotional disturbance; cultural, environmental, or educational disadvantage.

Information processing deficits are not necessarily associated with specific academic tasks; therefore, information-processing deficits, in the absence of an aptitude-achievement discrepancy, are not sufficient to qualify as a learning disorder.

There must be clear and specific evidence, and identification of a learning disorder. A variety of statistical approaches can be used to establish that achievement is substantially below that expected for age, schooling, and level of intelligence. Substantially below is usually defined as a discrepancy between achievement and ability (between one and one half and two or more standard deviations). A discrepancy between achievement and ability (i.e., between one and two standard deviations) is sometimes used, particularly in cases where an individual’s performance on measures of intelligence have been compromised by an associated disorder in cognitive processing, a co-morbid mental disorder or general medical condition, or the individual’s ethnic or cultural background.

Depending on the severity and functional limitations caused by the Learning Disorder, the student may be eligible for services through the Office for Disability Services, ODS. In order for a Learning Disorder to be considered a disability, the student must demonstrate through documentation that their condition meets the definition of a disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 1973 and the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008. According to these laws, the definition of a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. ODS requires specific information from both the student and the student's provider to determine if the student's condition is considered a disability under these laws and if the student is eligible to receive academic adjustments, auxiliary aids and/or services.

Students requesting services for Learning Disability through ODS should refer to the following links in this web site:


For further information regarding the above links, please contact ODS at 814-863-1807 (V/TTY). ODS encourages a student's evaluator to contact the office regarding Penn State's guidelines. This will assist the student in providing ODS with the appropriate documentation.

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