Learning to read is especially difficult for children with specific learning disabilities. Most people are familiar with the term dyslexia, but the educational term for what most people think of as dyslexia would fall under the category, “specific learning disability” (dyslexia is a medical term; specific learning disability is an educational term).

A specific learning disability is: a disorder of learning and cognition that is intrinsic to the individual; it is specific in that it affects a narrow range of academics. It is presumed to be due to a central nervous system function, and may occur across a person’s life span.

The U.S. Federal Criteria for Specific Learning Disabilities is:

34 CFR 300.8 Child with a disability.
(10) Specific learning disability
(i) General. Specific learning disability 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.
(ii) Disorders not included. Specific learning disability 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.

The majority of children that qualify for special education services qualify under the category “specific learning disability.”  With regards to reading and specific learning disabilities, teaching phonics is still the best research-based approach, but this teaching must explicit and prolonged.