Learning Disabilities and Deficits


Provide information for the identification of learning disabilities and deficits and use of the Washington State Learning Needs Screening tool.


NOTE: Although the affects on the individual may be similar, do not confuse learning deficits or needs and acquired impairments with each other or with learning disabilities.
  1. Learning disability:

    1. Is a neurological condition that impedes the individual's ability to store and/or process information.

    2. Can affect the individual's social skills and ability to read, write, speak, and compute math. Individuals with learning disabilities are generally (but not necessarily) of above average intelligence.

    3. Always creates a disparity between the individual's measured IQ and performance IQ. For example, the individual may have a measured IQ of 125 but as a result of dyslexia, has reading skills that are below average.

  2. Learning deficits and learning needs:

Individuals lacking educational opportunities or who have had other issues that have interfered with learning are often mislabeled as having learning disabilities because the effects on the individual's performance may be similar. However, an individual who has very little education or has never learned to read has a learning deficit, not a learning disability.

  1. Acquired impairments:

Acquired impairments, resulting from head injury trauma or other types of injury may also affect the individual's ability to process information. As a result, an acquired impairment may be mislabeled as a learning disability. For example, following a motorcycle accident that resulted in a head injury, the person has poor memory. The poor memory is a result of the accident (an acquired impairment) not a learning disability in and of itself.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • People can overcome a learning deficit through remediation, such as additional schooling.

  • Learning disabilities are not reversible and are a life-long issue but individuals with learning disabilities may develop accommodation skills and strategies that aid in lessening the effects of the learning disability.

  • A true learning disability rarely prevents an individual from becoming employed or self-sufficient.

  • Specific strategies or accommodations may be needed in order for the individual to be successfully employed. For example;

    • A strategy may involve encouraging the individual to choose a career that takes advantage of the individual's strengths and minimizes the areas of difficulty.

    • An accommodation might involve having the individual's work hours listed in a column rather than in a matrix or using a small tape recorder instead of making a "To-Do" list.


  1. The Learning Needs Screening Tool does not distinguish learning disabilities from learning deficits.

  2. A high score obtained on this instrument is only an indicator of the possible existence of learning deficits and disabilities. For example, the client may obtain a high score as a result of having either poor reading skills due to a lack of education, or dyslexia.

  3. Determination of a true learning disability is accomplished only through the administration of intelligence tests and other psychological measurements.

  4. It is usually much more effective to determine what the client needs in order to succeed rather than focusing on the disability or deficit. For example, if it is known that the client has poor reading skills, the client may need to choose a career that does not require extensive reading or obtain additional schooling to improve his/her reading skills.

Worker Responsibilities

  1. Screen clients for learning deficits and disabilities using either the e-JAS or hard copy of the Washington State Learning Needs Screening Tool (DSHS 15-250(x). 

  2. If learning needs or deficits are suspected then consider referring the client to local resources such as the Learning Disabilities Association of Washington or your local community college.

  3. Document action and outcomes as appropriate in e-JAS and in the client's Service Plan or IRP.

    1. WF Handbook  - Learning Disabilities 6.6

    2. Learning Needs Screening Tool