Learning Disabilities and Assistive Technologies Guide: Terms to Know

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Glossary of Terms Introduction

The following terms are divided into two categories:

Learning disability terms, and

Assistive technology terms

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Learning Disabilities: Glossary of Terms

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Accommodation: The use and further development, where possible, of alternative intact channels in order to compensate for the channel which is impaired (visual, auditory, and motor channels).

Affective Domain: The classification of functions by the individual involving emotions and feeling.

Aphasia, Expressive: The lack of ability to communicate orally.

Aphasia, Receptive: The inability to communicate aurally (listening).

Apperception: Relating past experience to new knowledge/experiences.

Apraxia: Difficulty in performing purposeful motor output, in the absence of paralysis or sensory limitation, due to brain lesion or dysfunction.

Aptitudes: Native and acquired characteristics that indicate a capacity for future success in learning.

Assessment: Provides information and data which answer a specific set of questions for future planning, implementation, and evaluation.

Assessment, Formal: Provides data through the use of standardized, norm, or criterion-referenced instruments which have specific directions for administration, scoring, and interpretation.

Attention: A set or attitude which makes it possible for the individual to respond precisely to a stimulus; attending or taking notice.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Refers to a neurologically based, chemical disorder that impacts the ability to: attend to stimuli which is important (attention span); determine which external stimuli are relevant or not relevant (distractibility); reflect before acting (impulsivity); and control motor activity levels (hyperactivity). Can also be without hyperactivity characteristics(ADD).

Attention Span: Duration of time one can attend to a specific task.

Auditory: Relating to hearing.

Auditory Association: The ability to relate to material (words and concepts) presented orally in a meaningful way.

Auditory Discrimination: The ability to distinguish (to discriminate) between sounds which are heard and sounds which may be somewhat alike.

Auditory Dyslexia: Difficulty translating speech into writing; difficulty distinguishing between certain sounds of speech accurately; and difficulty establishing sound with written equivalent.

Auditory Figure-Ground: The ability to concentrate on the task at hand despite the presence of other sounds (voices, miscellaneous noises) within the same environment.

Auditory Memory: The ability to remember information received through the auditory channel.

Auditory Processing: The ability to act upon auditory information in order to generalize, abstract, classify, integrate, etc.

Auditory Reception: Auditory decoding; understanding spoken words.

Auditory Sequencing: The ability to recall previously heard details in their correct order.

Auditory-Visual Association: Ability to switch from the auditory to the visual channel from learning through the ears to learning through the eyes. Included is the ability to relate sounds to symbols (i.e., to identify the letter “r” sound and/or its letter name to the written “r” and transfer this association to other situations such as a word on a ditto sheet, chalkboard, or book).

Auditory-Vocal Association: Ability to intelligently respond verbally to stimuli which has been heard.

Aural: Learning through listening; attending with the ears.

Background: One’s total experience and education.

Brain Damage: A structural injury to the brain from accident, disease, or surgery.

Capacity: The potential point at which learning ceases; set by the limits of the learner’s intelligence and psychomotor functioning.

Channels/Circuits: The pathways through which input is transmitted (auditory, visual, tactile-kinesthetic, or combinations thereof).

Closure: Mental process whereby one perceives an incomplete from as though it were complete.

Cognition: Process of knowing, perceiving, or reasoning

Cross Modality: The ability to switch from one modality to another.

Cylert: A non-amphetamine drug used to treat hyperactivity.

Discrimination: The ability to detect differences and likenesses between and among stimuli.

Distractibility: The inability to “tune out” extraneous stimuli, poor attention span, and/or intermittent concentration.

Dominance, Cerebral: The establishment of one side of the brain as dominant over the other. It is generally recognized that this must take place in order to establish left or right handedness.

Dominance, Mixed: The inclination to perform some activities with the right hand or foot and shifting to the other for other activities. (Example: writing with the right hand, playing tennis with left).

Dyscalcula: Difficulty coping with mathematics; difficulty comprehending as well as understanding relationships between mathematical symbols and concepts; and difficulty with calculations and number manipulation.

Dysgraphia: Difficulty writing. This can be the actual physical (motor) process required for writing or the difficulty of being able to express ideas in writing, or of the symbols required for writing (mathematical as well as letter symbols).

Dyslexia: Difficulty reading. When viewed through the criteria of academic success this is probably the most serious and debilitating learning disorder. The difficulty may take many forms including seeing letters in mirror image, reversals, or inability to distinguish the spaces between words, etc.

Dysnomia: Condition characterized by the inability to recall words at will even when the learner knows the word s/he wishes to recall and can recognize it when said.

Dysphasia: Difficulty comprehending the spoken word (receptive) and/or speaking (expressive).

Figure-Ground Perception: The ability to select an object or form from the total field of incoming stimuli; the figure is the center of attention; the ground is the balance of the mass of stimuli.

Fine Motor Activities: Output by which the muscle system underlying delicate movements is exercised.

Gross Motor Activities: Movement in which groups of large muscles are employed and rhythm and balance are of major importance.

Haptic Perception: Process of getting information through the modalities of kinesthesis and touch.

Hyperactivity: Excessive activity or energy.

Hyperkinesis: Overactivity or excessive motor movement.

Hypoactivity: Pronounced lack of physical activity.

Hypokinesis: Lack of normal bodily movement and motor activity.

Impulsivity: Behavior characterized by acting hastily without thinking through the consequences of acts.

Input, Output: The process of receiving stimulus (Input); the action resulting from processing of the stimulus (i.e. verbal, motor, etc. (Output).

Intact Modality: Modality found to be superior in someone with deficits; instruction is geared to this modality: the learner who has a strong visual and weak auditory ability would be taught through a visual approach.

Intelligence: Learner’s ability to perceive relationships such as logical, spatial, numerical, and verbal - to learn to recall and to solve problems; sometimes referred to as mental age or scholastic aptitude; measured by verbal and non verbal performance tests.

Kinesthetic: Pertaining to the muscles - doing, talking (the muscles of speech) and writing (the muscles of the hand and arm) as well as general body movement.

Laterality: An awareness of left or right sidedness as it pertains to the self as well as to one’s position in space and/or to other objects, or people occupying that space.

Learning Disability: (most widely accepted adult definition) A Specific Learning Disability is a disorder in one or more of central nervous system processes involved in perceiving, understanding, and/or using concepts through verbal (spoken or written language) or nonverbal means. This disorder manifests itself with a deficit in one or more of the following areas: attention, reasoning, memory, communicating, reading, writing, spelling, calculation, coordination, social competence, and emotional maturity.

Learning Style: The modality(s) through which learning best occurs: visual, auditory, and tactile-kinesthetic channels or pathways (the eyes, the ears, and/or the act of doing).


Memory: The ability to store and retrieve, upon demand, information previously obtained through experienced sensations and perceptions; recall.

Memory, Auditory: The ability to remember information received through the auditory channel.

Memory, Sequential: The ability to remember, in order, information which has been received through a sensory channel.

Memory, Visual: The ability to remember and recall information received through the visual channel (the eyes). This also includes memory of meaning.

Memory, Visual-Motor: The capacity to reproduce, in motor form, previous visual experiences.

Mental Age: The level of mental ability, referenced by years/months.

Modality: The avenues, pathways, channels, and circuits through which sensory impressions are transmitted to the brain and by which one learns. These consist primarily of the visual, auditory, and motor (tactile-kinesthetic) modalities.

Motor: Doing which involves the use of muscle.

Neurology: Branch of medical science that deals with the nervous system and its disorders.

Perception: Direct acquaintance with anything received through the senses.

Perseveration: The tendency to or process of continuing an activity long beyond the time for which it makes any sense to do so.

Receptive Language: Language that is spoken or written by others and received by the learner; listening and reading.

Retardation: Difficulty with the capacity to learn. No definite brain damage is indicated in the history or from neurological findings; nor is there any evidence/suggestion of other cause(s).

Reversal: Perceptual inaccuracy caused by a right to left confusion of letters and words; thus pan becomes nap.

Slow Learner: Child or adult with a measured IQ from 70-80.

Spatial Orientation: Refers to an awareness of self in space; this includes direction, position, distance, and the judging thereof.

Tactile: Referring to the sense of touch.

Tactile-kinesthetic: A term frequently used synonymously with “motor.” Combining the sensory impressions of touch and muscle movement.

Time Orientation: The ability to judge time lapses and be aware of the concept of time.

Training, visual: Instruction to improve learner’s skills in visual perception and binocular coordination.

Visual Acuity: Refers to the sharpness of vision.

Visual Association: The ability to relate materials presented visually (words, maps, charts) in a meaningful way.

Visual-Auditory Association: The ability when learning to switch from the visual channel to the auditory channel.

Visual Discrimination: Ability to distinguish ( to discriminate) between similar images. (Example: between “b”/”d” or “w”/”m”). In addition to letters, this also includes sizes, shapes, numbers, positions, color, horizontal and vertical, brightness, etc. The ability to recognize similarities and differences.

Visual Figure-Ground: The ability to concentrate on the task at hand despite the presence of other visual stimuli which takes place simultaneously in the same environment.

Visual Motor: The ability to relate visual stimulus with motor response (example: writing).

Visual Perception: Identification, organization, and interpretation of stimuli input through the eyes.

Visual Reception: Visual decoding; one’s ability to understand or interpret stimuli, such as symbols, words, or pictures.

Vocalization: Movement of lips, tongue, or vocal cords during silent reading.

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Assistive Technology Definitions: Glossary of Terms

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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