Terms you may hear from learning specialists

By Erica Patino

Expert reviewed by Ginny Osewalt

At a glance

  • Learning specialists might use terms you’re not familiar with to talk about how your child learns and thinks differently.

  • Assistive technology is any kind of tool that helps students work around their issues.

  • Learning specialists may refer to the DSM-V. This is the guide doctors and specialists use to diagnose learning disabilities.

If you meet with a learning specialist to talk about your child, you may hear terms like “modifications” and “accommodations.” If you’re not sure what these terms mean it can be hard to follow the discussion. This printable mini-glossary can make it easier.

Accommodations are changes in how something is taught or in the materials used to teach it. The goal is to make it possible for a student to work around learning challenges. A student with language difficulties might not have to answer questions out loud, for instance. But the student would still have to learn the same material as other students.

Assistive technology is any tool that helps students work around their issues. These could include a laptop, voice recognition software, or electronic math worksheets.

Average range is a term therapists use when testing a child for learning differences. If the results fall below the average range for reading or listening comprehension, for instance, it may mean a child has a  or language disorder.

DSM-5 stands for The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. (It is also called DSM-V.) This is the guide doctors and specialists use to diagnose learning, attention, and behavior disorders.

Executive function refers to a group of mental skills that work together to help the brain organize and act on information. These include the ability to organize, prioritize, and get started on tasks.

Fine motor skills refers to the ability to make movements using small muscles, such as those in the hands and wrists. They’re used for tasks like writing, drawing, coloring, tying shoelaces, and using scissors.

Gross motor skills refers to the ability to make movements using the larger muscle groups, such as those in the arms and legs. Poor gross motor skills can affect balance, coordination, and the ability to run, kick, jump, and skip.

Intelligence quotient (IQ) is an intelligence test score. Most kids who learn and think differently have an average or above-average IQ.

Modification refers to a change in what’s being taught to or what’s expected from the student. An example of a modification is having shorter assignments. 

Nonverbal learning disability (NVLD) affects a child’s ability to understand the nonverbal aspects of communication. A child with NVLD may have trouble interpreting tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions.

Screening is often the first step in determining whether a child has a learning difference. It may include observation, interviews, a brief written test, and a review of school and health records.

Sensory processing or integration refers to how the brain organizes and responds to information it gets through the senses. Trouble with sensory processing or integration can cause kids to over- or under-react to things like noise, touch, or sudden movement.

Self-monitoring is the ability to observe your own behavior and adjust it to fit the situation. This includes keeping track of how you’re doing on a particular task.

Specific learning disability (SLD) is the legal term for a learning disability. SLD is a language-based condition that causes difficulty with listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, or doing math calculations.

Working memory is the brain’s ability to hold on to information long enough to use it. When you hear a phone number, remember it, and then dial it, you’re using working memory.

Understanding terms like these can make it easier to communicate with learning specialists. It’s helpful to know education terms, too. Explore words educators use.

Key takeaways

  • Intelligence quotient (IQ) is an intelligence test score. Most kids with learning and thinking differences have an average or above-average IQ.

  • A learning specialist might talk about screening. Screening is often the first step in determining whether a child learns and thinks differently.

  • Understanding terms learning specialists use can help you advocate for your child.

About the author

About the author

Erica Patino is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Ginny Osewalt is a dually certified elementary and special education teacher with more than 15 years of experience in general education, inclusion, resource room, and self-contained settings.