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Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL)
1250 Maggie Benston Centre
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby BC V5A 1S6
Phone: 778.782.3112
Secure Fax: 778.782.4384

Visit our Accessibility Information Page to find detailed information about our office and its accessibility considerations.


Specific Learning Disorder

Specific Learning disorders (SLD) are often identified when a student's academic skills are substantially and quantifiably below those expected for the individual's chronological age.  These difficulties are commonly noted early in the educational process but, in some cases, may become noticeable only when challenged by post-secondary education.   Manifestations of SLD cause significant interference with a student's academic or occupational performance, or with activities of daily living.  The learning difficulties are not better accounted for by other factors, such as intellectual abilities, other mental or neurological disorders, lack of proficiency in the language of instruction, or inadequate educational instruction.  

A Specific Learning Disability may manifest itself as a deficit in a very mild form, or a more severe form, in any of the following areas:                                   

Reading skills Mathematical skills
Oral language skills  Organizational and study skills
Written language skills Social skills

Specific Learning Disabilities include:

  • Reading Disorder: where an individual's word reading accuracy, reading rate or fluency or reading comprehension is significantly below expectation 
  • Disorder of Written Expression: where an individual's spelling accuracy, grammar and punctuation accuracy and or clarity or organization of written expression is significantly below expectation 
  • Mathematics Disorder: where an individual's number sense, memorization of arithmetic facts, accuracy of fluency of calculations or math reasoning is  significantly below expectation

Documentation Requirements

All students seeking to register with the CAL must submit the Application for Services Form as well as supporting documentation.  Supporting documentation for SLD consists of a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation, completed within five years of matriculation to the university or as an adult (over age 18).  Documentation is considered on a case by case basis, but the expectation is that documentation will be comprehensive, authoritative and contemporary.  

Appropriate professional: registered psychologist, or a certified school psychologist who is conducting the assessment within their employment role/situation (assessments conducted within a school psychologist’s private practice are not recognized as having met criteria for qualified assessors).

The Diagnostic Process
The process of testing and assessment typically requires about 6-10 hours and most often includes the administration of intelligence and achievement tests, assessment for the presence of central nervous system dysfunction and specific deficits in information or perceptual processing, consideration of related limitations (e.g., psychosocial skills, physical or sensory abilities) and alternative explanations for the learning difficulties (e.g., inappropriate or inadequate instruction, cultural or economic influences, or another primary disability).

Documentation must include:

  1. Name and credentials of the evaluator as well as the date(s) of testing

  2. A clear statement that a specific learning disorder is present (referencing contemporary criteria  - DSM-5), including the rationale for the diagnosis.  

  3. Evidence of comprehensive testing with age appropriate norms and all test scores:
     a) Domains to be addressed include intellectual potential; receptive language (reading, listening); expressive language (speaking, writing, spelling); language processing (thinking, conceptualizing, integration); mathematical computation; information processing (short-term and sequential memory, attention, visual and auditory processing, fine-motor and gross-motor functioning, processing speed); personality (screen out problems due to anxiety, depression or other psychiatric disorders); test behaviour, effort and learning strengths                                 b) Evidence of a significant deficiency (at least 1.5  standard deviations below the population mean for age) in one or more achievement areas (such as reading, writing, and math), relative to age norms; or a more moderate deficiency (e.g., between 1.0-1.5 standard deviations below the population mean for age) where there is convergent evidence, such as significant impairment in at least one type of information processing that may logically account for this deficiency and/or the clinical opinion that the achievement is sustained only by extraordinarily high levels of effort or support.

  4. Findings of a comprehensive diagnostic interview that includes academic, developmental, family and psychosocial history
  5. Statement of strengths and weaknesses that will affect the student’s ability to meet the demands of a university education.  
  6. Identification of the student's specific functional limitations arising from the disorder