The LD@home glossary has been created to help equip you with some of the vocabulary that you may need to know when working with professionals in the field of learning disabilities and while searching the LD@home website. Terms are sorted alphabetically and links to the sources used in creating the definitions are included directly following the definitions, where appropriate. If you have any feedback about any of the existing terms, or if you have suggestions for additional terms which you feel should be included, please click here to contact us at

TIP: If you are a parent working with a school board, you can also ask your school principal for a copy of the school board glossary, or definition of terms. There is sometimes a glossary for key words in the school board Parent Guide or in the School Board Special Education Plan. Some Provincial Associations have a glossary of words and terms used by the school system as well.


Ableism – refers to attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities (

Accommodated only (AC) – the term used on the IEP form to identify subjects or courses from the Ontario curriculum in which the student requires accommodations alone in order to work towards achieving the regular grade expectations. AC subjects or courses should not have the IEP box checked off on the provincial report card. Marks for accommodated only subjects/courses are based on grade level curriculum, rather than on modified expectations. The IEP box on the provincial report card is only for courses where the curriculum expectations are modified or alternative, and the marks are not based on the same criteria as the other students.

Accommodation(s) – special strategies, supports, and/or individualized equipment (including technology) that are required to enable a student to learn and demonstrate learning. These will be listed in a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) (see below for the definition of IEP). Accommodations do not alter the provincial learning expectations for the grade level or interfere with the content, expectations, level or validity of the assessment process.

Adaptive technology – refers to adaptations of existing technologies or tools, for use by people with disabilities, such as those who have limitations in vision, hearing, speech or mobility (e.g. screen magnifiers, adapted keyboards, etc.). The adaptive equipment allows people with disabilities to access information that might otherwise be inaccessible.

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) – a neurological disorder characterized by a pattern of behaviour, present in multiple settings (e.g., school and home), which can result in performance issues in social, educational, or work settings. Symptoms are divided into two main categories of (1) inattention and (2) hyperactivity and impulsivity. They include behav¬iours such as failure to pay close attention to details, difficulty organizing tasks and activities, excessive talk¬ing, fidgeting, or an inability to remain seated in appropriate situations (DSM-5). ADHD is not a learning disability, but often co-occurs with LDs and can have a significant impact on learning.

Advocacy – the activity of speaking out on one’s own behalf or on behalf of others in order to defend their rights and make sure that equitable services are provided.

Alternative skill areas (ALT) – areas of an academic program which are not part of the curriculum. Social skills, anger management or organizational skills could come under alternative skill areas if someone is specifically teaching them to the student. Alternative skill areas are listed on the program page of the IEP, and have the current level of achievement, an annual program goal, learning expectations, teaching strategies and assessment methods. Alternative programs are provided in both the elementary and the secondary school panels.

AODA – the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005) developed mandatory accessibility standards that help to identify, remove, and prevent barriers for Ontarians with disabilities in areas that include: customer service, information and communications, built environments, employment, and transportation. Click here to learn more about AODA and accessibility standards.

Assistive technology – any piece of technology that helps someone with or without a disability to increase or maintain his/her level of functioning. These often include laptops with specialized programs, like speech to text, text to speech, graphic organizers and word prediction software. (Ontario Teachers’ Federation: Teachers’ Gateway to Special Education.

Attention – involves brain controls that regulate what information gets selected as important and gets acted on. Many students with LDs also experience attention problems, particularly in the form of ADHD.

Auditory memory – also known as verbal working memory. This type of memory taps into the sound (phonological) system. Anytime someone is expected to follow a multi-step set of oral instructions, they are using these working memory skills. Someone who is still sounding out words while reading is relying heavily on verbal working memory. This is very taxing to the working memory system and affects reading comprehension (

Auditory processing – the way we understand information we hear. LDs affecting this can affect the accuracy of what’s heard, memory of what’s heard, organization of what’s heard, or the discrimination of sounds.

Automaticity – refers to an action that is so well practiced that it does not require conscious effort to carry it out (


Behaviour – the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially towards others. LDs may coexist with behavioural problems, which may include mental health disorders such as anxiety disorders and depression somatic complaints, and social behaviours. Students who experience difficulties with social behaviour may use irritable or aggressive behaviour to cope with stressful social interactions.

Bullying – aggressive and typically repeated behaviours, including the use of physical, verbal, electronic, written or other means (Ontario Ministry of Education, PPM No. 144 – Bullying Prevention and Intervention). People with LDs are more at risk to experience bullying as they are different from their peers; they may be taunted as a result of their need to access special education programs; they may be less able to stand up for themselves; they may be socially awkward (e.g., they may have difficulties managing their behaviour and feelings); and they may be too honest, which results in their inability to conceal their weaknesses and mistakes (


Co-existing conditions – see comorbidity.

Cognitive load – is linked to working memory (see definition below). Cognitive load refers to the limited capacity of our working memory system and how different types of tasks vary in the amount of attention required to be successfully carried out (

Cognitive processes – LDs may be associated with difficulties with one or more cognitive processes, such as phonological processing, memory and attention, processing speed, perceptual-motor processing, visual-spatial processing, and/or executive functions (e.g., self-regulation of behaviour and emotions, planning, organization of thoughts and activities, prioritizing, decision-making) (

Comorbidity – a situation where two or more conditions that are diagnostically distinguishable from one another occur simultaneously. Some of the most common comorbid relationships include: LDs and ADHD, LDs and behavioural difficulties, and LDs and social/emotional difficulties.

Compensatory strategies – ways that allow people to use their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses (e.g., someone with difficulties reading but good oral language skills could listen to an audio book or take an exam orally) (


Decode/decoding – the practice of using various reading skills, such as phonics, to read or “decode” words. A person with LDs may have difficulty learning decoding skills, which will impact their ability to read fluently and to comprehend what they are reading (

Demonstration School – see provincial school.

Diagnosis – a diagnosis of an LD must be made by a qualified member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario in order to distinguish the disorder from other potential causes of the presenting problems or symptoms. A diagnosis will be accompanied by documentation of a person’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as ideas for how to support someone in the areas where they struggle. Parents and educators can learn more about a child’s diagnosis from a psychoeducational assessment (

Duty to accommodate – the legal obligation that education providers (and other service providers) have under the Ontario Human Rights Code to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities. Accommodation is a special arrangement that allows a student to equally benefit from and participate in education. Under the Code disability includes physical, mental (intellectual), and learning disabilities, mental disorders, hearing or vision disabilities.

Dyscalculia – a term that may be used for LDs which affect mathematics.

Dysgraphia – a term that may be used for LDs which affect written expression (including spelling).

Dyslexia – a term that may be used for LDs which affect reading and written language.

Dyspraxia – a term that may be used for LDs which affect gross or fine motor skills.


Early identification – Ontario school boards are required to have procedures in place to identify each child’s level of development, learning abilities and needs, and to ensure that educational programs are designed to accommodate these needs and to facilitate each child’s growth and development. Early identification of children with LDs can help to ensure that children receive the educational supports they require to support their learning from a young age (

Education Act – the Ontario law which includes rules about education and special education. More details are contained in Regulations under the Act, which also have the force of law.

Equity – a condition or a state of fair, inclusive, and respectful treatment of all people. Equity does not mean treating people the same without regard for individual differences (

Educational assistant (EA) – a person who works with students who have special education needs, under the supervision of a special education teacher.

Exceptional student – a student within the Ontario school system who has been formally identified by an Identification and Placement Review Committee (IPRC, see below for definition). A student who has been identified as ‘exceptional’ must be provided with the supports and services required to meet the exceptional needs. In addition, an Individual Education Plan (IEP, see below for definition) must be developed for the student within 30 days of identification at an IPRC (

Expressive language – the ability to communicate with others using language. LDs which impact expressive language may affect a person’s ability to communicate their thoughts using spoken and written language (

Executive function – a term used to describe the many different cognitive processes that control behaviour and connect past experience with present action. Many individuals with LDs experience difficulties with executive functions, which can impact their ability to plan, organize, strategize, pay attention to and remember details, and manage time and space (

Expressive writing – also known as written expression. People with LDs are more likely than their peers to struggle with expressive writing because of difficulties including illegible handwriting, incomplete sentences, and errors in syntax, grammar, and spelling. They also may experience difficulties as they may have a hard time switching between mechanical tasks and mental tasks (e.g., handwriting and forming and organising ideas) (


Fine-motor control – refers to small muscles doing small things such as threading a needle or holding a pen.

Fluency – the ability to do a task smoothly and easily, such as in speaking, reading or writing. A person with LDs who struggles with reading fluency may also struggle with reading comprehension.

Formal assessment – in a formal psychological or psychoeducational assessment, a qualified member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario will normally look at a person’s reasoning and thinking ability; visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic processing; memory; attention; academic skills; social and emotional functioning; and a number of other areas in order to develop a comprehensive picture of their current functioning. In order to be identified as having LDs, individuals must undergo a formal assessment.


Giftedness – the Ontario Ministry of Education defines giftedness as, “an unusually advanced degree of general intellectual ability that requires differentiated learning experiences of a depth and breadth beyond those normally provided in the regular school program, to satisfy the level of educational potential indicated”
( – page A20). Some individuals with LDs are twice exceptional, which can mean that they are identified as having LDs and are gifted. These people will be highly successful in some areas while experiencing significant difficulties in others. The combination of the two may result in the person presenting specific behavioural difficulties due to frustration, and also in a variety of mental health issues, as the two conditions are quite paradoxical in nature (

Graphic organizer – a communication tool that uses visual symbols to express knowledge, concepts, thoughts, or ideas. They are also known as knowledge maps, concept maps, story maps, cognitive organizers, advance organizers, or concept diagrams. People with LDs who need support in developing literacy skills may benefit from the use of graphic organizers because as visual tools, they reduce the amount of cognitive effort required on the part of the individual and results in less taxation on their working memories as they work to understand specific ideas (

Gross-motor control – refers to large muscles doing large things, such as dancing or jumping.


Handwriting – a functional yet complex task in which lower-level, perceptual-motor processes and higher-level cognitive processes interact, allowing for communication of thoughts using a written code. Some people with LDs fail to progress typically in the acquisition of handwriting and their handwriting may lack consistency and be variable in size, form and orientation (


Identification – within the Ontario education system, an Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC, see definition below) will identify students as exceptional. Students are referred to an IPRC for identification on the recommendation of their school principal or upon parent request. Once identified as exceptional, the school is responsible for creating an Individual Education Plan (IEP, see definition below) for the student, as well as a transition plan to ensure that the student has access to an appropriate educational program (

IEP (Individual Education Plan) – a written plan describing the special education program and/or services required by a particular student based on thorough assessment of the student’s strengths, and needs that affect the student’s ability to learn and demonstrate learning (

Impulsivity – people with poor impulse control do not always think before they act, or consider the consequences of their actions.
Inclusive education – education that is based on the principles of acceptance and inclusion of all students. Students see themselves reflected in their curriculum, their physical surroundings, and the broader environment, in which diversity is honoured and all individuals are respected (, p.4).

IPRC (Identification, Placement and Review Committee) – a committee formed during the process of defining a student as exceptional and deciding the student’s placement within the Ontario education system (

IPRC Statement of Decision – a written statement from the IPRC committee that includes the category and definition of a student’s exceptionality, the placement, the strengths and needs, and any recommendations about special education program and services.




Language – many individuals with LDs will struggle with some aspect of language, including oral, non-verbal, reading or writing. Language difficulties can affect a person’s understanding and expressing of vocabulary, following and giving directions, verbal and non-verbal social communications, along with many other aspects of learning (

Language-based learning disabilities – learning disabilities which affect age-appropriate reading, spelling, and/or writing (

Learning difficulties – refers to any learning or emotional problem that affects, or substantially affects, a person’s ability to learn, get along with others. Learning difficulties may arise from a number of factors, including environmental or social factors, lack of experience, or second language issues, but unlike LDs may not be due to impairments in psychological processes.

Learning disabilities – refers to a variety of disorders that affect the acquisition, retention, understanding, organisation or use of verbal and/or non-verbal information. These disorders result from impairments in one or more psychological processes related to learning, in combination with otherwise average abilities essential for thinking and reasoning. LDs are specific, not global, impairments and, as such, are distinct from intellectual disabilities. For more information, click here to access the LD@home definition.

Literacy – the ability to use language and images in rich and varied forms to read, write, listen, speak, view, represent, discuss and think critically about ideas. Literacy enables us to share information and to interact with others. Literacy is an essential tool for personal growth and active participation in a democratic society (, p.3). People with LDs often have difficulty learning to read and write efficiently, which can negatively influence not only the development of their literacy skills, but also their progress in all academic subjects (

Long-term memory – refers to the permanent storage of a seemingly infinite amount of information including knowledge of procedures, experiences, and factual information. Long-term storage requires the activation of multiple cognitive abilities such as perception, thought, language, prior memories and, in particular, the use of strategies to process and organize the information meaningfully (


Memory – the ability to retain information in both short and long-term memory. A person with LDs may have difficulties related to memory which can impact their ability to remember information they have just heard, follow directions, listen to and understand lengthy discussions, remember information long enough to use it and understand it, remember sight words when writing, remembering sight word recognition and spelling, remembering number facts and steps involved in computations, and remembering information without memory cues (

Mental health – mental health difficulties cover a range of negative feelings, including unpredictable moods, anxiety, trouble sleeping, sadness or eating problems. Approximately 40% of people with LDs experience mental health difficulties, such as anxiety and depression (

Metacognition – the process of “thinking about my thinking”. For example, good readers use metacognition before reading when they clarify their purpose for reading and preview the text ( A person with LDs may need specific instruction in metacognitive strategies in order to overcome some of the learning challenges associated with their LDs.

Modified (MOD) – the term used on the IEP form to identify subjects or courses from the Ontario curriculum in which the student requires modified expectations – expectations that differ in some way from the regular grade expectations. For each subject that is modified, even partially, a program page of the IEP gets filled out with Current Level of Achievement, an annual program goal, and Learning Expectations for each reporting period (report card term).

Modification(s) – refer to changes made to the age-appropriate grade level expectations for a subject or course in order to meet the needs of a student. They may involve either raising or lowering grade level expectations. For core subjects, such as math or language, expectations may be taken from a different grade level. For content subjects, such as social studies or history, modifications may include significant changes to the number and/or complexity of learning expectations in the regular grade level curriculum. Whenever a subject is modified, it must be documented in both the student’s IEP and on each progress report (


Norm-referenced – during assessment, norm-referenced assessments may be used to indicate a person’s relative standing in a group of students of the same age, or sometimes the same grade (

Numeracy – is related to recognizing and using mathematics in a variety of contexts and using math as a tool to explore problems (

NVLD (non-verbal learning disability) – a neurological disorder which impacts the reception of nonverbal or performance-based information in varying degrees. NVLDs can cause problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative, and holistic processing functions (


OSR (Ontario Student Record) – the record of a student’s educational progress through schools in Ontario. The Education Act requires that the principal of a school collect information to be included in the OSR and also limits access to a student’s OSR to supervisory officers and the principal and teachers of the student for the improvement of the instruction of the student, as well as the parents of a non-adult student, and the student themselves ( The OSR is an important resource for educators who work with students with LDs and for parents, as it will include the student’s IEP, a psycho-educational report, and past assessment data, if available.


Parent Engagement Office – a department at the Ministry of Education that promotes the involvement of parents in their children’s education.

Parent Guide – an information booklet created by a school board to explain to parents the process and options for obtaining special education services in that board.

Perceptual skills – see visual-spatial skills.

Phonemic awareness – the ability to distinguish the smallest sound units in words that hold meaning (i.e., phonemes). Almost all words are made up of a number of phonemes blended together (

Phonological awareness – a broad skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language – parts such as words, syllables, and phonemes. People who have phonological awareness are able to identify and make oral rhymes, can clap out the number of syllables in a word, and can recognize words with the same initial sounds like ‘money’ and ‘mother’ (

Phonological processing – refers to the use of phonological information, especially the sound structure of oral language, in processing words and oral information. Two key parts of phonological processing are phonological awareness and phonemic awareness (

PPM 8 (Policy/Program Memorandum No. 8) – the Ontario Ministry of Education’s memorandum Identification of and Program Planning for Students with Learning Disabilities, which came into effect January 2, 2015. The memorandum sets out requirements for school boards for the identification of and program planning for students with LDs. It provides the ministry’s definition of the term learning disability, which is to be used by an Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC, see definition above) in the identification of students with LDs (

PPM 156 (Policy/Program Memorandum No. 156) – the Ontario Ministry of Education’s memorandum Supporting Transitions for Students with Special Education Needs, which came into effect September 2, 2014. The memorandum sets out requirements for school boards and schools of the new requirements for transitions for students with special needs from Kindergarten to Grade 12 (

Processing speed – the ability to perform simple tasks quickly and efficiently. People with LDs which impact their processing speed may experience delays in the ability to perform small, simple tasks which can interfere with the performance of more complex tasks (

Provincial Schools – schools operated by the Ministry of Education for students who are blind, blind-deaf or who have a severe learning disability. One French and three English and residential schools serve students with severe LDs specifically: Amethyst School (London), Sagonaska School (Belleville), Trillium (Milton), and Centre Jules-Léger (Ottawa) (

Psychoeducational assessment – this type of assessment provides a profile of a student’s intellectual or cognitive abilities and educational achievement levels. It identifies the processing deficits that are associated with a student’s LDs. The diagnosis of learning disabilities must be made by a psychologist or psychological associate registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario (

Psychologists and Psychological Associates – professionals trained in the assessment, treatment and prevention of behavioural and mental conditions. They diagnose neuropsychological disorders and dysfunctions as well as psychotic, neurotic and personality disorders and dysfunctions (



Reading comprehension – a complex undertaking that involves many levels of processing which results in a person’s ability to understand what they are reading. Vocabulary knowledge and spelling skills as well as receptive language can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to understand a text (

Receptive language – the understanding or comprehension of spoken or written language, including both figurative and literal language. People with LDs who have receptive language difficulties may also have difficulty understanding and processing what they hear or read. (


SEAC (Special Education Advisory Committee) – a committee of a school board or a school authority that provides important advice on special education. It is comprised of trustees and representatives of local associations that further the interests and well-being of groups of exceptional children or adults (

Self-advocacy – a key component of self-determination which is the ability to speak on one’s own behalf and represent one’s own personal needs and interests. Children and adults with LDs require strong self-advocacy skills in order to communicate their own needs and required accommodations (

Self-determination – a person’s knowledge of their own areas of strength and weakness. It is also described as the extent to which a person assumes responsibility for his or her own goals, accomplishments, and setbacks (

Self-regulation – in the simplest terms, self-regulation can be defined as the ability to stay calmly focused and alert, which often involves – but cannot be reduced to – self-control. People with learning disabilities and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often have difficulty with managing their behaviour. They need to recognize, channel and manage their frustrations, excessive physical energy and impulsiveness that may result from their difficulty. Engineering the learning environment and teaching people strategies to deal with these issues are key to their success in school and in life (

Short-term memory – short-term storage of information where the information is stored and recalled in the same format (

SLP (Speech-language Pathologist) – Speech-language pathologists are professionals with specialized knowledge, skills, and clinical training in assessment and management of communication and swallowing disorders. Speech-language pathologists expertise includes prevention, identification, evaluation, and treatment of disorders that affect both speech and language skills.(

Special Equipment Amount (SEA) – funding provided by the Ministry of Education to school boards to assist with the cost of equipment required by a student with special education needs. The equipment must have been recommended by a qualified professional, and be necessary in order to work toward curriculum expectations.

Special education coordinator – an administrator who is responsible for special education in all or part of a school board.

Special Education Plan – a plan that describes the special education programs and services provided by a school board.

Special education program – in respect of an exceptional student, an educational program that is based on and modified by the results of continuous assessment and evaluation and that includes a plan containing specific objectives and an outline of educational services that meets the needs of the exceptional student.

Special education resource teacher (SERT) – a teacher who has training to work with students who have special education needs, and who may work directly with students in small groups and/or consult to the regular classroom teacher.

Special education services – facilities and resources, including support personnel and equipment, necessary for developing and implementing a special education program.


Transition – a transition occurs when there is a change between two settings or between services and/or supports. Transitions occur at a variety of important points in a person’s life, for example with the entrance to kindergarten, the entrance to secondary school, and from secondary to post-secondary, whether this be work, apprenticeship, postsecondary studies, or another route. People with LDs, in particular, may experience difficulties with these transitions. Within the Ontario education system, any student with an Individual Education Plan (IEP, see definition above) is now required to have a transition plan in place, as per PPM 156.

Transition plan – according to PPM 156, all students over the age of 14 with an Individual Education Plan (IEP, see definition above) must have a transition plan included in the IEP that includes a plan for their move from secondary school to work, further education, and/or community living (

Twice exceptional – individuals who have learning disabilities (and/or ADHD) and are also gifted. In the school system they may be identified for special education under both Intellectual – Gifted and Communication – Learning Disability.


Universal design for learning (UDL) – a way of designing teaching that provides information to all students in different formats and the opportunity to demonstrate what they learn in different ways.


Visual-motor skills – the ability to co-ordinate the eyes and hands to produce/guide physical movements such as the production of written work. Some people with LDs who have a deficit in this area may experience difficulties in co-ordinating small or large movements, such as copying information from the board or catching a ball while running (

Visual processing – the way we understand information from our eyes. LDs affecting this can affect the accuracy, memory and understanding of what’s seen. Visual tracking can also be affected, which is the way we follow a line of text on a page.

Visual-spatial skills – refers to the ability to organize visual information into meaningful patterns. People with LDs with deficits in this area can experience difficulties in understanding and making sense of visual information (e.g., recognizing figures in a crowded background or when oriented in a different way, or the perception of spatial relationships between objects) (


Working memory – a brain system responsible for temporarily storing and manipulating information. It is widely thought to be one of the most important mental faculties, critical for cognitive abilities such as planning, problem solving, and reasoning, and it is often included among executive functions (