Cognitive Clusters in Specific Learning Disorder

Michele Poletti, Elisa Carretta, Laura Bonvicini, Paolo Giorgi-Rossi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The heterogeneity among children with learning disabilities still represents a barrier and a challenge in their conceptualization. Although a dimensional approach has been gaining support, the categorical approach is still the most adopted, as in the recent fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The introduction of the single overarching diagnostic category of specific learning disorder (SLD) could underemphasize interindividual clinical differences regarding intracategory cognitive functioning and learning proficiency, according to current models of multiple cognitive deficits at the basis of neurodevelopmental disorders. The characterization of specific cognitive profiles associated with an already manifest SLD could help identify possible early cognitive markers of SLD risk and distinct trajectories of atypical cognitive development leading to SLD. In this perspective, we applied a cluster analysis to identify groups of children with a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual–based diagnosis of SLD with similar cognitive profiles and to describe the association between clusters and SLD subtypes. A sample of 205 children with a diagnosis of SLD were enrolled. Cluster analyses (agglomerative hierarchical and nonhierarchical iterative clustering technique) were used successively on 10 core subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children–Fourth Edition. The 4-cluster solution was adopted, and external validation found differences in terms of SLD subtype frequencies and learning proficiency among clusters. Clinical implications of these findings are discussed, tracing directions for further studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-42
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Learning Disabilities
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2018


  • cluster analysis
  • cognitive development
  • multiple cognitive deficit model
  • neurodevelopmental disorders
  • specific learning disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Education
  • Health Professions(all)


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