Learning Disabilities in Canadian Context: British Columbia and Ontario


In Canada, learning disability (LD) is a subject that is not determined at the federal level, and each of the provinces has its specific policies and practices. Currently, 8 out of 10 provinces identify LD based on IQ achievement. Specifically, in British Colombia (BC), the discrepancy between the areas of academic achievement is required to state that a child has LD. This province adopted the definition of LD that was suggested by the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada. In Ontario, the classification of LD also uses the model of IQ to determine low achievement as a result of learning issues (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2009). Compared to BC, this province states that it supports the guidelines of the Association, but there are no documents that reflect this idea. Nevertheless, both of the provinces have well-organized documents for special education identification, planning, and implementation. Namely, the BC follows and adjusts the Special Education Policy Framework for British Columbia (1995), while Ontario focuses on the Special Education: A Guide for Educators (2001).

The policies of BC and Ontario identify students with LD as those who have one or several disorders that affect their learning, resulting from impairment to perceive and process information, think, reason, and remember. The Ontario Ministry of Education distinguishes between the following categories of LD: Non-Verbal Learning Disability, Dyscalculia (math), Dyslexia (words, language), Dyscalculia (math), Dysgraphia (writing), Dyspraxia (Sensory Integration Disorder), Non-Verbal Learning Disability, and Auditory Processing Disorder. In turn, BC recognizes all the above types and also Dyspraxia, Visual Processing Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The nature of full inclusion in BC refers to ensuring that all students are welcomed and supported by the schools in regular and age-appropriate classroom environments. The province aims at contributing to the full participation of students with special needs in all parts of school life. The design and development of neighboring schools are regarded as the foundation for the inclusive public education system (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2016). In terms of Ontario, full inclusion is conceptualized as the system in which all students, teachers, and parents are respected, and every student is motivated to succeed in equitable and inclusive school culture.

BC and Ontario have different considerations for funding the special education needs of students with LD. According to the policy statement of BC, those students who have LD can require additional financial support to be able to participate in education programs. Specialized learning materials, additional staff or equipment, and assessments compose the rationale for seeking such funding. In Ontario, there are more options for receiving funding as the province offers the Special Education Grant that consists of six allocations. The special education per-pupil amount is given to every school board, while the differentiated special education needs amount is calculated using the Special Education Statistical Prediction Model (SESPM) (Sirisko, 2016). In addition, it is possible to mention special equipment amount, special incidence portion, behavior expertise amount, as well as care, treatment, custody, and correctional amount. In both provinces, indigenous peoples can seek additional support.

LD Identification, Funding, and Inclusion in Ontario

Ontario’s Ministry of Education is committed to the creation of a safe and inclusive environment in schools. It defines LD as a neurodevelopmental disorder that essentially impacts the ability of a person to learn. Namely, the grouping used by this province points to several negative impacts, which determine the presence of learning disabilities. The impaired ability to perceive and/or process knowledge in both verbal and non-verbal forms is one of the vivid signs of LD. The academic underachievement that is not consistent with a student’s intellectual abilities is another issue. If a child struggles to develop in one or several of the following dimensions: writing, reading, mathematics, and learning skills, he or she can be suspected of having LD. In addition, the difficulties in social interaction and cognitive processes are included in the LD classification of Ontario (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2009). Among the issues that are not related to LD, there is intellectual disability, cultural differences, a shortage of acuity in vision and hearing, language proficiency, and low motivation.

According to Ontario’s Education Act, there are several categories of exceptionalities that have subcategories. Behavioral exceptionality can be characterized by the presence of specific problems such as the poor ability to build relationships, compulsive reactions, and the inability to learn. The next category is communicational, including autism, language impairment, learning disability, speech violation, and deaf and hard of hearing (Bennett, 2009). The intellectual category of exceptionality consists of giftedness, developmental disability, as well as mild intellectual disability. These students require differentiated learning experience to profit educationally due to their advanced degree of general intellectual ability or slow intellectual development. Physical disability and blind and low vision are physical features that describe special limitations or deficiencies for educational achievement (Bennett, 2009). The last category is defined as multiple exceptionalities that may include different impairments and disabilities.

The process of LD identification in Ontario emphasizes early and ongoing screening of children, making them a part of the continuous general assessment. The school boards of the province are encouraged to identify LD before a student is enrolled in the school so that teachers can design individualized plans (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). Although LD becomes evident in primary grades in the majority of cases, it is still important that it can appear later. If a student was monitored over some time, and she or he shows signs of a learning disability, in-depth assessments are required. The official documents state that a range of sources should be targeted to collect information regarding a student. Namely, a multidisciplinary approach implies focusing on data from parents or caregivers, educational history, educational evaluations, and medical information (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). For example, the language that is spoken at home, as well as communication patterns that are practiced in the family, can provide greater awareness. The value of psychoeducational assessments should also be taken into account to have a full picture of a particular student.

The province of Ontario sets special instructions for the nature and responsible persons who are to conduct LD identification. As for the settings, it is stated that they should be culturally sensitive and accessible to students who need accommodations – large prints, Braille, and so on. The Canadian norms should be followed properly, and the results of the evaluation should be given in a standard form, not grade levels (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2009). The supervision of a qualified member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario is required to guide the process of identification. If LD was confirmed, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) should be developed to meet the special needs of a student. Attention should be paid to cultural differences, gender, and physical limitations, which cannot indicate disability but are important to better understand the student’s background.

Ontario’s equity strategy is consistent with the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prioritize respect for all the students. The Education Act regulates the implementation of this strategy, and it is expected that the schools should be the places for practicing diversity. Ontario’s authorities state that the documents should be consciously revised to ensure that students stay engaged and supported by educators and other involved community members. For example, the anti-discriminatory regulations can be used by teachers to generate an equitable, safe, and responsive learning environment that will be free of harassment, homophobia, gender-based violence, and any other inappropriate behavior (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2009). The implementation of inclusion in Ontario is expected to be ensured through detailed program planning: the universal design for learning and differentiated instruction. The Ministry of Education and school boards are responsible for monitoring this implementation (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2009). Furthermore, the field of learning disabilities is constantly working to create new technologies, strategies, and tools to add to the available body of knowledge to increase the effectiveness of education for students with LD.

For students with special needs, Ontario’s general funding model is based on a Special Education Grant. It aims to provide support for all students with exceptionalities to help them in achieving positive outcomes. The special education per-pupil amount gives funding to school boards, and it is “projected to be approximately $1.52 billion in 2018-19” (Sirisko, 2016, p. 6). The differentiated Special Education Needs Amount (DSENA) implies the use of the Special Education Statistical Prediction Model (SESPM) and Measures of Variability (MOV) to determine the amount of the required funding in the province. This model also includes a focus on the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Adjustment opportunities to better understand the ability of schools to meet the needs of their students (Ontario Ministry of Education, n.d.). At the same time, the following components of the funding model are important: equipment amount, special incidence portion, treatment, custody and correctional amount, and behavior expertise amount (Sirisko, 2016). The last element provides financial support for hiring professionals who have expertise in applied behavior analysis, which is especially beneficial for children with autism.

Comparison of LD Identification, Funding, and Inclusion in Ontario and BC

In BC province, the classification of children with a learning disability is consistent with the federal recommendations of the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada. The categories of exceptionality have special ministry codes, for example, A is for physically-dependent children with multiple needs, and B is for deaf/blind students with corresponding impairments. Compared to the classification that is accepted by Ontario, BC has more categories. For instance, this province distinguishes between students with hard of hearing and deaf, assigning them different ministry codes and the levels of educational difficulty. Also, there is a category of serious mental illness/intensive behavior interventions, which should be serious to be characterized as LD (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2016). The moderate behavior support need is noted as a separate category that causes the undesired psychological conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and so on, which make a disruptive impact on learning. In general, since the classification of BC is wider than that of Ontario, the students from the last province can be sure that their special needs would be met in BC.

The process of LD identification in British Columbia follows the official regulations that are set by the Special Education Policy Framework for British Columbia (1995). Likewise in Ontario, the BC Ministry of Education claims that early identification is a key to effectively and timely equip children with the necessary accommodations. First, pre-referral activities imply that a teacher conducts a systematic observation of a student, noting his or her ability to use learning techniques. The school-based resource personnel is to be contacted if a teacher suspects problems that can be addressed by introducing additional classroom interventions (British Columbia Ministry of Education., 2016). In case it did not lead to improvements, the referral to the school-based team is the next step. It is expected to help in problem-solving through extended consultations and detailed plans. A student is to be referred for the extended assessment to understand the reasons underlying his or her academic underachievement, which is to be reviewed by school districts.

The process that is described in the previous paragraph is similar to the one adopted in Ontario: informed consent should be acquired from parents, and the assessment should be culturally-appropriate. In both provinces, it is crucial to obtain as much information as possible, using various available sources. More to the point, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act requires making the written report available to the student as well, if appropriate, in BC (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2016). Upon the completion of the evaluation, its results should inform an IEP that is to be communicated to the school staff and parents.

The BC Ministry of Education views inclusivity as the education system that welcomes all the students to fully participate in the learning process. In such a system, students with special needs are to be given differentiated instructions to study in an equitable environment. Access to learning, achievement, and excellence is regarded as the main principle of inclusive education in BC. However, special attention is paid to the identification of equity: it is not necessarily the full integration of students in a regular classroom, but it “goes beyond placement to include meaningful participation and the promotion of interaction with others (Badley, 2018, p. 142). The evaluation of inclusivity should be based on objective and measurable learning goals and valuing all the students, including those who have exceptionalities.

The characteristic features of inclusivity in both BC and Ontario are that children are accepted and valued as full members of the community. In case every student can identify with his or her school in terms of culture, social environment, and organizational structure, it is possible to state that the environment is inclusive. The benefits of such a system are similar in both provinces that emphasize the significance of communication, empathy, and democracy (Badley, 2018). The development of social and communication skills and interaction with peers through tutoring at all stages of education and initial entry into society matter. The possibilities of interaction with a wider circle of people, including those who do not have LD, provide psychological and psychosocial effects, promoting leadership and empathy. As a result of inclusive education, all the students will have more job opportunities and positive attitudes towards people (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2016). Thus, the model of education inclusivity accepted in BC seems to be suitable for students from Ontario.

The questions of funding school districts and students with special needs are regulated by the corresponding policy. Namely, it clarifies that such students can seek additional assistance to meet their needs and fully participate in the community. Among the supported items and services, the policy mentions personnel, equipment, and evaluations. The approval of the request to receive additional assistance in BC implies that a student has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and meets the criteria for LD that is set by the Ministry’s Special Education Services. The Basic Allocation is to be provided to all eligible students, including several levels. The first level targets the students who are Physically Dependent (A) and Deafblind (B). The second level prescribes funding to Moderate to Profound Intellectual Disability (C), Physical Disability, Chronic Health Impairment (D), Visual Impairment (E), Deaf or Hard of Hearing (F), and Autism Spectrum Disorder (G). Ultimately, Intensive Behavior Interventions or Serious Mental Illness (H) composes the third level. In Ontario, there is no classification of exceptionalities in terms of funding.

The Basic Allocation is to be provided in both BC and Ontario, while its amount differs, depending on disorder type in BC and the needs of students in Ontario. Compared to BC, the province of Ontario uses a Special Education Statistical Prediction Model (SESPM) to provide funding. This model is based on the logistical regression to reveal the differences in each school board’s ability to respond to the needs of students with LD and the actual number of students with special needs (Sirisko, 2016). Among the factors that are comprised in the model, there are median income, occupational structure, parent level of education, income levels, and unemployment. The value of such a model is associated with taking into account the profiles of all the students in the province and calculating the probability of the need for special education funding across school boards. Accordingly, it becomes possible to plan this funding in a more detailed manner. Moreover, Ontario offers support for remote and rural adjustment and French-language school board accommodation.


To conclude, Ontario has a specific vision of special education support that considers students with LD as those who should be given additional support to profit educationally. In BC, students with exceptionalities are conceptualized as the full members of the community, requiring the creation of an equitable environment. The ultimate goal of implementing inclusivity in education is similar in both provinces – to design such a system that ensures acceptance and respect for all the students. Moreover, it is declared that the individual plans for children with LD should not be adjusted from standard ones, but they should specifically target a particular student. The funding model of BC implies a certain amount of support, depending on a disability level, but Ontario has a statistical model of funding. Both provinces provide basic allocation and supplementary assistance options. Thus, even though the special education definitions and funding are not identical in the mentioned provinces, students from Ontario would meet their needs in BC.


Badley, K. (2018). What teachers need to know: Topics in diversity and inclusion. Eugene, OR: WIPF and Stock Publishers.

Bennett, S. (2009). Including students with exceptionalities. The literacy and numeracy secretariat. What works: A research into practice. Research Monograph #16, 1-4.

British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2016). Special education services: A manual of policies, procedures and guidelines. Web.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2009). Ontario’s equity and inclusive education strategy, Web.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2014). Identification of and program planning for students with learning disabilities. Policy/ProgramMemorandum No. 8. Web.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (n.d.). Funding for special education. Web.

Sirisko, L. (2016). Special Education Grant Funding in 2016-17. Web.

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