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About Learning Disabilities

What Are Learning Disabilities?

When a child is struggling in school, parents often wonder if his or her challenges in reading, mathematics, writing and paying attention could signal a learning disability.

The term learning disabilities (or learning disorders) is an umbrella for many different learning problems — most commonly reading, mathematics, writing, listening and speaking. Children with learning disabilities are just as smart as other children and they work hard. However, they gather and process information differently because their brains are wired differently. That is why children with learning disabilities who are taught differently find success in learning.

Signs and Symptoms of Learning Disabilities

Parents are often the ones that notice that something doesn’t seem quite right with their child’s development. It can be tough to face the possibility that a child could have a learning disability, and it can be difficult to figure out what is expected at different ages and stages.

The following chart lists common red flags for learning disorders at different ages and stages.

Children who learn easily will also experience some of these things from time to time.  As parents and educators, the time for action is when you see several of these characteristics over time. If you are worried, don’t wait. The sooner you move forward, the better!


  • Trouble saying words clearly
  • Often unable to find the right word
  • Trouble learning colors, shapes, numbers, ABC’s
  • Difficulty cutting and coloring
  • Trouble with buttons and zippers
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Difficulty rhyming words
  • Difficulty with routines and instructions

Ages 5-9

  • Trouble learning letter sounds and blending sounds to make words
  • Difficulty remembering sequences and telling time
  • Confuses early words in reading and spelling
  • Impulsive, difficulty planning
  • Difficulty understanding math, relies on memorization
  • Consistently inconsistent school performance
  • Avoids writing, coloring and art
  • Trouble with verbal instructions
  • Restless and easily distracted

Ages 10-13

  • Avoids reading aloud, dislikes writing and reading
  • Difficulty with open-ended questions and word problems
  • Trouble making friends and keeping friends
  • Inconsistent day-to-day performance
  • Problems organizing bedroom, homework, backpack
  • Difficulty with class discussions
  • Awkward pencil grip, poor handwriting
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Limited recall of math facts

Common Types of Learning Disabilities

Dyslexia | Learning disabilities or learning disorders in reading  

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. When children struggle with reading, they may have difficulty with the basic skills for decoding — e.g., working with sounds and letters to crack the code. Reading comprehension problems occur when the reader does not understand the meaning of word, sentences and paragraphs. Many people with dyslexia read slowly; however, with effective intervention, they read with strong accuracy and comprehension.

Dyscalculia | Learning disabilities in mathematics

Children with learning disabilities in mathematics have different strengths and weaknesses. It all depends on their strengths and weakness in language, memory, visual-spatial skills, sequencing and organizing. Dyscalculia can interfere with skills such as memorizing multiplication facts, understanding word problems, telling learning calculation procedures, naming shapes and/or working with fractions. Effective intervention starts with identifying the child’s specific challenges and teaching strategies to build a solid foundation for growth.

Dysgraphia | Learning disabilities in writing

Dysgraphia looks different in different children. Some children struggle with the basics — e.g. physical act of writing letters and words. Some struggle with spelling accurately. Other children have trouble with expressive skills such as coming up with good sentences and organizing thoughts of paper.  For many children with dysgraphia, the multitasking required to produce written work is overwhelming.  When the child’s struggles are understood, teachers, language therapists and occupational therapists can intervene to help the child improve needed skills and use technology to the fullest.

Nonverbal Learning Disorder | Learning disabilities in visual perceptual reasoning

A learning disability in visual perceptual reasoning, otherwise known as a Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVD or NVLD), typically involves a pattern of high verbal skills and weaker motor, visual-spatial and social skills. It can result in difficulty with interpreting nonverbal cues, like facial expressions or body language, as well as poor coordination. This is not a disorder that is recognized in the DSM5, but is one that is commonly mentioned by psychologists. 

Other Disorders That Make Learning Difficult:

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Children with AD/HD show signs of inattention, such as trouble with focusing, and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity, including trouble sitting still and acting without thinking. They may understand what is expected of them, but have difficulty following through with listening to instructions, organization or working independently.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism is a developmental disability involving challenges with social-communication skills and restricted repetitive behaviors, activities and interests. As a result, many children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder may communicate, interact, behave and learn in ways that are different from their peers.

Executive Functioning

Executive functions are a set of mental skills that help the brain to organize and act on information. When children have issues with executive functioning, tasks that require planning, organization, memory, time management and flexible thinking can be a significant challenge for them.

Expressive Language

Children with expressive language challenges have difficulty expressing their thoughts and ideas to others.

Receptive Language

Children with receptive language challenges struggle to understand what others are saying to them.

Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder (also known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction) is a condition that occurs when the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses

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