Learning Disabilities

A learning disability is a nervous system problem that interferes with a person's ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do math calculations. It does not include learning problems caused by vision, hearing, or emotional or intelligence issues. Attention span (ability to focus), memory, muscle coordination, and behavior can also be affected.

Common learning disabilities include:

  • Dyslexia, which causes difficulty with language skills, especially reading.

  • Dysgraphia, which causes difficulty writing letters or expressing ideas in written form.

  • Dyscalculia, which causes difficulty understanding math and math concepts.

A learning disability does not mean low intelligence (not smart). Attention span problems, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may happen at the same time. Learning disabilities are a lifelong problem.


At this time, all of the causes of a learning disability are not known. Current research suggests that brain structure and function may play a role. Learning disabilities often run in families.


Symptoms of learning disability depend on the child's age and the type of disability they have.

  • Preschool signs:

  • Problems pronouncing words.

  • Problems learning numbers, letters, colors, and shapes.

  • Difficulty interacting with friends.

  • Trouble with buttoning and zipping clothing.

  • Hard time controlling pencils, crayons or scissors.

  • Difficulty concentrating.

  • Early elementary school signs:

  • Problems with basic words.

  • Problems learning time.

  • Problems with remembering facts.

  • Letter reversals when reading or spelling.

  • Problems with the sounds of letters.

  • Trouble learning new math skills.

  • Not wanting to do home work.

  • Lack of organization.

  • Messy handwriting that is hard to read.

  • Later elementary school and junior high signs:

  • Problems with understanding what was read.

  • Problems with math skills.

  • Disorganized papers, desk, and notebook.

  • Spelling problems.

  • Late assignments.

  • Messy handwriting that is hard to read.

  • Trouble with understanding out loud (oral) discussions and expressing thoughts out loud.

  • High school signs:

  • Slow getting work done or reading.

  • Problems with abstract concepts.

  • Misreading instructions or information.

  • Problems with memory.

  • Spelling issues.

Students with learning difficulties are often frustrated with school and embarrassed about their difficulties. They may have behavioral problems, depression or anxiety about school.


Learning disabilities are usually diagnosed by testing a child's abilities and intelligence. Learning-disabled children do not have learning problems because they are not smart. Physical exams and other testing should rule out any clear physical problems.


There is no cure for a learning disability. The best treatment is done early and throughout a child's school career. Finding the problem before third grade can often result in a child achieving grade levels. One-on-one, special teaching approaches are needed.


Parents and teachers should meet often. This will help monitor the child's school performance. Meetings would also help ensure that approaches to the child are the same at home and at school. Parents need to insist that their children are getting all the help and special assistance available through the school. Tutoring is often helpful. Some methods that help at home are listed below:

  • Take many breaks when doing homework.

  • Adjust how you work with your child according to his or her primary learning style.

  • Use computers for written assignments.

  • Show organization skills by making lists and prioritizing work.

  • Help your child keep their workspace, schoolwork, and room organized.

  • Play games of strategy.

  • Focus on your child's strengths.

  • Give your child opportunity for success in activities they enjoy and do well in.

  • Praise your child often for positive work qualities.

  • Discuss current events and ideas.

  • Work on strategies for solving problems with classmates and friends.

Support groups are helpful. Talking with other parents is a good way to better understand what works with children and teachers when dealing with learning disabilities.


  • The Learning Disabilities Association of America: www.ldaamerica.us

  • National Dissemination Center For Children With Disabilities: http://nichcy.org

  • The National Center for Learning Disabilities: www.ncld.org

  • Nemours Foundation: http://kidshealth.org