Common Learning Disabilities: Everything You Need to Know


Many children struggle in school from time to time, and some subjects contain concepts that are more difficult to learn than others. However, your child may have a learning disability if there is a persistent struggle with a specific set of skills over time.

No parent wants to see their child frustrated and confused while completing schoolwork. You may worry about how a learning disability will affect your child’s future, but it’s important to remember that treatment options and strategies can help. Most children with learning disabilities are just as capable as their peers; they simply require a varied teaching approach to reach their full potential.

Common Learning Disabilities

Here is an overview of four common learning disabilities, symptoms, and evaluation outcomes.

1. Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a common learning disability that affects the development of basic reading and spelling skills. Children with dyslexia often have difficulty with accurate and fluent word recognition and have poor spelling and decoding abilities. Although children with dyslexia struggle with reading and spelling, they usually excel in other areas where reading is not a primary focus.

Individuals with any level of intelligence may have dyslexia. Most people are surprised to hear an individual has dyslexia because of their achievement in other areas. Dyslexia can occur in an individual with any level of intelligence and/or in combination with other disabilities, including attention hyperactivity disorder and vision and hearing impairments.

Signs of Dyslexia

  • Difficulty learning to rhyme words
  • Difficulty learning letter names and sounds of the alphabet
  • Confusion of letters and words that look similar (Example: b, d, p, q; was and saw)
  • Confusion of letters with similar sounds (f and v)
  • Reversals and transpositions of letters and words that continue past the age of 7
  • Trouble arranging letters in the correct order when spelling
  • Spelling the same word in different ways on the same page
  • Difficulty pronouncing some multi-syllable words correctly
  • Slow reading rate and fluency

Dyslexia is a very common learning disability. It affects 20%, or 1 in every five people. Many children with dyslexia are diagnosed around 5 or 6 years old when reading and spelling difficulties begin to appear. An educational psychologist can evaluate and diagnose your child with dyslexia, and your child’s school or pediatrician should be able to refer you to one. While there is no single test for dyslexia, the evaluator will test your child’s abilities in many areas of literacy. These areas include decoding, oral language skills, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, vocabulary, and word recognition. The evaluator may also request a vision and hearing test.

Although there is no cure for dyslexia, your child can improve reading and writing skills by working with a reading specialist or tutor. Children with dyslexia see great success when participating in multisensory structured programs such as Orton-Gillingham, Barton, Wilson, and Lindamood-Bell.

2. Dyspraxia

Dyspraxia is a common disorder that causes children to struggle with fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and motor planning. It often occurs in combination with other disabilities such as ADHD, sensory processing issues, mental health issues, and autism. It can also affect speech. Dyspraxia affects 1 in 10 people.

Dyspraxia is not an official diagnosis. A doctor may diagnose your child with developmental coordination disorder instead. It may also be called a specific developmental disorder of motor function.

Signs of Dyspraxia

  • Fine motor skills (performing tasks with the hands, feet, head, or face):
    • Poor handwriting
    • Difficulty completing a puzzle
    • Difficulty using utensils
    • Pronouncing words
  • Gross motor skills (performing tasks with large muscles of the body)
    • May have walked later than the average child
    • Difficulty kicking or throwing a ball
    • Difficulty keeping balance
    • Unable to run, hop, or jump
    • Sometimes thought to be clumsy or careless

Children with dyspraxia may also have sleeping difficulties, temper tantrums, be very excitable, or easily distressed. If you suspect your child has dyspraxia, consult your pediatrician. You may then be referred to a psychologist or neuropsychologist where the evaluator may assess your child’s cognition, memory, perception, verbal communication, and walking. An occupational therapist will help your child with fine and gross motor skills. A speech therapist may also be needed if your child has language and speech difficulties.

3. ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects a person’s ability to pay attention, sit still, and practice self-control. ADHD is caused by differences in the brain. Children with ADHD may appear to be hyperactive and impulsive. This can cause problems in the child’s school and social life. ADHD is one of the most common disorders. Approximately 8.4% of children have a current diagnosis of ADHD.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders divides ADHD into three types: predominantly inattentive presentation, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation, and combined presentation.

Signs of ADHD

  • Predominantly inattentive:
    • Difficulty paying attention
    • Avoids mental tasks (such as homework)
    • Trouble staying on task
    • Disorganized
    • Doesn’t appear to listen when spoken to
    • Doesn’t pay attention to details
    • Loses things often
    • Makes careless mistakes
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive:
    • May blurt out answers before a question is finished
    • Constantly interrupting others
    • Difficulty waiting for their turn
    • Talks too much
    • Difficulty staying in their seat (gets up during inappropriate times; runs or climbs in inappropriate situations)
    • Acts as if driven by a motor
  • Combined presentation:
    • Has symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity

Children can be diagnosed with ADHD as young as four years old. If you suspect your child has ADHD, set up an appointment with your pediatrician. Your pediatrician will ask you questions about your child’s symptoms and may give you and your child’s teacher a questionnaire to fill out.

There are treatment options if your child is diagnosed with ADHD, such as medications that can help improve the symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity. There are many medication options, so be sure to discuss them all with your child’s pediatrician. It may take a few tries to find your child’s correct dose and medication.

Children with ADHD may also benefit from behavioral therapy and social skills training. Your child can learn strategies for dealing with difficult situations and learn appropriate social behaviors.

4. Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to do basic mathematics such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. For a child with dyscalculia, learning math is frustrating and confusing. They may have trouble recalling math facts from memory. It is hard for children with dyscalculia to understand and process math-related tasks.

Dyscalculia affects 3-7% of the population. Experts are still researching it, and little is known about the cause. If dyscalculia runs in your family, your child is more likely to have it. It often co-exists with other learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and ADHD.

Signs of Dyscalculia

  • Difficulty recognizing numbers
  • Struggles to connect numerical symbols with words
  • Difficulty recognizing patterns
  • Losing track when counting and a delay in learning to count
  • Struggles with math homework, assignments, tests

An educational psychologist can evaluate and diagnose your child with dyscalculia, and your child’s school or pediatrician should be able to refer you to one. A complete evaluation will show the specific areas your child is struggling with. The tests may assess computation skills, math fluency, mental computation, and quantitative reasoning.

There are treatment options if your child is diagnosed with dyscalculia. Children with dyscalculia benefit from a teaching approach that uses multisensory techniques. This will help your child develop number sense and connect concrete items to the numerical symbols that represent them. Your child may also qualify for accommodations through an IEP or a 504 Plan. These accommodations could allow your child to get extended time, use a calculator, or the ability to use manipulatives during math assessments.

If you suspect your child has a learning disability, talk to your pediatrician. Early detection is key to helping your child be successful. If diagnosed with a learning disability, your child will receive a treatment plan that will help him reach his academic potential, as well as improve self-esteem and strategies to lead a normal, successful life as an adult.





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