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What are the indicators of learning disabilities?

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Many children have difficulty with reading, writing, or other learning-related tasks at some point, but this does not mean they have learning disabilities. A child with a learning disability often has several related signs, and these persist over time. The signs of learning disabilities vary from person to person. Common signs that a person may have learning disabilities include the following:

  • Difficulty with reading and/or writing
  • Problems with math skills
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Problems paying attention
  • Trouble following directions
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty with concepts related to time
  • Problems staying organized1

A child with a learning disability also may exhibit one or more of the following2:

  • Impetuous behavior
  • Inappropriate responses in school or social situations
  • Difficulty staying on task (easily distracted)
  • Difficulty finding the right way to say something
  • Inconsistent school performance
  • Immature way of speaking
  • Difficulty listening well
  • Problems dealing with new things in life
  • Problems understanding words or concepts

These signs alone are not enough to determine that a person has a learning disability. A professional assessment is necessary to diagnose a learning disability.

Each learning disability has its own signs. Also, not every person with a particular disability will have all of the signs of that disability.

Children being taught in a second language that they are learning sometimes act in ways that are similar to the behaviors of someone with a learning disability. For this reason, learning disability assessment must take into account whether a student is bilingual or a second language learner.

Below are some common learning disabilities and the signs associated with them:

Dyslexia
Dysgraphia
Dyscalculia
Dyspraxia

Dyslexia

People with dyslexia usually have trouble making the connections between letters and sounds and with spelling and recognizing words.3

People with dyslexia often show other signs of the condition. These may include4,5:

  • Failure to fully understand what others are saying
  • Difficulty organizing written and spoken language
  • Delayed ability to speak
  • Poor self-expression (for example, saying "thing" or "stuff" for words not recalled)
  • Difficulty learning new vocabulary, either through reading or hearing
  • Trouble learning foreign languages
  • Slowness in learning songs and rhymes
  • Slow reading as well as giving up on longer reading tasks
  • Difficulty understanding questions and following directions
  • Poor spelling
  • Difficulty recalling numbers in sequence (for example, telephone numbers and addresses)
  • Trouble distinguishing left from right

Dysgraphia

Dysgraphia is characterized by problems with writing. This disorder may cause a child to be tense and awkward when holding a pen or pencil, even to the extent of contorting his or her body. A child with very poor handwriting that he or she does not outgrow may have dysgraphia.6

Other signs of this condition may include 6:

  • A strong dislike of writing and/or drawing
  • Problems with grammar
  • Trouble writing down ideas
  • A quick loss of energy and interest while writing
  • Trouble writing down thoughts in a logical sequence
  • Saying words out loud while writing
  • Leaving words unfinished or omitting them when writing sentences

Dyscalculia

Signs of this disability include problems understanding basic arithmetic concepts, such as fractions, number lines, and positive and negative numbers.

Other symptoms may include7:

  • Difficulty with math-related word problems
  • Trouble making change in cash transactions
  • Messiness in putting math problems on paper
  • Trouble recognizing logical information sequences (for example, steps in math problems)
  • Trouble with understanding the time sequence of events
  • Difficulty with verbally describing math processes

Dyspraxia

A person with dyspraxia has problems with motor tasks, such as hand-eye coordination, that can interfere with learning.

Some other symptoms of this condition include7:

  • Problems organizing oneself and one’s things
  • Breaking things
  • Trouble with tasks that require hand-eye coordination, such as coloring within the lines, assembling puzzles, and cutting precisely
  • Poor balance
  • Sensitivity to loud and/or repetitive noises, such as the ticking of a clock
  • Sensitivity to touch, including irritation over bothersome-feeling clothing

  1. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (2011). Children with learning disabilities. Retrieved June 26, 2012, from http://www.aacap.org/page.ww?name=Children+With+Learning+Disabilities§ion=Facts+for+FamiliesExternal Web Site Policy [top]
  2. Learning Disabilities Association of America. (n.d.). Symptoms of learning disabilities. Retrieved June 15, 2012, from http://www.ldaamerica.us/aboutld/parents/ld_basics/symptoms.aspExternal Web Site Policy [top]
  3. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2011). What is dyslexia? Retrieved June 26, 2012, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/dyslexia/dyslexia.htm [top]
  4. International Dyslexia Association. (2008). Dyslexia basics. Retrieved June 21, 2012, fromhttp://www.interdys.org/ewebeditpro5/upload/BasicsFactSheet.pdf (PDF - 43 KB) External Web Site Policy[top]
  5. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). Language-based learning disabilities. Retrieved June 15, 2012, from http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/LBLD.htm External Web Site Policy [top]
  6. National Center for Learning Disabilities. (2010). What is dysgraphia? Retrieved June 21, 2012, from http://www.ncld.org/ld-basics/ld-aamp-language/writing/dysgraphia External Web Site Policy [top]
  7. Learning Disabilities Association of America. (n.d.). Dyscalculia. Retrieved June 15, 2012, fromhttp://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia/ External Web Site Policy [top]

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Last Updated Date: 03/19/2014
Last Reviewed Date: 02/28/2014
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