Definition of a Learning Disability: Symptoms and Types

Children with a learning disability will often strongly dislike reading.
Children with a learning disability will often strongly dislike reading. | Source

A learning disability, also known as a learning problem, occurs when a child of normal intelligence has difficulty attaining certain skills such as reading or mathematics. The disorder mainly affects those in childhood, although it can be a lifelong condition affecting school, work, and even social situations with friends and family. Learning problems are due to the brain incorrectly interpreting what it sees and hears; information from different parts of the brain do not connect properly. Some people are only affected in one area, while others may have numerous learning disabilities, which impact their lives more intensely.

Symptoms of a Learning Disability

Preschool Age
Kindergarten through Fourth Grade
Fifth through Eighth Grade
Difficulty in pronouncing words
Difficulty learning to read
Avoids reading out loud
Unable to understand the concept of rhyming
Trouble understanding the connection between letters and their sounds
Strong dislike towards reading and writing
May have difficulty finding the right word
Difficulty blending letter sounds together to form words
Difficulty answering word problems and open-ended questions
Trouble learning the alphabet, colors, days of the week, numbers, or shapes
Confuses basic words with one another
One word within the same assignment will be spelled differently
Slow at learning routines
Consistenly misspells words
Very disorganized
Trouble following simple directions
Trouble learning basic math concepts
Appear confused during classroom discussions
Unable to properly use or hold crayons, pencils, and scissors correctly
Slow in learning to tell time and understanding time units
Trouble communicating their thoughts
Difficulty coloring inside the lines
Understanding Sequences is very difficult
Sloppy handwriting
Has a difficult time buttoning, zipping, snapping, and learning to tie shoes
Overall slowness in learning new skills
Poor grades

Understanding the Symptoms

Just because a child has a couple of these symptoms, does not mean they have a learning disability. It is important to look to outside factors, before assuming a child has a disability.

Children grow at different speeds. It is important to keep in mind the many other reasons a child may suddenly or consistently do poorly in school that have nothing to do with their ability to learn. If a child is in a stressful situation at home, experiencing emotional trauma, or suffering from anxiety or depression, they will fall behind in school. The child may have difficulty concentrating due to life's stresses, not because of a disconnect in their brain.

Another reason children may have trouble learning that does not include a learning disability is due to another disorder such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or a form of autism. Children with ADHD have trouble focusing and following instructions, which will result in symptoms that mimic a learning disorder. Although I am wary of this diagnosis, because I believe it to be too widely diagnosed.

Children with autism also may have difficulty at school. The average child who is on the autism spectrum, usually has an average to above average intelligence. Their inability to communicate well may cause them to seem to be less intelligent than they are or unable to explain their answers appropriately. They also may have difficulty learning basic skills, due to their desire to focus on impertinent information. Children with autism will struggle in more areas than just academics.

Types of Learning Disabilities

If it is clear that the child is not under any unusual stress, nor has a diagnosable disorder such as ADHD or autism, then you may want to consider the possibility that the child has a learning disability. There are many different types of learning disabilities that affect different areas of one's academics or life. Some will inhibit the ability to read, others will inhibit ability to learn math, while others may even affect someone socially or physically.

Classroom Participation

Children with a learning disability may have trouble joining a conversation because of an inability to express thoughts.
Children with a learning disability may have trouble joining a conversation because of an inability to express thoughts. | Source

Dyslexia

Dyslexia is the most well known learning disability, which affects one's ability to learn to read. Someone with this disability often has difficulty understanding how certain letters make a certain sound or they may have an inability to comprehend the meanings of words, phrases, or sentences. Some clues someone may have dyslexia is that they will have difficulty in...

  • Recognizing letters, despite having reviewed them repeatedly.
  • Being able to read basic words.
  • Understanding words or ideas, despite being able to read fluently.
  • Expanding their vocabulary
  • Reading a word correctly previously in a sentence or paragraph, yet struggles when the word comes up later.

Each Child Learns Differently

Understanding the difference between learning disabilities, will help you understand where your child needs the most support.
Understanding the difference between learning disabilities, will help you understand where your child needs the most support. | Source

Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is the mathematics equivalent of dyslexia. Keep in mind, these disorders can be separate from each other or work in conjunction with one another. For instance, a child may have great difficulty doing word problems, because they do not understand what they are reading. In this case, the dyslexia would need to be treated before the dyscalculia.

Problems that arise in someone who only suffers from dyscalculia, appear during sequencing, memorizing, or organizing. Memorization is an essential part of math, because math facts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are the building blocks of all mathematics. If they struggle with memorization, then harder mathematics will become nearly impossible for the individual.

Having trouble sequencing, would reveal itself if a person has trouble with:

  • Counting by twos or fives.
  • Doing simple addition without using fingers.
  • Quick, simple calculations.

Dysgraphia

Dysgraphia is the writing equivalent of the other two. When a child suffers from dysgraphia, they have trouble organizing their thoughts on paper. This may extend to forming letters or words on paper in order to express those thoughts. If a child has this difficulty, you may notice that they:

  • Write very sloppily.
  • Incorrectly copies letters or words.
  • Consistently spell things incorrectly.
  • Has trouble writing coherently and with organization.

Supporting Your Child's Learning

The single most important thing for your child's academic success is to encourage them and be an ally in their learning.
The single most important thing for your child's academic success is to encourage them and be an ally in their learning. | Source

Dyspraxia

Dyspraxia involves one's motor skills. Someone who struggles with either their fine motor skills, which includes using scissors or writing, or their gross motor skills, which includes running or jumping. Dyspraxia is a result of the brain's inability to communicate to one's limbs. Someone who suffers from this will:

  • Appear clumsy.
  • Have great difficulty buttoning shirts or zipping.
  • Have sloppy handwriting.
  • Trip or fall frequently.

Dysphasia

Dysphasia affects one's language, whether it be understanding the spoken language or organizing thoughts. This learning disability can affect one's social life. Therefore, a child who has trouble with dysphasia is often picked on or becomes very quiet to the point of timidity and shyness. Those who struggle with Dysphasia, may:

  • Struggle to retell a story.
  • Unable to speak fluently in their first language.
  • Inability to understand the meaning of words or directions.
  • Refuse to answer questions in class.

Many of these disabilities will overlap with one another and can sometimes be mistaken for one another as well. There are very fine lines that define the characteristics of each learning disability. Therefore, it is important to be aware of all five types and have a professional make an assessment.

Sleeping at School

A child with a learning disability that is not being properly treated will feel like a failure and begin to hate school.
A child with a learning disability that is not being properly treated will feel like a failure and begin to hate school. | Source

Support for Children with Learning Disabilities

The first thing you need to do, if your child has a learning disability is to turn to specialists who can help. Also, educate yourself. The Learning Disabilities Association of America is a great resource. One of their strongest beliefs is that every person with a learning disability can be successful at school, work, and all other aspects of their lives.

So what can you do to help your child become a success?

  • Recognize that a learning disability is not catastrophic. We all have struggles in our lives, this is just one small struggle that can be overcome.
  • Contact your child's school to make sure that they utilize all possible avenues that will help your child succeed at school. If you homeschool, look into programs that can help your child, such as those listed in the next couple bullet points.
  • Educate yourself, by reading about services that are provided, as well as research treatments.
  • Hire a therapist or tutor to help your child with their learning problem.
  • Focus on your child's strengths, not their weaknesses. If they are passionate about something, foster the things they do well. By gaining confidence in one area, it will help them strive in another.
  • Be your child's advocate. You may be the only voice for your child. Speak up if you feel your child needs extra help. Don't be ashamed of it.
  • Don't look down on learning disabilities. Your view of learning disabilities will transfer to your child. If you think it is a bad thing, then they will too. If you think it is just another obstacle in life that they have to go through, like all the others, they will view it the same. A friend of mine who has a learning disability and has excelled in school and life. What made the difference was her father. Her father said to her, "You are just as smart as everyone else, it just takes you longer to get from point A to point B. So if you want to keep up, you just have to work twice as hard." She now is a nurse and graduated second in her class. .

Learning disorders are not a death sentence. It may affect your child, but by getting the proper help for them, you can actually set them ahead of children who do not have the support system your child has. A learning disability is a set back, but doesn't have to stop them from the future they want.

© 2012 Angela Michelle

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Comments 7 comments

brakel2 profile image

brakel2 2 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Hi Angela - What a great hub and so well organized. Some of the learning disabilities are unfamiliar to me, while others I knew from children who possess the disability. A friend has a child who cannot read, as he sees letters differently. He is smart, and somehow graduated from high school. This hub interested me very much and makes me want to help these kids. Maybe I could volunteer. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Pinning. Blessings, Audrey


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 4 years ago from United States Author

Thank you both very much. Goodlady, thanks for sharing your story about your son!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Very well done and researched. This will help many parents to understand the term much better. I find that children often suffer because parents (and some teachers) do not understand that they have this disability. Great share and voted up.


GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

Such useful information for parents of children who may or may not have learning difficulties. Voting.

My son is an average dyslexic, which means he has some extraordinary qualities and has great difficulties with other things. The important thing, as you point out, is to find a specialist to help as early as you can. My son is a successful product designer in Milan today, yet all through his schooling he had to have a private teacher to help him with his ordinary school work.

Voting up and interesting and useful.


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 4 years ago from United States Author

I think you are so right Jean about catching it early, which is why I think it is important not to be prideful and admit it early, for the reasons you mentioned.

Carol, thanks for sharing you story, I hope other mothers of children with learning disabilities will read it.


carol7777 profile image

carol7777 4 years ago from Arizona

I wanted to share this and I will be brief. My son had learning disabilities..I discovered when he was 2 by a special woman. He just was slow to develop. Went thru terrible 2s at 3 and so on. Trouble relating to other kids. Late to walk, talk etc...After always being at the right place at the right time he got lots of great help. He is married now, graduated cum laude from college, masters degree and now PHD. Pretty amazing. I was lucky as I felt something was wrong at a very young age. It is difficult for parents but there are many wonderful solutions. Great HUB. Voting UP.


Jean Bakula profile image

Jean Bakula 4 years ago from New Jersey

This is a well researched article. My son is a 1st grade teacher, and says the foundations are really laid there. The children are tested quite a bit early in the school year. I live in NJ, and we do have good special needs teachers who can help the children who come into schools with low skills. It helps to catch them early, because it quickly will make them dislike reading or doing schoolwork if they are not able to understand or pick things up as fast as the others. Those first two years are crucial, getting them while they still like school!

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