Identifying Learning Disabilities

‘I Can’t Do It!’

Boy Thumbs DownEarly identification of a learning disability and prompt help and support are crucial to a child’s success in school and in life.

According to the National Institute of Health, one in seven people have some type of learning disability. Many learning disabilities begin to become apparent when a child is in preschool. Others may go undetected until well into elementary or even middle school. However, the earlier a child is diagnosed, the better. A problem left unattended can undermine a child’s self esteem and affect his attitude about school for years to come.

Some common behaviors that may indicate a learning disability include problems with reading, speech, writing or reasoning; hyperactivity; inability to focus and coordination problems. Kids with a learning disorder may display impulsiveness, frequent frustration, difficulties with interpersonal interactions and erratic test performance.

Identifying Problems at Different Ages

Children with learning disabilities often possess above-average intelligence. They just process information differently. With intervention, the majority of these children succeed academically, socially and personally.

The following is a breakdown of general warning signs that are often associated with learning disabilities at different stages of a child’s development. Although many of these behaviors are common, a child who exhibits several of these signs may very well have a learning disability and should be seen by a professional:


• Difficulty mastering language – The child begins to talk late, has trouble pronouncing words, is slow to use new vocabulary words and is often unable to find the right words.

• Trouble with simple rhymes, numbers, letters and the days of the week.

• Restlessness – The child is very active, restless and unable to focus on craft activities, games or a simple task.

• Difficulty interacting appropriately with peers – The child becomes angry, over-excited or withdrawn around other children.

School-age Children

• Difficulty making the connection between letters and their sounds – The child repeatedly makes the same reading, spelling and pronunciation errors.

• Often transposes letters, numbers and whole words

• Baffled by the concept of time

• Finds new skills hard to learn.

• Covers up lack of knowledge with elaborate memorization

• Poor planning and organizational skills.

• Exhibits lack of coordination and disregard for physical surroundings.

Common Learning Disabilities

Dyslexia – a language-based disability in which a person has trouble understanding words, sentences, or paragraphs.

Dyscalculia – a mathematical disability in which a person has a very difficult time solving arithmetic problems and grasping math concepts.

Dysgraphia – a writing disability in which a person finds it hard to form
letters correctly or write within a defined space.

Auditory and Visual Processing Disabilities – a sensory disability in which a person has difficulty understanding language despite normal hearing and vision.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – While these two attention disorders are now well known, their widespread recognition also makes it more likely that a child may be misdiagnosed or receive inappropriate treatment.

According to the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, parents who think that their child might have ADD or ADHD should carefully evaluate information, products and their choice of health-care practitioners. Increasingly, both children and adults are being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly 2 million people have this disorder.

The warning signs for ADD or ADHD include:

• Making careless mistakes in schoolwork

• Problems playing quietly

• Not listening to what is being said in class and at home

• Losing and misplacing belongings

• Having difficulty paying attention to tasks

• Inability to organize or prioritize tasks

• Difficulty sitting still

• Interrupting and talking excessively

Although most kids exhibit these behaviors from time to time, kids with ADHD exhibit these signs to an extreme. There is no quick treatment, but the problems can be managed by learning everything you can about the disorder; finding out what techniques would help manage your child’s behavior; creating an educational program to fit your child’s needs and exploring the possibility of medication with your pediatrician.

No one knows what causes ADD or ADHD. Some research suggests that individuals with ADD have a different brain metabolism. Evidence also supports the idea that ADD is inherited and not a result anything that occurred during pregnancy, the birth process or as a result of poor parenting.

Successful management of ADD or ADHD requires the support of parents, schools, counselors and medical doctors. With early intervention and continued support of the child and the whole family, individuals with ADD or ADHD can manage their disorder and become happy and productive adults.

Related Reading

  • Dealing with Learning Differences: Learn more about new tools and approaches that help kids with learning disabilities succeed
  • For more on AD/HD, find out What’s New in Our Understanding of ADHD?  
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