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5 Learning Disabilities a Kid Might Have: Symptoms to Look For

Children with a learning disability will often strongly dislike reading.

Children with a learning disability will often strongly dislike reading.

Does My Child Have a Learning Disability?

A learning disability, also known as a learning problem, occurs when a child of average intelligence has difficulty attaining specific 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 happen when the brain incorrectly interprets what it sees or hears, preventing information from different parts of the brain to properly connect. Some people are only affected in one area, while others may have many learning disabilities which impact their lives more intensely.

Signs of a Possible Learning Disability, by Age

Signs to Look for: Preschool AgeSigns to Look for: Kindergarten Through Fourth GradeSigns to Look for: 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

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, or scissors

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 essential to consider outside factors before calling a child's normal issues a disability.

Children grow at different speeds. It is crucial to keep in mind the many other reasons a child may suddenly or consistently do poorly in school, reasons 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 likely fall behind in school. The child may have difficulty concentrating due to life's stresses, not because of a disconnect in their brain.

A Word About ADHD and Autism

Aside from developmental disorders, another reason children may have trouble learning is a developmental 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. Children with autism also may have difficulty at school.

The average child on the autism spectrum has an average- to above-average intelligence. Their inability to communicate well may cause them to seem less intelligent than they are. They also may have difficulty learning the necessary skills due to their desire to focus on impertinent information. Children with autism will struggle in more areas than just academics.

Children with learning disabilities may have trouble joining a classroom discussion.

Children with learning disabilities may have trouble joining a classroom discussion.

5 Most Common Learning Disabilities in Kids

If it is clear that the child is not under any unusual stress and does not have a diagnosable disorder such as ADHD or autism, you may want to consider the possibility that the child has a learning disability. Different learning disabilities affect different areas; some will inhibit the ability to read, while others will impede learning math, and others may even affect someone socially or physically. The five main types include:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Dysphasia

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


Dyslexia is the most well-known learning disability, one that affects a person's ability to learn to read. Someone with this disability often has difficulty understanding how individual letters make a particular sound, or they may have difficulty comprehending the meanings of words, phrases, or sentences.

Signs of dyslexia include difficulties. . .

  • 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.
  • recognizing or reading a word correctly. They may read it correctly aloud in a sentence or paragraph, then struggle when the word comes up again later.


Dyscalculia is the mathematics equivalent of dyslexia. Keep in mind that these disorders can be separate 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, dyslexia needs to be treated before 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 a child struggles with memorization, then more challenging mathematics will become nearly impossible.

Signs of dyscalculia include difficulties. . .

  • counting by twos or fives.
  • doing simple addition without using fingers.
  • judging quick, simple calculations.
Each child learns differently. Understanding the difference between learning disabilities will help you understand how your child needs support.

Each child learns differently. Understanding the difference between learning disabilities will help you understand how your child needs support.


Dysgraphia is the writing equivalent of dyslexia and dyscalculia. When a child suffers from dysgraphia, they have trouble organizing their thoughts on paper, which may extend to forming letters or words to express those thoughts.

Signs of dysgraphia include . . .

  • writing very sloppily.
  • incorrectly copying letters or words.
  • consistently misspelling things.
  • having trouble writing coherently and with organization.
The most important thing for a child's academic success is to be an ally in their learning.

The most important thing for a child's academic success is to be an ally in their learning.


Dyspraxia involves motor skills. A child who struggles with their fine motor skills, which includes manually using tools or writing, or their gross motor skills, including running or jumping. Dyspraxia results from the brain's inability to communicate with one's limbs.

Signs of dyspraxia include . . .

  • appearing clumsy.
  • having great difficulty buttoning shirts or zipping.
  • having sloppy handwriting.
  • tripping or falling frequently.


Dysphasia affects one's language, whether understanding the spoken word, speaking, 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.

Signs of dysphasia include. . .

  • struggling to retell a story.
  • difficulty speaking fluently in their first language.
  • inability to understand the meaning of words or directions.
  • refusing to answer questions in class.
A child with a learning disability that is not being properly treated will feel like a failure and begin to lose interest in school.

A child with a learning disability that is not being properly treated will feel like a failure and begin to lose interest in school.

Support for Children

The first thing you need to do if your child has a learning disability is 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 succeed at school, work, and all other aspects of their life.

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, and this is just one small struggle to overcome.
  • Contact your child's school to make sure that they utilize all possible avenues to 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 of bullet points.
  • Educate yourself by reading about available services, 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. Gaining confidence in one area 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. Please 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 believe it is just another obstacle they must overcome, like all the others, they will view it the same.

A friend of mine 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 have to work twice as hard." She is now 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 set them ahead of children who do not have the support system your child has. A learning disability is a setback but doesn't have to stop them from the future they want.


  • Accessed February 27, 2018.
  • "Learning Disabilities Association of America." Learning Disabilities Association of America. Accessed February 27, 2018.
  • "Learning-styles-online.comDiscover your learning styles - graphically!" Overview of learning styles. Accessed February 27, 2018.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz


Audrey Selig from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on December 04, 2014:

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 Schultz (author) from United States on September 29, 2012:

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

Dianna Mendez on September 28, 2012:

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.

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on September 28, 2012:

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 Schultz (author) from United States on September 28, 2012:

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.

carol stanley from Arizona on September 28, 2012:

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 from New Jersey on September 27, 2012:

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!