Lots of kids struggle with reading, writing, speaking, and math at some point or another. It’s not uncommon to take slightly longer than average to pick up one of these skills, and trouble at school doesn’t necessarily point to a learning disorder.
Learning disabilities don’t look the same on everyone, but if you think your child might have one, it’s good to know the signs.
What is a learning disability?
A learning disability essentially means a child has a hard time picking up one or multiple skills, like reading or math, because their brain doesn’t process the information in the way it’s being taught. It can impact more than just one class — as reading or math overlap into so many areas — and trying to learn in a typical way can be exhausting for a child who needs more support. A learning disability can also impact your child’s confidence, but it does not mean that they aren’t intelligent. There are so many ways to learn, and that’s why identification is key!
Types of learning disabilities
The most common types of learning disabilities are dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.
Dyslexia means someone struggles to recognize words, spell, and make the connection between letters and sounds. A child with dyslexia will often have trouble reading, have difficulty sounding out words, or mix up words.
Dysgraphia causes a person to tense up or twist awkwardly when holding a pencil or pen. It can lead to challenges with writing, poor handwriting, and difficulty drawing shapes.
Dyscalculia means someone struggles to understand basic number concepts, like positive and negative numbers, sequences, and fractions. A child with this learning disability will often have trouble in math class.
Signs your child may have a learning disability
As noted, many kids have trouble learning new skills at some point — and this doesn’t automatically mean they have a learning disability. A child with a learning disability will show several signs that don’t improve or go away over time.
A child with a learning disability might:
- Have ongoing trouble with reading, writing, speaking, or math
- Have a poor memory
- Have trouble telling left from right
- Struggle to understand or follow directions
- Struggle to stay focused or become easily distracted
- Have trouble cutting with scissors, holding a pen or drawing
- Have difficulty telling time or understanding the concept of time
- Lack coordination
- Be unable to stay organized
- Be impulsive or “act out” in school
Bear in mind the signs of a learning disability vary among children, and these behaviors don’t necessarily mean your child has one.
What to do if you think your child may have a learning disability
Since learning disabilities don’t get better or go away on their own, early detection is key. Though some kids may feel ashamed of their condition, a diagnosis is the first step to getting proper support and preventing the issue from causing further anxiety, low self-esteem, or complete avoidance of school down the road.
There are many paths to a diagnosis, and usually a team of educators and providers can be involved. If you suspect a learning disability, reach out to your school or pediatric provider for next steps on the road to discovery.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Learning disorders: Know the signs, how to help.” Mayo Clinic. 2023. Web. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/learning-disorders/art-20046105
- National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “What are some signs of learning disabilities?” National Institutes of Health (NIH). 2018. Web. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/learning/conditioninfo/signs
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Learning Disorders in Children.” 2022. Web. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/developmentaldisabilities/learning-disorder.html