Signs of Common Learning Disabilities in Children

frustrated kid doing homework
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More than 2.6 million students have a learning disability, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, but perceptive parents and educators can ensure that these youth get intervention as soon as possible by spotting the warning signs early. Get a breakdown of common signs of learning disabilities with this list, but note that it isn't exhaustive. Consult a professional if a child is having trouble, even in areas not listed here.

Signs of Reading Disabilities

  • Finds it difficult to remember the names of the letters of the alphabet.
  • Trouble remembering and reproducing the sounds each letter makes.
  • Finds it difficult to recognize sight words and may substitute small words for one another.
  • Doesn’t grasp the connection between letters, sounds, and words, not understanding that each letter’s sound contributes to the sound of the word.
  • May have difficulty with vocabulary, either having a limited one or not understanding new words when they are presented.
  • Difficulty sounding out or spelling words.
  • Reads slowly and non-fluently.
  • Comprehends text differently when reading it compared to when listening to a passage.

Signs of Writing Disabilities

  • May find it difficult to hold and use a writing implement correctly.
  • Doesn’t always form letters the same way or forgets how to make them.
  • Trouble copying shapes or drawing lines and figures.
  • Expresses oneself better and more richly verbally than in writing.
  • May have messy handwriting with inconsistent spacing.

Signs of Math Disabilities

  • Has difficulty with sequencing, not only numbers but events and information as well.
  • Has trouble with math-related concepts that don’t specifically ask for any computation. For example days, weeks and months or seasons; periods in a game.
  • May have trouble recognizing and reproducing simple and complex patterns. This includes not only simple patterns, but also things like fact families and the relationship between operations.
  • Has trouble understanding and representing place value and regrouping.
  • Lines numbers up incorrectly when writing math problems.
  • Has trouble with fractions, percentages, and geometry.
  • Isn’t able to follow the order of operations.
  • Has trouble with money and making change.

Signs of Language Disabilities

There are a number of different types of language disorders, including central auditory processing disorders, receptive language disorders, expressive language disorders and non-verbal learning disabilities. This list combines the signs of all types of language disorders; if not all apply, don’t assume your child shouldn’t be evaluated.

  • Isn’t always able to understand what someone means when they speak.
  • Is slow to voice thoughts and is often frustrated that he’s “not explaining it right” or can’t find the right words.
  • Can describe or draw an item but isn’t able to recall the word for it or label objects properly.
  • Doesn’t get jokes and is confused by metaphors, similes, puns and other wordplay.
  • Incorrectly pronounces and spells words that sound similar.
  • Omits syllables from words, either when speaking or writing.
  • Has difficulty following verbal directions, particularly multi-step directions.
  • Isn’t able to follow the conversation, especially when people speak quickly.
  • Often asks “What?” but not because he hasn’t heard you.
  • Distracted by background noise.
  • Doesn’t understand or read non-verbal cues.

Signs of Visual-Perceptual Disabilities

  • Has trouble navigating from one place to another (in the neighborhood, for example).
  • Has trouble keeping his place.
  • May reverse or invert letters that look similar. For example, “b” for “d” or “w” for “m.”
  • Turns paper when cutting with scissors (instead of the scissors).
  • May squint, close one eye, rub eyes or complain of them itching or hurting when working.  
  • Doesn’t copy things correctly.
  • Can’t recognize an item or word if shown only part of it.
  • Has irregular or messy spacing on papers, when writing, coloring, cutting or gluing.