Contents hide
Learning disabilities in children

Learning disabilities in children

Learning disabilities are problems with one or more of the following areas of learning, such as reading, spelling, writing or maths. Learning disabilities are sometimes also called specific learning disabilities, learning difficulties, specific learning difficulties and dyslexia. Federal law states that a learning disability is a permanent neurological disorder that may be subtle to severe. It limits the brain’s ability to store, process, and produce information and affects a person’s ability to speak, listen, read, write, or do math. A child with a learning disability has average to above average intelligence, but he or she falls below his or her academic potential to a significant degree. The current estimates indicate that children with learning disabilities make up 15 percent of the school-age population.

Learning disabilities must be assessed and diagnosed by professionals.

Learning disabilities are present in approximately 5% of school-aged children globally 1. Some researchers have argued of a true prevalence as high as 15% to 20%. Reportedly, 4.9% of Canadian children in the ages six to fifteen years have a learning disability; this prevalence differed across the age spectrum, from 1.6% in children who are 6-year-olds to 7.2% among children that are 10-year-olds. Public school data in the United States showed an approximated learning disability prevalence of 5% between the school-aged children, accounting for 2.4 million students with learning disabilities 2.

Around 30% of children with learning disabilities have behavioral and emotional problems. There exists a firm relation between inattentiveness and reading disabilities. Depending on the sample taken, 10% up to as much as 60% of children with learning disabilities have concomitant attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). There is a high coexistence of learning disabilities in children with depression, as high as 62% 3. Although autism spectrum disorder is not a specific learning disability, it certainly affects learning, because of individuals with autism struggle with nonverbal and verbal communication, social interactions, and motor function, as well as an inappropriate response to sensory information 4.

Children with learning disabilities may become frustrated, lose interest in school, and avoid challenges. They may have low self-esteem and emotional problems, such as withdrawal, anxiety, depression, or aggression. It is also common for children with learning disabilities to have social problems. Children with undiagnosed learning disabilities can become angry and frustrated. These feelings may lead to emotional problems.

Children with learning disabilities can suffer from low self-esteem. They’re also at a higher risk of dropping out of school if the disability isn’t picked up early. This means it’s important to identify learning disabilities early, and help your child build resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from problems and setbacks. It’s an important life skill for all children, especially those with learning disabilities.

A child with a learning disability will have a low level of ability in one or more of these areas when his educational opportunities, age and other abilities are taken into account.

Although learning disabilities can be challenging for your child, your child can still learn and be successful. Kids with learning problems are sometimes surprised to find out that one of their parents had similar troubles in school. But kids today have an advantage over their parents. Learning experts now know a lot more about the brain and how learning works — so it’s easier for kids to get the help they need.

Early intervention is essential because learning disabilities can snowball. A child who doesn’t learn to add in elementary school won’t be able to tackle algebra in high school. Children who have learning disabilities can also experience performance anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, chronic fatigue or loss of motivation. Some children might act out to distract attention from their challenges at school.

A child’s teacher, parents or guardian, doctor, or other professional can request an evaluation if there are concerns about learning problems. Your child will likely first have tests to rule out vision or hearing problems or other medical conditions. Often, a child will have a series of exams conducted by a team of professionals, including a psychologist, special education teacher, occupational therapist, social worker or nurse.

The determination of a learning disability and the need for services are based on the results of tests, teacher feedback, input from the parents or guardians, and a review of academic performance. A diagnosis of severe anxiety or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) also might be relevant. These conditions can contribute to delays in developing academic skills.

Learning disabilities are treated educationally, preferably with early intervention. An educational specialist can teach effective learning strategies to help a child overcome his or her learning problems. In addition to ensuring that schools provide diagnostic testing, federal laws require that remedial services be provided to all children who qualify for them. Private tutoring may also be beneficial to maximize progress. Repeating a grade is typically not recommended and may be associated with poor long term outcomes.

Children and their families may benefit from psychological counseling. Understanding and emotional support are needed for children with learning disabilities so they can feel good about themselves. It is also essential to provide opportunities for success in areas where the child may shine. Finally, children with learning disabilities sometimes have problems with peer relationships and may benefit from counseling to help improve their social skills.

Learning disabilities are not treated medically; however, children with learning disabilities who are also diagnosed with a co-existing disorder such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may benefit from medication. Physicians should follow the academic progress of their patients as part of their overall medical management.

A kid might work with a tutor or specialist or even go to a special class. But often, kids with learning disabilities can continue in their regular classrooms and there’s no reason they can’t do normal stuff, like participate in school activities and sports.

Though some kids might feel shy about having a learning problem, it can be a relief to finally know what’s going on. Then, the kid doesn’t have to feel as worried and upset about school — because he or she is learning how to learn in new ways. The psychologist or learning specialist might even give you a learning plan — then you can see what the strategy is for helping you learn. They can even offer help with organizational skills. If you’re not organized, it’s hard to get any schoolwork done.

The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) guarantees every child with free, appropriate public education that is tailored to each child needs and that allows parents to be able to request a formal educational evaluation by their school district, this way determining if a child has any type of disability and will qualify for special education and related services 5.

Interprofessional care is a crucial element for a good outcome. This includes a range of specialists including educators, educational remediation specialists, special services, physicians (general pediatricians, ophthalmologists, geneticists), speech, occupational and physical therapists, clinical psychologists or other mental health providers, in those included developmental/ behavioral and neurodevelopmental pediatricians, educational therapists, developmental nurses, among others. Based on some research evidence, children manifesting school problems and are suspected of having learning disabilities should undergo a comprehensive medical evaluation, in those including a thorough history and physical examination, to be able to identify relevant risk factors for learning disability 5.

To help your child be resilient and positive about her ability and disability, you could try the following suggestions:

  • Be a role model: You can be a role model for your child by being positive, assertive and resilient yourself. For example, if you’ve baked a cake that doesn’t taste good, you can say, ‘It doesn’t matter. I’ll try another recipe next time’. Or if you get some negative feedback at work, you can say, ‘That’s hard to hear, but I can also learn from it’.
  • Praise and encouragement:
    • Always praise your child for having a go at something.
    • Celebrate your child’s abilities and achievements by pointing out the non-academic things your child is good at. It might be sport, music, drama, or being kind and friendly or an excellent cook.
    • Encourage your child to notice the positive things in her life and see that her learning difficulties are only one small part of who she is.
    • Encourage your child to work out what he needs to get over difficulties – for example, do written instructions and diagrams help him, or does he prefer spoken instructions?
    • Make time to be with and listen to your child and to have fun together. This sends the message that she’s special, important and worth spending time with.
    • Encourage your child to try new things. Realizing that he can learn with practice and persistence will help your child keep going when things are hard.
  • Responsibilities and expectations:
    • Give your child the chance to take on family responsibilities and make her own decisions and choices. A sense of control is a powerful self-esteem builder.
    • Support but don’t overprotect your child. You can do this by expecting your child to do his best and stick with tasks like homework, despite his extra challenges.
    • Give your child the opportunity to try new things like cooking, chess or photography. If you do these activities with your child, it’s a good way to make sure your child experiences success and has fun as she builds new skills.
  • Getting extra support for learning disabilities: Extra support can give your child the best chance of doing well at school. If health professionals recommend extra support, you’ll need to have a professional, documented assessment to prove that your child is eligible for things like extra examination time, tuition from a reading expert, or special computer software. There are lots of different types of support outside school available for children with learning disabilities, including specialist tutors and technology. The best sort of support for your child will depend on your child’s learning disability. You can talk to your child’s teacher or other professionals working with your child to find out what will work best for your child and your family. Software packages can help support your child’s learning. Speak to your child’s teacher about what your child uses at school. You might need to try a few different things before you work out what’s right for your child and family. This also shows your child how to be persistent and not give up.

What are some early signs that my child might have a learning disability?

Early signs of possible learning disabilities include difficulty with language, like rhyming, or difficulty working with smaller sounds inside words, like identifying the ‘k’ sound in the middle of ‘monkey’.

Children might also have difficulty remembering lists of words, numbers, letters or concepts, like a list of instructions you give all in one go. Your child might also show ongoing and significant problems with reading, spelling and maths.

But having some difficulties doesn’t automatically mean your child has a learning disability. Some children can just take longer than others to begin to learn literacy and maths skills.

At what age does a learning disability start to show?

Learning disabilities can usually be diagnosed by the time your child is 7-8 years old. Early signs of learning disabilities are often picked up in the first two years of school.

Children often become quite good at covering up learning difficulties as they get older, so if you think your child might have a learning difficulty, it’s important to have it checked out early.

What should I do if I think my child has a learning disability?

If your child has ongoing and significant problems with reading, spelling or maths – even if your child has had a good start to his education – it might be useful to get a learning disabilities assessment.

If you’re concerned, it’s a good idea to talk to your child’s teacher as a first step. Schools have access to professionals who can provide an educational assessment for your child.

You might also like to talk to a health care professional like a speech pathologist or psychologist about a formal assessment.

Do learning disabilities run in families?

Learning disabilities can run in families. This means that parents, siblings, uncles and aunts might have problems with reading, spelling or maths skills that are similar to your child’s problems. If other members of your family have managed their learning disability in active and effective ways, they can be great role models for your child.

Do more boys than girls have learning disabilities?

Boys and girls are equally likely to have learning disabilities.

My child writes letters back to front. Does this mean my child has dyslexia?

Writing letters back to front in the early years is a normal developmental stage. It’s not always a sign of dyslexia. But it might be a concern if a child continues to reverse letters and numbers in the middle and later years of primary school.

My child has trouble reading. Does my child have a learning disability like dyslexia?

On its own, trouble with reading doesn’t mean that a child definitely has a learning disability. There can be lots of reasons why a child has trouble reading, including a lack of opportunity to learn to read, or hearing or vision problems.

Can a learning disability be ‘cured’?

Learning disabilities can’t be ‘cured’. But with time and support, many people with learning disabilities learn to improve their skills. The earlier a child with learning disabilities gets expert help, the better the child’s chance of making good progress.

People with learning disabilities often manage well, particularly those who have learning disabilities that affect reading. It can sometimes be harder to improve spelling and maths skills, especially those that involve learning lists and tables of information. But there are ways around this, like using specially designed predictive typing software.

Does using a computer help?

Computers can help children who have learning disabilities. There are different types of software that can help with word prediction, spell-checking, and changing text to speech and speech to text. These software programs can help children get information without needing to read printed pages. They can also help your child with writing.

Literacy and maths software can get your child motivated about learning and reinforce what your child learns at school.

Another bonus of computer use is that printed pages are neat and easy to read. This is especially useful because messy handwriting is often a part of learning disabilities.

Are people who have learning disabilities often gifted?

People who have learning disabilities are no more likely to be gifted than other people. But people with all sorts of abilities can have learning difficulties, so there will be some who are gifted in different ways. For example, some have mechanical, academic, sporting and creative abilities.

How can I know whether a treatment or therapy for learning disability I saw advertised will be useful?

Looking carefully and critically at any advertised treatments or therapies will help you work out whether to believe their claims. In particular, you can look to see whether the claims are backed up by reliable and solid scientific research. Search out the evidence before committing your child to a program or spending any money on a treatment.

There is no ‘wonder cure’ for learning disabilities, despite what some ads say. But there are many simple, supportive and productive ways to help children with learning difficulties.

It’s a good idea to talk to teachers and other professionals, as well as non-profit organizations like the National Center for Learning Disabilities ( and Learning Disabilities Online ( These people should be able to give you reliable advice about worthwhile options.

What is the outlook for children with learning disabilities?

Learning and attention issues are lifelong conditions involving differences in brain structure and function. Symptoms may change over time, and the right support helps address weaknesses. But age doesn’t make these issues “go away.”

Even though children don’t outgrow learning disabilities, they can learn to adapt and improve their weak skills. If learning disabilities are identified and treated early, children with these disabilities are more likely to learn to overcome their difficulties while maintaining a positive self-image. They can also learn to develop their personal strengths and become very productive and successful adults.

How can I help my child with a learning disability succeed?

When it comes to learning and attention issues, trying harder is not the answer. Children with these issues need targeted interventions and accommodations to help them work on or work around their weaknesses.

Children with learning and attention issues are as smart as their typically developing peers, and many have average or above-average intelligence. There are many children who are gifted and have learning disabilities. Many schools refer to these children as “twice-exceptional.”

Successful people who have learning disabilities:

  • are self-aware – they know about their learning disability but also know their strengths
  • ask for help and know where and when to do so
  • have good resources to help them with their difficulties – for example, apps and computer programs
  • are flexible and creative in finding ways around the challenges of having a learning disability
  • keep trying, even when things are hard
  • have good coping strategies to deal with emotions like frustration and embarrassment
  • respond to problems by coming up with solutions.

There are lots of very successful people with learning disabilities who can be examples for your child. They include Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Daniel Radcliffe and Keira Knightley.

What are barriers to success for children with learning disabilities?

Children with learning and attention issues often don’t receive early or effective interventions. A third of students with learning disability or other health impairment have been held back a year, which increases the risk of dropping out.

Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be suspended as those without disabilities, and the loss of instructional time increases the risk of course failure and school aversion.

Students with specific learning disability drop out of high school at nearly three times the rate of all students. The top reason students with specific learning disability drop out? 57% cited disliking school or having poor relationships with teachers or peers.

Unaddressed learning and attention issues lead to conditions that push students into the school-to-prison pipeline. A large study found that half of young adults with specific learning disability or other health impairment had been involved at some point with the justice system.

Young adults with learning disabilities enroll in four-year colleges at half the rate of the general population. Their completion rate for any type of college is 41%, compared to 52% of all students.

Only 46% of working-age adults with learning disabilities are employed. Compared with adults who do not have learning disabilities, adults with these issues are twice as likely to be jobless.

Children’s learning disabilities types

Common learning disability affect a child’s abilities in reading, written expression, math or nonverbal skills. It’s important to keep in mind that many children have more than one learning or attention issue. For example, researchers have found that dyslexia and learning disability in math (dyscalculia) co-occur in 30% to 70% of children who have either disorder 6. Studies also indicate as many as 45% of children with ADHD also have a learning disability 7.


Learning disabilities in reading are usually based on difficulty perceiving a spoken word as a combination of distinct sounds. This can make it hard to understand how a letter or letters represent a sound and how letter combinations make a word.

Problems with working memory — the ability to hold and manipulate information in the moment — also can play a role.

Even when basic reading skills are mastered, children may have difficulty with the following skills:

  • Reading at a typical pace
  • Understanding what they read
  • Recalling accurately what they read
  • Making inferences based on their reading
  • Spelling

A learning disability in reading is usually called dyslexia, but some specialists may use the term to describe only some of the information-processing problems that can cause difficulty with reading.

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person’s ability to read. These individuals typically read at levels significantly lower than expected despite having normal intelligence. Although the disorder varies from person to person, common characteristics among people with dyslexia are difficulty with phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds), spelling, and/or rapid visual-verbal responding. In individuals with adult onset of dyslexia, it usually occurs as a result of brain injury or in the context of dementia; this contrasts with individuals with dyslexia who simply were never identified as children or adolescents. Dyslexia can be inherited in some families, and recent studies have identified a number of genes that may predispose an individual to developing dyslexia.

What are the signs of dyslexia?

The early signs of dyslexia include:

  • A delay in spoken language
  • Difficulty “finding” the right word
  • Difficulty with rhyming
  • Difficulty with short-term auditory memory
  • Subtle mispronunciations, particularly of words with more than one syllable

After a child enters school, the following signs of dyslexia may appear:

  • Difficulty learning the names of the letters of the alphabet
  • Difficulty learning how to write the letters of the alphabet
  • Difficulty learning whole words for reading and spelling
  • Difficulty using phonics
  • Difficulty with comprehension related to difficulty reading words

How is dyslexia treated?

The main focus of treatment should be on the specific learning problems of affected individuals. The usual course is to modify teaching methods and the educational environment to meet the specific needs of the individual with dyslexia.

What is dyslexia prognosis?

For those with dyslexia, the prognosis is mixed. The disability affects such a wide range of people and produces such different symptoms and varying degrees of severity that predictions are hard to make. The prognosis is generally good, however, for individuals whose dyslexia is identified early, who have supportive family and friends and a strong self-image, and who are involved in a proper remediation program.

Written expression

Writing requires complex visual, motor and information-processing skills. A learning disability in written expression also known as dysgraphia may cause the following:

  • Slow and labor-intensive handwriting
  • Handwriting that’s hard to read
  • Difficulty putting thoughts into writing
  • Written text that’s poorly organized or hard to understand
  • Trouble with spelling, grammar and punctuation.


A learning disability in math also known as dyscalculia may cause problems with the following skills:

  • Understanding how numbers work and relate to each other
  • Calculating math problems
  • Memorizing basic calculations
  • Using math symbols
  • Understanding word problems
  • Organizing and recording information while solving a math problem.

Nonverbal skills

A child with a learning disability in nonverbal skills (also called dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder) appears to develop good basic language skills and strong rote memorization skills early in childhood. Difficulties are present in visual-spatial skills, visual-motor skills, and other skills necessary in social or academic functioning 3.

A child with a learning disability in nonverbal skills may have trouble with the following skills:

  • Interpreting facial expressions and nonverbal cues in social interactions
  • Using language appropriately in social situations
  • Physical coordination
  • Fine motor skills, such as writing
  • Attention, planning and organizing
  • Higher-level reading comprehension or written expression, usually appearing in later grade school.

What causes of learning disabilities?

Scientists don’t yet fully understand the exact causes of learning disabilities. But researchers do know that when a child has a learning disability, parts of that child’s brain have difficulty handling information, this is called ‘neurologically based processing difficulties’.

Common ‘processing difficulties’ include difficulties working out the sounds in words, or trouble remembering unrelated pieces of information, like a new list of numbers or letters.

Learning disabilities have been associated with particular genes and can be inherited. If other people in your family have trouble with reading or spelling or have been diagnosed with learning disabilities, there’s a chance that children in the next generation might have learning disabilities.

Some studies of the brain of patients with dyslexia have shown scattered small malformations mainly on the left cerebral hemisphere at the cerebral cortex 8.

Due to the confirmation of anomalies in the function and structure of corticostriatal systems in the process of developmental language disorders, there has been a probable hypothesis that a disorder of corticostriatal systems may result in problems in learning language. Problems with corticostriatal systems have also been recognized in other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorders, schizophrenia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Tourette disorder 9.

Factors that might influence the development of learning disabilities include:

  • Family history and genetics. A family history of learning disabilities increases the risk of a child developing a disorder.
  • Prenatal and neonatal risks. Poor growth in the uterus (severe intrauterine growth restriction or IUGR), exposure to alcohol or drugs before being born, premature birth, and very low birthweight have been linked with learning disorders.
  • Psychological trauma. Psychological trauma or abuse in early childhood may affect brain development and increase the risk of learning disorders.
  • Physical trauma. Head injuries or nervous system infections might play a role in the development of learning disorders.
  • Environmental exposure. Exposure to high levels of toxins, such as lead, has been linked to an increased risk of learning disorders.

Risks factors for learning disability

The most common risk factor is family history. Less common risk factors include poor nutrition, severe head injuries, child abuse, and pregnancy-related factors. (National Center for Learning Disabilities)

Lead poisoning, infections of the central nervous system, or treatment for cancers, such as leukemia, can also increase the risk for learning disabilities.

Factors are not considered risk factors for developing learning disability

Blindness, visual problems, deafness, physical or motor handicaps can cause difficulties with learning, but are not a cause of learning disabilities. Likewise, intellectual disabilities (formerly called mental retardation), autism spectrum disorders, or low intelligence quotient (IQ) all may be associated with learning difficulties, but are not considered learning disabilities. Environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages do not cause learning disabilities but may co-occur with learning disabilities. Similarly, behavioral disorders or emotional disturbances may also be present with learning disabilities.

Learning disabilities signs

If you think your child might have a learning disability, you can look out for some common signs. Having one or more of these signs doesn’t mean your child definitely has a learning disability. But if you’re worried, it’s a good idea to talk to your child’s teacher or your family doctor.

If your child has a learning disability, your child might:

  • dislike reading and/or find reading hard
  • doesn’t master skills in reading, spelling, writing or math at or near expected age and grade levels
  • have lots of trouble spelling common words
  • find it hard to spot the sounds and syllables in words
  • tell you lots of interesting ideas but find writing them down slow and difficult
  • have very messy handwriting
  • difficulty with math
  • difficulty organizing thoughts to express what they want to say
  • memory problems, has trouble remembering what someone just told him or her
  • lacks coordination in walking, sports or skills such as holding a pencil
  • difficulty with language such as following directions, remembering words, rhyming, and expressing oneself
  • difficulty with reasoning
  • difficulty with spelling
  • history of delayed speech
  • not feel very confident about schoolwork
  • has difficulty understanding and following instructions
  • easily loses or misplaces homework, schoolbooks or other items
  • has difficulty understanding the concept of time
  • resists doing homework or activities that involve reading, writing or math, or consistently can’t complete homework assignments without significant help
  • acts out or shows defiance, hostility or excessive emotional reactions at school or while doing academic activities, such as homework or reading

Children who have learning disabilities can’t do things like reading as easily as their peers can. This can lead to them thinking of themselves as ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’.

Telling your child that she has a learning disability can help her overcome this way of thinking. You can tell your child that having a learning disability means her brain thinks about information differently, but it doesn’t mean she’s not as smart as other children.

Your child’s psychologist or speech therapist can give you advice and help you explain the disability to your child in a way that he can understand.

You can also highlight the positive things your child can do to live and learn with the learning disability. You might mention that lots of really successful people have learning disabilities.

Learning disabilities complications

Learning difficulties can have bad outcomes in important parts of language, such as learning and reading.

In recent data from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act shows that these children tend to have more challenges in educational performance, and they also tend to have more negative academic results; these can include lower grades, less than average exam results, and an increased number of school failure. It is also shown that around one-third of children with learning disabilities have had a grade held in the school at least once in their lifetime. Barely around 68% of children with learning disabilities get to graduate from high school with a regular diploma, and with only 12% obtaining a diploma of completion and 19% dropping out of school.

Individuals with learning disabilities in their adult life tend to sign-up for post-secondary schooling less frequently than adults without learning disabilities and that individuals with learning disabilities are also less likely to get employed than individuals without this disorder 4.

There is an increased risk of low academic performance in children with learning disabilities that can affect their professional life. Children with a learning disability that are mindful of their condition can feel less in comparison to the other children, and this can result in low self-esteem and a feeling of vulnerability. When they experience a lack of success and embarrassment in the school continuously, it can lead to irritation, self-hatred, and an increased grade of repressed anger. These dysfunctions can promote depression, children with learning disabilities may even abstain from making friends and going to school, and they may also become detached affecting their development in the future 10.

Learning disabilities diagnosis

It’s very hard for a kid to know if your child has a learning disability. But kids don’t have to figure all this out on their own. What a kid needs to do is tell someone. Start with your teacher and your mom or dad.

Even if you feel a little shy about it, tell them what kinds of problems you’re having in school. Maybe you read a chapter for homework and then can’t remember anything you read. Or in class, maybe everyone else seems to follow along easily, but you get stuck and don’t know what page everyone is on. You might open your book to do an assignment and have no idea where to start.

Kids with a learning problem also might answer “yes” to many of these questions:

  • Do you struggle in school?
  • Do you think you should be doing better than you are in school?
  • Is reading harder for you than it should be?
  • Does your head think one thing but your hand writes something else?
  • Is writing slow and really hard for you?
  • Do you make spelling and other errors when you write?
  • Are you having trouble with math?
  • Is it hard for you to keep your notebooks and papers organized? Do you end up losing or forgetting them?

But even if you say “yes” to some of these questions, you won’t know for sure that there’s a problem until you visit a school psychologist or a learning specialist. They can give you some tests to spot any learning problems you might have. They’ll also be able to identify what your strengths are — in other words, what you’re good at. Once a psychologist or learning specialist figures out what your learning problem is, you both can start working on solutions.

As per the the American Psychiatric Association – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), the following symptoms are comprised as part of the diagnosis of a specific learning disorder:

  1. Constant struggles with arithmetic, writing, reading, or mathematical reasoning skills throughout the school years.
  2. Must have current below-average grade parameters in suitable linguistic and cultural tests in the subject of writing, reading, and mathematics.
  3. The patient’s learning difficulties must begin during the school years
  4. It cannot be explained by any neurological, developmental, motor, or sensory (hearing or vision) disorder and should remarkably impede academic achievement, activities of daily living, or occupational performance 11.

Talk with your child’s teacher

If you’re worried that your child is having trouble at school and might have a learning disability, you could start by talking with your child’s teacher.

You can ask questions about whether your child is progressing as expected with reading, writing and maths. It might also be worth talking about the teacher’s impression of your child’s self-esteem and engagement at school.

The teacher can test your child and go through the results with you. This can help you see whether there’s a pattern of problems.

Ask for an assessment

If you’re still concerned, ask for a formal assessment through your school.

A speech therapist or a psychologist could be involved at this point. They’ll help to check all the possible causes. If there’s a long wait, or the assessment isn’t available through your school, you can arrange to see a specialist privately, but there will be a cost to you.

Another option that might be available, depending on where you live, is to contact your local university. Most universities have psychology and speech therapy clinics where postgraduate students assess children under the supervision of an expert professional.

Learning disability test for child

The evaluation of a child presenting learning disabilities routinely needs conjoint work between the medical and the non- medical professionals, including psychologists, educators, audiologists, and occupational and speech-language therapists.

The medical team will work on ruling out hearing and vision impairments and establishing that the learning deficits are not due to limited access to appropriate guidance. Also, the pediatrician can work in the diagnosis and treatment of associated developmental or behavioral disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism, in addition to recognizing psychosocial factors to the child’s difficulties.

Blood, urine, and imaging studies are usually not indicated or useful for the evaluation of learning disabilities. Exceptions include neurological findings suggestive of a focal brain lesion, skin lesions suggestive of a neurocutaneous syndrome, and findings on physical exam or past medical history that would suggest nutritional disorders or syndromes that could have a genetic or metabolic cause. Hearing and vision screening should always be documented.

The formal diagnostic process to know the presence and extent of a learning disability is domain-specific academic and cognitive testing. In some cases, it is appropriate for the testing to be done as part of the individualized education program (IEP) process through the school district. In other cases, parents may prefer to have the testing performed by private psychological services. This evaluation tests a child’s cognitive abilities, the areas of language processing, attention, memory, and nonverbal reasoning, in addition to specific academic achievement in core areas, such as mathematics, reading, and written expression.

Some of the most commonly used tests for the evaluation of suspected learning disabilities are the Woodcock-Johnson-III and Wide Range Achievement Test to evaluate academic achievement; the Adaptive Behavior Assessment System-II and the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale-II to assess adaptive behavior; the Conners Rating Scale, ADHD Rating Scale-IV (formerly DuPaul scale) and NICHQ Vanderbilt Parent and Teacher Assessment Scales to evaluate for attention and hyperactive disorders; the Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children—Fourth Edition (WISC-IV) for evaluation of general cognition; the Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) for assessment of general behavior; the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (4th Ed.) (CELF) for language evaluation; and the Beery Test of Integration (5th Ed) for visual-motor evaluation.

The usual criteria for diagnosing reading disability include deficient word recognition and decoding skills identified through specific testing. Other evaluations will also assess spelling, reading comprehension, and fluency; some will test the deficiencies in phonologic processing in reading disability, which is those found in children having issues learning the similarity between the written symbols and the oral sounds on a text.

In the past, academic testing was compared with the student’s estimated potential, as measured by an intelligence quotient (IQ) test, diagnosing learning disability when there was a significant difference between IQ and reading scores. This was an issue because children with IQ scores below average would not meet such discrepancy criteria, and children who had high IQ scores could be considered to have learning disabilities despite reading scores being within the normal range for age.

Recently the Response to Intervention (RTI) has been used as a valid standard approach to the diagnosis of learning disability. This model is a process of evaluation that is followed by a restorative instruction in the child’s specific area of deficits during a specific period before reassessing. The assessment- instruction-assessment model is progressive and intensive educational support. It can aid in differentiating the lack of proper instruction from true learning disability by demonstrating if there is an improvement with a small increase intensity of instruction or if it requires repeated cycles of Response to Intervention, with the result of a very specified and personalized instructional program 5.

Helping children with learning disabilities

The diagnosis and treatment of a child with learning disabilities depend on the coordinated and ongoing collaboration of an inter-professional team that can be composed of educators, educational remediation specialists, psychologists, special services, and physicians. Speech therapists can help evaluate and treat any underlying oral language difficulties that are often associated with dyslexia. Occupational and physical therapists will treat fine motor, gross motor, proprioceptive, balance, and sensory-processing disorders that can coexist in some children with learning disabilities. Clinical psychologists or other mental health providers, including developmental/behavioral and neurodevelopmental pediatricians, can help children better cope with the social challenges associated with learning disabilities. Educational therapists or educators trained in learning disabilities are also part of the multidisciplinary team treating children with learning disabilities 4.

If your child has a learning disability, your child’s doctor or school might recommend:

  • Extra help. A reading specialist, math tutor or other trained professional can teach your child techniques to improve his or her academic, organizational and study skills.
  • Individualized education program (IEP). Public schools in the United States are mandated to provide an individual education program for students who meet certain criteria for a learning disability. The IEP sets learning goals and determines strategies and services to support the child’s learning in school.
  • Accommodations. Classroom accommodations might include more time to complete assignments or tests, being seated near the teacher to promote attention, use of computer applications that support writing, including fewer math problems in assignments, or providing audiobooks to supplement reading.
  • Therapy. Some children benefit from therapy. Occupational therapy might improve the motor skills of a child who has writing problems. A speech-language therapist can help address language skills.
  • Medication. Your child’s doctor might recommend medication to manage depression or severe anxiety. Medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may improve a child’s ability to concentrate in school.
  • Complementary and alternative medicine. Further research is needed to determine the effectiveness of alternative treatments, such as dietary changes, use of vitamins, eye exercises, neurofeedback and use of technological devices.

Your child’s treatment plan will likely evolve over time. If your child isn’t making progress, you can seek additional services or request revisions to an individualized education program (IEP) or accommodations.

In the meantime, help your child understand in simple terms the need for any additional services and how they may help. Also, focus on your child’s strengths. Encourage your child to pursue interests that give him or her confidence.

Together, these interventions can improve your child’s skills, help him or her develop coping strategies, and use his or her strengths to improve learning in and outside of school.

Specific educational strategies in management

Several remedial programs are established, they frequently work with children having reading and writing difficulties 12.


In children with dyslexia (decoding problems), phonological awareness needs to be increased, which includes the ability to manipulate and hear individual phonemes (the sound structure of words), such as ‘k’ in kit, or ‘b’ in bat. Besides phonemic awareness, letter-sound proficiency is remediated. The repeated practice of oral reading may aid in improving fluency. Reading comprehension skills are associated with larger language comprehension skills, and that needs to be developed.


This is a more complex skill than reading, and it can present independently or with a reading disorder. Eye-hand coordination and being able to segment phonemes are essential, it can be enhanced by using hand exercises, for example, working with clay, finger tapping, and beading.


In children, dyscalculia is the deficiency in number sense. Educational strategies comprise practicing number syntax such as linking numbers to related digits; for example, 1234, number one corresponds to thousand, number two to hundreds, number three corresponds to tens and number 4 to units). Repeated additions may aid in internalizing the number line.

Learning disability prognosis

The prognosis of children with learning disabilities will depend on the severity of the disability, also on specific strengths and weaknesses of the child affected, and on the amount, appropriateness, timing, and intensity of the intervention provided. Although challenging, these children presenting with learning disabilities can overcome many barriers to enhance their reading and writing with adequate remediations, assistance, and educational accommodations. Children who have a severe deficiency in basic reading skills or the ones who have both a phonologic deficit and also a quick automated naming issue are harder to correct than the ones with mild or moderate deficiency 4.

  1. Dominguez O, Carugno P. Learning Disability. [Updated 2020 Feb 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from:
  2. Al-Mahrezi A, Al-Futaisi A, Al-Mamari W. Learning Disabilities: Opportunities and challenges in Oman. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2016 May;16(2):e129-31.
  3. Kohli A, Sharma S, Padhy SK. Specific Learning Disabilities: Issues that Remain Unanswered. Indian J Psychol Med. 2018 Sep-Oct;40(5):399-405.
  4. Handler SM, Fierson WM, Section on Ophthalmology, Council on Children with Disabilities. American Academy of Ophthalmology. American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. American Association of Certified Orthoptists. Learning disabilities, dyslexia, and vision. Pediatrics. 2011 Mar;127(3):e818-56.
  5. Rimrodt SL, Lipkin PH. Learning disabilities and school failure. Pediatr Rev. 2011 Aug;32(8):315-24.
  6. Willcutt EG, Petrill SA, Wu S, et al. Comorbidity between reading disability and math disability: concurrent psychopathology, functional impairment, and neuropsychological functioning. J Learn Disabil. 2013;46(6):500‐516. doi:10.1177/0022219413477476
  7. DuPaul GJ, Gormley MJ, Laracy SD. Comorbidity of LD and ADHD: implications of DSM-5 for assessment and treatment. J Learn Disabil. 2013;46(1):43‐51. doi:10.1177/0022219412464351
  8. Kemper TL. Anatomical basis of learning disabilities. Brain specialization. Otolaryngol. Clin. North Am. 1985 May;18(2):305-14.
  9. Krishnan S, Watkins KE, Bishop DVM. Neurobiological Basis of Language Learning Difficulties. Trends Cogn. Sci. (Regul. Ed.). 2016 Sep;20(9):701-714.
  10. Spencer TJ, Faraone SV, Tarko L, McDermott K, Biederman J. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and adverse health outcomes in adults. J. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 2014 Oct;202(10):725-31.
  11. McCloskey M, Rapp B. Developmental dysgraphia: An overview and framework for research. Cogn Neuropsychol. 2017 May – Jun;34(3-4):65-82.
  12. Shah HR, Sagar JKV, Somaiya MP, Nagpal JK. Clinical Practice Guidelines on Assessment and Management of Specific Learning Disorders. Indian J Psychiatry. 2019 Jan;61(Suppl 2):211-225.
Health Jade Team 3

The author Health Jade Team 3

Health Jade