Learning Disabilities: Different Types And Signs

Black boy writing with pencil - what is a learning disability, types and symptoms
Black boy writing with pencil - what is a learning disability, types and symptoms Image from https://cutt.ly/gYIq6iY

A learning disability is a disorder that inhibits the ability to process and retain information. Learning disabilities are caused by genetic or neurological disorders that alter brain functioning in a way that affects one or more cognitive processes related to learning. It can interfere with learning basic skills like reading, writing and math. It can also interfere with higher-level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short-term memory and attention and even relationships. What’s important to keep in mind is that a learning disability is not an intellectual disability or an indication of low intelligence. Here are the most common learning disabilities.


Dyslexia is one of the most well-known learning disabilities. It is a disorder that hampers a person’s ability to read and comprehend text.

Signs of dyslexia

  • Reading or writing letters or words out of order
  • Reading slowly or with frequent pauses
  • Struggling with the ability to differentiate between and use individual sound in words
  • Slow or distorted speech sounds
  • Difficulty sounding out unknown words
  • Misuse or total disregard of punctuation
  • Difficulty mastering correct spelling or age-appropriate vocabulary
  • Trouble with handwriting
  • Delayed speech development
  • Trouble distinguishing letters, numerals, and sounds


Dyscalculia is a broad term covering a range of learning disabilities that make it challenging to understand even the most basic math concepts.

Signs of dyscalculia

  • Slow to develop counting and math problem-solving skills
  • Difficulties processing numbers and quantities
  • Trouble recalling basic math facts like multiplication tables
  • Difficulty following the order of operations
  • Poor visual and spatial orientation
  • Difficulties linking numbers and symbols to amounts
  • Difficulty with telling time on an analogue clock
  • Trouble recognizing patterns and sequencing numbers
  • Difficulty immediately sorting out direction (right from left)
  • Persistent finger-counting for easy, frequently repeated calculations
  • Difficulty making sense of money and estimating quantities


Dysgraphia is one of the learning disabilities that compromises a person’s ability to write legibly. It impedes a person’s ability to express their thoughts in writing.

Signs of dysgraphia

  • Messy handwriting
  • Trouble forming letters
  • Poor spelling
  • Avoids writing and drawing
  • Trouble keeping words on a line or within margins
  • Does not use spacing correctly
  • Difficulty with capitals and punctuation
  • Awkward pencil grip
  • Difficulties with shoe-tying and fine motor skills
  • Complains about pain in hands when writing
  • Has trouble following spelling rules
  • Unfinished words and missing letters
  • Difficulty copying text

Less common disabilities

Non-verbal learning disabilities

Affected persons have trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language. They may also have poor coordination. Individuals with this learning disability however have a well-developed vocabulary, strong reading ability and rote language skills. Currently, non-verbal learning disabilities are not listed as a specific learning disability.

Oral/written language disorder

This disability affects an individual’s ability to understand or express language in both written and oral forms. It affects their ability to process language, limiting their development with understanding meanings of words and contexts that language can be used in. A person may, for example, have difficulties distinguishing the difference between sentences like the baby is on the blanket and the blanket is on the baby.

Other related disorders

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

ADHD is not classified among the learning disabilities, but it is worth taking note of because it frequently overlaps with learning disorders. Many children with ADHD often get into trouble for misbehaving although they can’t help it. ADHD makes it difficult to concentrate which can lead to the child distracting others, especially in a classroom situation. Not paying attention especially in a classroom situation negatively affects learning.

Signs of ADHD

  • Interrupting others
  • Trouble waiting your turn
  • Fidgeting and trouble sitting still
  • Trouble keeping emotions in check or temper tantrums for children
  • Problems playing quietly
  • Easily distracted leaving a trail of unfinished tasks
  • Trouble paying attention even when someone is speaking directly to them
  • The lack of focus leads to frequent avoidance of tasks that require sustained mental effort or focus
  • Trouble following instructions that require planning or executing a plan
  • Difficulty getting organized
  • Daydreaming lost in their own world and ignoring what’s going on around them
  • Forgetfulness


Dyspraxia is a neurological disorder that affects motor skills and impacts an individual’s ability to plan. It is not classified among learning disabilities but is listed here because it has the potential to hinder learning.

Types of dyspraxia

Motor dyspraxia – causes problems with skills like writing, dressing or skipping.

Verbal dyspraxia – causing problems with speech.

Oral dyspraxia – causing problems with movements of the mouth and tongue.

Signs of dyspraxia

  • Language and speech problems
  • Difficulty with thought and perception
  • Difficulty planning what to do and how to do it
  • Poor balance, may appear clumsy and frequently stumble
  • Poor posture
  • Fatigue
  • Clumsiness
  • Differences in speech
  • Perception problems
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Exhibits weakness in the ability to organize self and belongings
  • Shows possible sensitivity to touch
  • May be distressed by loud noises
  • Has difficulty with fine motor tasks such as colouring between the lines, putting puzzles together, cutting accurately or pasting neatly

Early intervention is crucial so if you suspect your child may have a learning disability, speak to your paediatrician as soon as possible. Learning disabilities do not have a cure so they last a lifetime but with early detection and intervention parents and children can learn how to deal with their specific challenges and difficulties.

Looking for more information on learning disabilities check out this article Types of Learning Disabilities by the Learning Disabilities Association of America and also get more information on things you need to know.

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