Learning disabilities describe a broad range of conditions that impact one’s capacity to learn in conventional ways. They are varied, impacting everything from comprehension to coordination. Most learning disabilities occur when children are very young but are not recognized until the children reach school age. It is estimated that at least 1 in every 59 children in the United States has a learning disability. Early intervention is key to the successful management of learning disabilities.

Common Learning Disabilities

1. Dyslexia

“Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms that results in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading.”

-International Dyslexia Association (https://dyslexiaida.org/frequently-asked-questions-2/)

Dyslexia accounts for 90% of people with learning disabilities, including this author. My dyslexia was found in first grade when I was writing my 3s and 6s backward. A kind former teacher and neighbor worked with me several days a week after school and got me turned around for years. In college, when I was sleep deprived and adjusting to a new environment, it showed up again, and a professor with experience with dyslexia caught it. She cautioned me to take care of my sleep and self-care cycle, and I was able to adapt once again.

There are many signs of dyslexia but few agreed-on indicators. Be on the lookout for problems remembering or naming letters, numbers and colors. Difficulty spelling simple words, reluctance to read aloud in class, trouble sounding out new words, difficulty doing math word problems, problems remembering the sequence of things or identifying letters similar to each other, such as “d and “b” or “p” and “q.”

What to do if you suspect your child has dyslexia?

  • Get your child tested for dyslexia.

  • Find someone to teach your child decoding, the ability to apply and understand letter-sound relationships.

  • Ask for Accommodations – Audiobooks instead of reading, typing on a computer instead of writing, extra time on tests, a quiet space to work, the option to record classes, the option to give verbal answers rather than written and the elimination of oral reading in class.

2. Dyscalculia

“Dyscalculia is a math learning disorder that makes mathematical reasoning and computation difficult. In spite of adequate education, average or greater intelligence and proper motivation.”

-Dyscalculia.org (https://www.daycalculia.org/)

Dyscalculia affects 3-6% of the population and disproportionately affects women and girls.

Common signs include difficulty recognizing numbers, struggling to connect numerical symbols with the corresponding written word, difficulty recognizing patterns and placing things in order, losing track while counting, needing to use fingers to count, difficulty learning basic math functions like addition and subtractions, struggling with graphs and charts, trouble with counting money, remembering numbers like zip codes and phone numbers and judging distances. The biggest sign is a gap between their intellect and their mathematical ability.

What to do if you suspect your child has dyscalculia?

  • Help your child by using physical objects to represent numbers and math concepts. Dominoes, blocks and tokens can all help them visualize and learn concepts.

  • Use vocabulary to help math concepts feel more familiar – words like plus, increase and more than can help them.

  • Ask for accommodations – calculators to check their work, extra time on tests, tutoring or extra instruction, pencils (for erasing), graph paper to help keep columns straight, preset phone numbers and alarms and games to allow them to practice essential skills in a fun way.

3. Dysgraphia

“Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder characterized by writing disabilities. Specifically, the disorder causes a person’s writing to be distorted or incorrect. In children, the disorder generally emerges when they are first introduced to writing. They make inappropriately sized and spaced letters, or write wrong or misspelled words, despite thorough instruction.”

-The Nation Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/dysgraphia)

It is estimated that between 10% and 30% of children experience difficulty in writing. Unlike dyscalculia, dysgraphia is more common in boys than in girls.

Common signs include difficulty with letter formation, size and spacing, legibility, spelling, fine motor coordination, rate or speed of writing, grammar, composition, recalling how letters are formed and knowing when to use upper- and lower-case letters, omitting words from sentences and incorrectly ordering words in sentences.

What to do if you suspect your child has dysgraphia?

  • Get your child tested. Formalized handwriting assessments and the Beery-Buktenica Development Test of Visual-Motor Integration assess a child’s ability to intertwine their visual and motor skills.

  • Practice creating letters in other mediums. Tracing letters into clay, using a finger to draw a letter pattern in their palm or creating letters in sand can help students gain a fun familiarity with how letters are made.

  • Ask for accommodationsCan your child use graph paper, record sessions or type or narrate their notes?


“Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.”

-National Institute of Health (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd

Over 6 million children in the US are diagnosed with ADHD. Signs to look for include missing details and making seemingly careless mistakes, having difficulty paying attention during play or tasks, seeming to not listen when spoken to directly, finding it hard to follow through with instructions, difficulty organizing tasks, managing time and keeping things in order, fidgeting and squirming when seated, having difficulty sitting still, being unable to engage in quiet activities, always being on the go, talking excessively and having difficulty waiting for their turn or not interrupting.

How can you help your child?

  • Talk to their doctor. Pediatricians and family physicians can diagnose and treat ADHD. There are medications available that may reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve their ability to focus and learn.

  • Ask for accommodations – behavior management plan, the opportunity for them to be taught organizational or study skills, preferential seating in the classroom, reduced classwork load or extended time on tests and exams. The school may provide accommodations through a 504 Plan or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

  • Keep a routine and a schedule. Keep the same routine every day, from wake-up time to bedtime. Include times for homework, outdoor play and indoor activities. Keep the schedule on the refrigerator or a bulletin board. Write changes on the schedule as far in advance as possible.

  • Organize everyday items. Have a place for everything (such as clothing, backpacks, and toys), and keep everything in its place.

  • Use homework and notebook organizers. Use organizers for school materials and supplies. Stress to your child the importance of writing down assignments and bringing home necessary books.

  • Be clear and consistent. Children with ADHD need consistent rules they can understand and follow.

  • Give praise or rewards when rules are followed. Children with ADHD often receive and expect criticism. Look for good behavior and praise it.

5. Auditory Processing Disorder

“Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a disorder of the auditory (hearing) system that causes a disruption in the way that an individual’s brain understands what they are hearing.”

-Nationwide Children’s Hospital (https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/conditions/auditory-processing-disorder)

Approximately 3-4% of the population has auditory processing disorder, including my daughter. She was not diagnosed until late high school, but once she was, we can see so many symptoms going back to when she was just a toddler and beyond. Symptoms to look for are difficulty understanding speech, especially in the presence of background noise, difficulty following multi-step directions that are presented verbally, without visual cues, being easily distracted by loud or spontaneous (sudden) sounds, difficulty remembering and/or effectively summarizing information presented verbally, difficulty reading, spelling and/or writing when compared to their peers (performs consistently below grade level) and having trouble following abstract thoughts or ideas.

How can you help your child?

  • Have them tested. This is usually done in a psychiatrist or psychologist’s office.

  • Ask for accommodations from their school – seating at the front of the classroom away from distractions, using visuals in instruction, emphasizing keywords, giving your child a heads up when something important is coming up, helping them with sequencing and providing assistive technology to help reduce background noise.