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Learning Disabilities: What they are and how to know if you have them?

Read to find out information about the different types of learning disabilities and how to find out whether or not you may be impacted.

What is a learning disability?

The learning disability definition is; a disorder that alters brain function, due to nuerobiological and/or genetic factors. This can affect one or more cognitive processes that are related to learning and can present in a variety of ways. It can affect reading, writing, and mathematics.

These disabilities are not limited to this category and can cause additional problems dealing with attention and organization. It’s important to understand that a learning disability can impact an individual beyond the classroom, and the effects are seen in all other areas of life, which can impact an individual’s relationships.

Most learning disabilities are diagnosed while an individual is in school. While learning in school, it can be easy to recognize when a student has difficulty in reading, writing, or math, which helps make diagnosing these disabilities easier. Some people with learning disabilities don’t get evaluated until they’re adults, others don’t get evaluated at all and may not understand why they’re having trouble with tasks or why their relationships may have suffered.

Learning disabilities are not learning problems. Learning problems are usually due to difficulty with hearing, seeing, or other motor functions. Learning problems can also be a sign of an intellectual disability (for example, Cerebral Palsy). If there’s an event that takes an emotional toll on an individual or there is trouble in another area of their life, such as their environment, economic situation, or a cultural disadvantage, this can also lead to a learning problem.

A learning disability does not mean you’re unintelligent, individuals with learning disabilities are usually of average or above-average intelligence. They’re referred to as “hidden disabilities” because an individual suffering from a learning disability is usually intelligent and visually they look “normal”, their performance is just impacted and doesn’t reflect what is usual for someone their age.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for a learning disability. However, this doesn’t mean people diagnosed with a learning disability cannot be successful individuals. With proper support these individuals can thrive.

Learning disabilities is listed as “specific learning disability” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), under federal law. This act requires public schools to provide appropriate education to eligible students with disabilities, for free, for students aged 3-21 years old. It also provides legal protection for the student and student’s family, if the school does not provide adequate accommodations.

Different Types of Learning Disabilities


This math learning disability affects an individual's ability to understand numbers and learn/remember math facts.

Common signs of dyscalculia are:

  • Difficulty counting backwards

  • Difficulty remembering “basic” facts

  • Slow to perform calculations and weak mental arithmetic.

  • High math anxiety.


This disability affects an individual's handwriting ability and fine motor skills.

Common signs of dysgraphia are:

  • A cramped grip [which can lead to soreness in the hand]

  • Poor spelling, with missing letters or words left unfinished

  • Trouble with grammar and sentence structure with writing, but not speaking

  • Difficulty in staying within margins or following a line


This disability affects an individual's language-based processing skills and ability to read.

Common signs of dyslexia are:

  • Trouble decoding words [the ability to match letters and sounds]

  • Trouble with grammar, reading comprehension, and reading fluency

  • Anxiety or frustration when reading

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities:

This disability affects an individual's ability to interpret non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions or body language. These individuals may also have poor coordination.

Other common signs of a non-verbal learning disability are:

  • Early speech and language acquisition [talking “like an adult” early on]

  • Poor fine motor skills [difficulty using objects like scissors or tying shoes]

  • Takes things very literally and can struggle with sarcasm or related nuances

  • Can be seen as overly trusting

  • Trouble following directions

  1. Oral/Written Language Disorder and Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit:

This disability affects an individual's ability to understand what they read or of spoken language. May also impact an individual’s ability to express themselves.

For example:

They usually show difficulty with semantic and syntactic processing. These help understand the meaning of words and how the order of words can change the meaning, respectively. So an individual with this disability might not understand the difference between “The sweater is on the dog” and “The dog is on the sweater”.

Disorders Related to Learning Disabilities


A commonly asked question is, is ADHD a learning disability? The answer is, no, it is a neurodevelopment disorder common in children. It is often characterized by a difficulty staying focused, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity.


A developmental coordination disorder that causes problems with movement and coordination. It does not impact intelligence.

Executive Function Disorder:

This disorder impacts an individual’s planning, organization, strategizing, attention to detail, and time management.

While people can be born with this disorder, it is also a common issue in people with ADHD, learning disabilities, and depression. A brain injury or damage, from a disease or stroke, could also be a cause.

If you’re concerned that you or a loved one is suffering from a learning disability contact me to be screened and to see if you may need an evaluation.

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