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Types of Learning Disabilities

When a child is struggling in school, parents often wonder if their challenges with reading, mathematics, writing or paying attention could signal a learning disability.

The term learning disabilities (or learning disorders) is an umbrella for many different learning problems — most commonly reading, mathematics, writing, listening and speaking. Children with learning disabilities are just as smart as other children and they work hard. However, they gather and process information differently because their brains are wired differently. Children with learning disabilities who are taught differently and receive the support they need can find success in learning.

Parents are often the ones who notice that something does not seem quite right with their child’s development. It can be tough to face the possibility that a child could have a learning disability. It can also be difficult to figure out what is expected at different ages and stages.

Dana Green performs a learning evaluation with a teen girl at the Learning Evaluation Center in Littleton, Colorado

Common Types of Learning Disabilities 


Learning disabilities or learning disorders in reading

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. When children struggle with reading, they may have difficulty with the basic skills for decoding (i.e., trouble working with sounds and letters to decipher the word). Reading comprehension problems occur when the reader does not understand the meaning of words, sentences and paragraphs. Many people with dyslexia read slowly; however, with effective intervention, they can read with stronger accuracy and comprehension.


Learning disabilities in mathematics

Children with learning disabilities in mathematics can have weaknesses in language, memory, visual-spatial skills, sequencing and organizing that make mathematics difficult. Dyscalculia can interfere with skills such as memorizing multiplication facts, understanding word problems and calculating problems accurately. Effective intervention starts with identifying the child’s specific challenges and teaching strategies to build a solid foundation for growth.


Learning disabilities in writing

Dysgraphia can vary in how it presents. It can include difficulties with forming letters clearly, spelling accurately and/or organizing thoughts into a sentence. For many children with dysgraphia, the multitasking required to produce written work is overwhelming.  When a child’s struggles are understood, teachers, language therapists and occupational therapists can intervene to help them improve targeted skills and supplement with technology.

Nonverbal Learning Disorder

Learning disabilities in visual perceptual reasoning

A learning disability in visual perceptual reasoning, otherwise known as a Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVD or NVLD), typically involves a pattern of high verbal skills and weaker motor, visual-spatial and social skills. It can result in difficulty with interpreting nonverbal cues, like facial expressions or body language, as well as poor coordination. This is not a disorder that is recognized in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual but is one that is mentioned by some psychologists.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Children with ADHD can show signs of inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity. This can include difficulties with focus, trouble sitting still or acting without thinking. They may understand what is expected of them, but struggle with following through with instructions, organization or working independently.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism is a developmental disability involving challenges with social-communication skills and restricted, repetitive behaviors, activities and interests. As a result, many children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder may communicate, interact, behave and learn in ways that are different from their peers.

Executive Functioning Challenges

Executive functions are a set of mental skills that help the brain to organize and act on information. When children have issues with executive functioning, tasks that require planning, organization, memory, time management and flexible thinking can be a significant challenge for them.

Expressive Language Delay

Children with expressive language challenges have difficulty expressing their thoughts and ideas to others. They may have wonderful ideas, but struggle to express their thoughts clearly.

Receptive Language Delay

Children with receptive language challenges struggle to understand what others are saying to them. They may be able to speak clearly but have difficulty understanding directions or long stories that are read aloud to them.

Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder (also known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction) is a condition that occurs when the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to information that comes to them through their senses. Some children might seek out more sensory input by playing hard and talking loudly. Others may respond more sensitively to everyday sounds (such as a hairdryer), crowded places (like a concert) or senses (such as itchy clothing or textures in food).

Giftedness/Twice Exceptional

Gifted children are identified by having exceptional cognitive abilities and/or academic strengths. They may benefit from accommodations that include more challenging work at school. Children who are Twice Exceptional (2e) are both gifted and have a challenge that impacts their learning. This can be anything from a learning disability or ADHD to autism, anxiety or a language disorder. Not only do 2e children need advanced work in the areas where they excel, but they also need support to help them develop the skills that are hard for them.

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