What you need to know about Learning Disorder

What is a learning disorder?

A learning disorder is defined as an information-processing problem which prevents a person from learning a skill to use it effectively. Learning disorders generally have an effect on people of average or above average intelligence. This results in a gap between expected skills, based on age and intelligence, and academic performance.

Learning disorders affect a child's abilities pertaining to reading, writing, math or nonverbal skills.


Reading in Learning Disorder is experiencing difficulty perceiving a spoken word as a combination of distinct sounds. This can be challenging to understand how a letter or letters represent a sound and how letter combinations make a word. Difficulties include:

  • Problems with working memory — the ability to hold and process information

Even when basic reading skills are mastered, children may face difficulty with a few skills:

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

Writing requires complex visual, motor and information-processing skills. A written learning disorder may include:

  • Slow and labor-intensive handwriting
  • Handwriting that's hard to read
  • Difficulty putting thoughts into writing
  • Written text that's difficult to understand
  • Trouble with spelling, grammar and punctuation


A learning disorder in mathematics may cause difficulties with the following skills:

  • Understanding how numbers work with each other
  • Calculating math problems
  • Memorizing basic calculations
  • Using math symbols
  • Understanding word problems
  • Processing information while solving a math problem

Nonverbal skills

A child diagnosed with a learning disorder in nonverbal skills appears to have developed good basic language skills and strong rote memorization skills early in childhood. Difficulties are faced in visual-spatial skills, visual-motor skills, and other skills necessary in social or academic functioning.

A child diagnosed with a learning disorder in nonverbal skills may have trouble with :

  • Understanding 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
  • Understanding higher-level reading comprehension or written expression, usually appearing in high school

Symptoms of Learning disorders

Your child may have a learning disorder if he or she :

  • Has difficulty learning skills in reading, spelling, writing or math at or near expected age and grade levels
  • Has difficulty understanding and following instructions
  • Lacks coordination while walking, in sports or skills such as holding a pencil
  • Has difficulty keeping track of assignments, school books or other items
  • Has difficulty understanding the concept of time
  • Avoids doing homework or activities that involve reading, writing or math, or consistently can't complete homework assignments without significant help
  • Acts hostilite or displays excessive emotional reactions at school or while doing academic activities, such as homework or reading
Child facing difficulty in studying
Signs of learning disorder develop at an early age

Factors that may influence the development of learning disorders

Family history: A child with a family history of learning disorders is at increased risk of developing it.

Prenatal and neonatal risks: Poor growth in the uterus because of severe intrauterine growth restriction, exposure to substance abuse before being born, premature birth, and very low birthweight are linked with learning disorders.

Psychological trauma: Facing Psychological trauma in early childhood affects brain development and increases the risk of learning disorders.

Physical trauma: Head injuries or nervous system infections may play a role in the development of learning disorders.

Environmental exposure: Exposure to high levels of toxins, such as lead, has been associated with an increased risk of learning disorders.

Seeking help for learning disorders

Early treatment is essential because the problem can increase further. A child who doesn't learn to add in elementary school will find it difficult to learn algebra in high school. Children having learning disorders experience performance anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, chronic fatigue or loss of motivation. Some may act out to distract attention from their challenges at school.

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

Learning disorder and the need for services is determined 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 is relevant. These conditions may contribute to delays in developing academic skills.


For those diagnosed with learning disorder, a therapist may suggest:

  • Extra help: A reading specialist, mathematics teacher or other trained professional can teach a child techniques to improve his or her academic, organizational and study skills.
  • Accommodations: Classroom accommodations may include more time to complete assignments or tests, being seated near the tutor to promote attention, use of computer applications which support writing, including less math problems in assignments, or providing audiobooks to boost reading.
  • Therapy: Some children benefit from therapy. Occupational therapy helps improve the motor skills of a child with writing problems. A speech-language therapist helps address language skills.
  • Medication: Your child's doctor may recommend medication to manage depression or severe anxiety. Medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder might improve a child's ability to concentrate in school.

A child's treatment plan will likely evolve over time. If the child isn't making progress, you can seek additional services from a psychotherapist.

These interventions together 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.

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