Learning disability

Learning disabilities are common, affecting 1 in 5 children in the U.S. This is why addressing learning disabilities on time is  vital. With supportive and informed parents and teachers, children with learning disabilities can thrive in school and life. This comprehensive guide covers everything parents and teachers need to know about identifying, understanding and supporting children with learning disabilities.

What are Learning Disabilities?

Learning disabilities are neurologically-based difficulties with specific skills related to reading, writing, math, focus, memory or coordination. They are not related to intelligence and commonly persist throughout life. Some common types of learning disabilities include:

  • Dyslexia: Difficulty with reading and language-based processing
  • Dyscalculia: Difficulty with math and number-based processing
  • Dysgraphia: Difficulty with writing and fine motor skills
  • Auditory Processing Disorder: Difficulty hearing differences between sounds
  • Visual Processing Disorder: Difficulty interpreting visual information
  • ADHD: Difficulty sustaining focus and controlling impulses

Learning disabilities are often inherited and affect the brain’s ability to receive, process, analyze or communicate information. With the right support, children with learning disabilities can succeed in school and life.

Signs of a Possible Learning Disability

Some warning signs that a child may have a learning disability include:

  • Difficulty learning letters, numbers, days of the week
  • Difficulty rhyming words, hearing individual sounds
  • Trouble following directions or routines
  • Difficulty re-telling stories or information
  • Trouble learning basic math concepts
  • Letter or number reversals past early elementary years
  • Difficulty reading at expected grade level
  • Trouble writing legibly or spelling
  • Disorganization and forgetfulness
  • Difficulty staying on task and filtering out distractions

If a child is struggling in specific academic areas, it may indicate a learning disability. Share your observations with your child’s doctor and teachers to determine if further evaluation is needed.

Getting a Learning Disability Diagnosis

If a learning disability is suspected, the first step is to have the child evaluated by a psychologist, educational diagnostician or neuropsychologist. Testing can pinpoint areas of difficulty and which types of learning disabilities a child may have.

A comprehensive evaluation will assess:

  • Intellectual ability
  • Academic skills
  • Language and memory skills
  • Attention and concentration
  • Coordination and motor skills

Information will also be gathered through parent and teacher interviews, educational history, medical history and observational checklists.

The assessment will determine any learning disabilities, as well as cognitive strengths. Recommendations will be made for school accommodations, therapies or other services needed to help the child learn and succeed.

Understanding an IEP

Learning disability

If a child is diagnosed with learning disabilities, they will likely qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This legal document outlines the services, accommodations and goals designed uniquely for one child’s needs.

Here are key things to know about IEPs:

  • Available for public school children who qualify under IDEA laws
  • Tailored educational plan with specific goals
  • Outlines any needed accommodations
  • Lists the services and supports to be provided
  • Developed by team of parents, teachers, specialists
  • Reviewed annually and updated as needed

As a parent, you are an integral part of the IEP team. Be actively involved and advocate for your child. Ask questions, provide input and monitor progress closely.

Accommodations and Modifications

Accommodations and modifications are types of changes made to support a child’s learning challenges.

Accommodations allow a child to complete the same assignments and tests with adapted methods. Examples include:

  • Extended time limits
  • Reduced distractions
  • Oral instructions
  • Text read aloud
  • Note takers

Modifications alter assignments to meet a child’s needs. Examples include:

  • Fewer questions/problems
  • Alternative response formats
  • Graded on effort, not correctness
  • Shorter texts
  • Alternative math problems

Discuss options with your IEP team. Accommodations and modifications empower students while addressing individual learning barriers.

Assistive Technology Tools

Assistive technology provides tools that make learning more accessible for students with disabilities. Options may include:

  • Text-to-speech software that reads text aloud
  • Speech-to-text software for dictation
  • Audio books to allow reading while listening
  • Memory aids like electronic organizers
  • Word prediction to aid writing
  • Math calculators for computation help

Evaluate your child’s needs to determine if assistive technology is recommended. School districts may provide devices, or they can be purchased privately.

Early Intervention Services

For children under age 3 showing developmental delays, early intervention services can make a big difference long-term. Programs are managed locally by state agencies and include:

  • Developmental screenings to catch delays
  • Speech/physical/occupational therapy
  • Family skills training
  • Vision/hearing services
  • Case management to coordinate care

Research shows starting services before age 3 leads to better outcomes later on. If you have any concerns about your infant or toddler’s development, don’t wait – seek an evaluation right away.

Finding the Right School Setting

Most children with learning disabilities are educated in typical public school classes using IEP accommodations and special education services. Some parents seek different options such as:

  • Special education classrooms: Small, structured settings for more individualized attention
  • Resource rooms: Separate classrooms for focused skill instruction
  • Private schools: Specifically for students with learning differences

Consider your child’s specific disabilities, needs and temperament. Work with your IEP team to find the most enabling school environment.

Effective Teaching Strategies for Learning Disabilities

Teachers play a critical role in empowering students with learning disabilities. Some highly effective teaching strategies include:

  • Multisensory learning: Integrating visual, auditory and kinesthetic components
  • Explicit phonics instruction: Systematic approach for reading/writing
  • Chunking information: Breaking material into smaller pieces
  • Check for understanding: Frequent comprehension checks
  • Graphic organizers: Visual frameworks to relate ideas
  • Peer tutoring: Classmates provide learning support

Create opportunities for students to practice skills in flexible pairs or small groups. Build lessons around student interests to increase motivation.

Tips for Parents to Support Learning at Home

As a parent, you can provide essential support at home to boost your child’s learning:

  • Read together daily – alternate reading aloud.
  • Practice math facts using flashcards or games.
  • Minimize distractions during homework time.
  • Use memory aids like visual schedules.
  • Break tasks into smaller steps.
  • Give positive reinforcement for effort and persistence.
  • Find outlets for interests to nurture confidence.
  • Foster organization using checklists, timers and planners.
  • Connect with teachers often to monitor progress.

Learning disabilities do not define a child. With family support, children can discover their strengths and achieve meaningful success.


Learning disabilities are a common challenge affecting millions of children, but with support they can achieve their highest potential. Active parental involvement, skilled teaching strategies and early intervention services are key. With understanding and the right tools, children with learning disabilities can confidently pursue their dreams. There are many resources available, so surround your child with support and encouragement.

Frequently Asked Questions About Learning Disabilities

Can learning disabilities be cured?

No, learning disabilities are lifelong neurologically-based disorders. With early, targeted intervention and ongoing support, children can thrive and learn to compensate for challenges.

Do learning disabilities affect intelligence?

No, learning disabilities are not related to overall intellect or intelligence. Children with LD are just as smart as peers and have strengths that shine when nurtured.

Are learning disabilities caused by poor teaching?

Absolutely not. Learning disabilities stem from differences in brain development and structure. Evidence shows they are hereditary, not caused by factors like teaching or upbringing.

Can learning disabilities be outgrown?

Unfortunately learning disabilities persist throughout life, though some aspects may improve over time. Early support leads to the best outcomes long-term.

Can learning disabilities occur later in childhood?

Yes, sometimes LD is not apparent until higher grades when academics become more demanding. A child with good early intervention may seem to coast through lower grades. Assessment is warranted whenever a pronounced learning difficulty surfaces.

Are learning disabilities more common in boys or girls?

Research shows that learning disabilities occur more frequently in boys, at a ratio of about 2:1 over girls. The reasons for this discrepancy are still not fully understood.

Can children with learning disabilities succeed in school and careers?

Absolutely! With the right support, accommodation and self-advocacy skills, children with LD can thrive academically, pursue higher education, and excel in fulfilling careers.

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