Types of Learning Disabilities

by Learning Disabilities Association of America 

Types of Learning Disabilities

Student reading a book in classromLearning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math.  They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention.  It is important to realize that learning disabilities can affect an individual’s life beyond academics and can impact relationships with family, friends and in the workplace.

Since difficulties with reading, writing and/or math are recognizable problems during the school years, the signs and symptoms of learning disabilities are most often diagnosed during that time.  However, some individuals do not receive an evaluation until they are in post-secondary education or adults in the workforce.  Other individuals with learning disabilities may never receive an evaluation and go through life, never knowing why they have difficulties with academics and why they may be having problems in their jobs or in relationships with family and friends.

Learning disabilities should not be confused with learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of intellectual disability; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages.

Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities”: the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.

A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.

In Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term is “specific learning disability,” one of 13 categories of disability under that law.

“Learning Disabilities” is an “umbrella” term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia. Find the signs and symptoms of each, plus strategies to help below.

Specific Learning Disabilities

Young boy listening to a friend talking into his hear, demonstrating symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder.Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)

Also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder, this is a condition that adversely affects how sound that travels unimpeded through the ear is processed or interpreted by the brain. Individuals with APD do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even when the sounds are loud and clear enough to be heard. They can also find it difficult to tell where sounds are coming from, to make sense of the order of sounds, or to block out competing background noises.

 

Young femaile student having difficulty with math problem on chalkboard displaying symptoms of Dyscalculia.Dyscalculia

A specific learning disability that affects a person’s ability to understand numbers and learn math facts. Individuals with this type of LD may also have poor comprehension of math symbols, may struggle with memorizing and organizing numbers, have difficulty telling time, or have trouble with counting.

 

Student having difficulty writing while doing school work, expressing symptoms of Dysgraphia.Dysgraphia

A specific learning disability that affects a person’s handwriting ability and fine motor skills. Problems may include illegible handwriting, inconsistent spacing, poor spatial planning on paper, poor spelling, and difficulty composing writing as well as thinking and writing at the same time.

 

Young female student expressing frustration while rereading, demonstrating symptoms of Dyslexia.Dyslexia

A specific learning disability that affects reading and related language-based processing skills. The severity can differ in each individual but can affect reading fluency, decoding, reading comprehension, recall, writing, spelling, and sometimes speech and can exist along with other related disorders. Dyslexia is sometimes referred to as a Language-Based Learning Disability.

Learn more about Dyslexia

 

Little girl holding up toy blocks that spell "LEARN".Language Processing Disorder

A specific type of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) in which there is difficulty attaching meaning to sound groups that form words, sentences and stories. While an APD affects the interpretation of all sounds coming into the brain, a Language Processing Disorder (LPD) relates only to the processing of language. LPD can affect expressive language and/or receptive language.

 

Young boy sitting alone holding his kneesNon-Verbal Learning Disabilities

A disorder which is usually characterized by a significant discrepancy between higher verbal skills and weaker motor, visual-spatial and social skills. Typically, an individual with NLD (or NVLD) has trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language, and may have poor coordination.

 

Young girl having difficulty painting displaying symptoms of Visual Perception/Visual Motor Deficit disorder.Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit

A disorder that affects the understanding of information that a person sees, or the ability to draw or copy. A characteristic seen in people with learning disabilities such as Dysgraphia or Non-verbal LD, it can result in missing subtle differences in shapes or printed letters, losing place frequently, struggles with cutting, holding pencil too tightly, or poor eye/hand coordination.

Auditory Processing Disorder

Young boy listening to a friend talking into his hear, demonstrating symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder.Adversely affects how sound that travels unimpeded through the ear is processed and interpreted by the brain.

Also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder, individuals with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even when the sounds are loud and clear enough to be heard. They can also find it difficult to tell where sounds are coming from, to make sense of the order of sounds, or to block out competing background noises.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Has difficulty processing and remembering language-related tasks but may have no trouble interpreting or recalling non-verbal environmental sounds, music, etc.
  • May process thoughts and ideas slowly and have difficulty explaining them
  • Misspells and mispronounces similar-sounding words or omits syllables; confuses similar-sounding words (celery/salary; belt/built; three/free; jab/job; bash/batch)
  • May be confused by figurative language (metaphor, similes) or misunderstand puns and jokes; interprets words too literally
  • Often is distracted by background sounds/noises
  • Finds it difficult to stay focused on or remember a verbal presentation or lecture
  • May misinterpret or have difficulty remembering oral directions; difficulty following directions in a series
  • Has difficulty comprehending complex sentence structure or rapid speech
  • “Ignores” people, especially if engrossed
  • Says “What?” a lot, even when has heard much of what was said

Strategies

  • Show rather than explain
  • Supplement with more intact senses (use visual cues, signals, handouts, manipulatives)
  • Reduce or space directions, give cues such as “ready?”
  • Reword or help decipher confusing oral and/or written directions
  • Teach abstract vocabulary, word roots, synonyms/antonyms
  • Vary pitch and tone of voice, alter pace, stress key words
  • Ask specific questions as you teach to find out if they do understand
  • Allow them 5-6 seconds to respond (“think time”)
  • Have the student constantly verbalize concepts, vocabulary words, rules, etc.

Excerpted from the LDA of California and UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute “Q.U.I.L.T.S.” Calendar 2001-2002

Dyscalculia

Young femaile student having difficulty with math problem on chalkboard displaying symptoms of Dyscalculia.Affects a person’s ability to understand numbers and learn math facts.

Individuals with this type of Learning Disability may also have poor comprehension of math symbols, may struggle with memorizing and organizing numbers, have difficulty telling time, or have trouble with counting.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Shows difficulty understanding concepts of place value, and quantity, number lines, positive and negative value, carrying and borrowing
  • Has difficulty understanding and doing word problems
  • Has difficulty sequencing information or events
  • Exhibits difficulty using steps involved in math operations
  • Shows difficulty understanding fractions
  • Is challenged making change and handling money
  • Displays difficulty recognizing patterns when adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing
  • Has difficulty putting language to math processes
  • Has difficulty understanding concepts related to time such as days, weeks, months, seasons, quarters, etc.
  • Exhibits difficulty organizing problems on the page, keeping numbers lined up, following through on long division problems

Strategies

  • Allow use of fingers and scratch paper
  • Use diagrams and draw math concepts
  • Provide peer assistance
  • Suggest use of graph paper
  • Suggest use of colored pencils to differentiate problems
  • Work with manipulatives
  • Draw pictures of word problems
  • Use mnemonic devices to learn steps of a math concept
  • Use rhythm and music to teach math facts and to set steps to a beat
  • Schedule computer time for the student for drill and practice

Excerpted from the LDA of California and UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute “Q.U.I.L.T.S.” Calendar 2001-2002

Dysgraphia

Student having difficulty writing while doing school work, expressing symptoms of Dysgraphia.Affects a person’s handwriting ability and fine motor skills.

A person with this specific learning disability may have problems including illegible handwriting, inconsistent spacing, poor spatial planning on paper, poor spelling, and difficulty composing writing as well as thinking and writing at the same time.

Signs and Symptoms

  • May have illegible printing and cursive writing (despite appropriate time and attention given the task)
  • Shows inconsistencies: mixtures of print and cursive, upper and lower case, or irregular sizes, shapes or slant of letters
  • Has unfinished words or letters, omitted words
  • Inconsistent spacing between words and letters
  • Exhibits strange wrist, body or paper position
  • Has difficulty pre-visualizing letter formation
  • Copying or writing is slow or labored
  • Shows poor spatial planning on paper
  • Has cramped or unusual grip/may complain of sore hand
  • Has great difficulty thinking and writing at the same time (taking notes, creative writing.)

Strategies

  • Suggest use of word processor
  • Avoid chastising student for sloppy, careless work
  • Use oral exams
  • Allow use of tape recorder for lectures
  • Allow the use of a note taker
  • Provide notes or outlines to reduce the amount of writing required
  • Reduce copying aspects of work (pre-printed math problems)
  • Allow use of wide rule paper and graph paper
  • Suggest use of pencil grips and /or specially designed writing aids
  • Provide alternatives to written assignments (video-taped reports, audio-taped reports)

Excerpted from the LDA of California and UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute “Q.U.I.L.T.S.” Calendar 2001-2002

 

Dyslexia

Young female student expressing frustration while rereading, demonstrating symptoms of Dyslexia.Affects reading and related language-based processing skills.

The severity of this specific learning disability can differ in each individual but can affect reading fluency, decoding, reading comprehension, recall, writing, spelling, and sometimes speech and can exist along with other related disorders. Dyslexia is sometimes referred to as a Language-Based Learning Disability.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Reads slowly and painfully
  • Experiences decoding errors, especially with the order of letters
  • Shows wide disparity between listening comprehension and reading comprehension of some text
  • Has trouble with spelling
  • May have difficulty with handwriting
  • Exhibits difficulty recalling known words
  • Has difficulty with written language
  • May experience difficulty with math computations
  • Decoding real words is better than nonsense words
  • Substitutes one small sight word for another: a, I, he, the, there, was

Strategies

  • Provide a quiet area for activities like reading, answering comprehension questions
  • Use books on tape
  • Use books with large print and big spaces between lines
  • Provide a copy of lecture notes
  • Don’t count spelling on history, science or other similar tests
  • Allow alternative forms for book reports
  • Allow the use of a laptop or other computer for in-class essays
  • Use multi-sensory teaching methods
  • Teach students to use logic rather than rote memory
  • Present material in small units

Excerpted from the LDA of California and UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute “Q.U.I.L.T.S.” Calendar 2001-2002

Language Processing Disorder

Little girl holding up toy blocks that spell "LEARN".Affects attaching meaning to sound groups that form words, sentences and stories.

A specific type of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). While an APD affects the interpretation of all sounds coming into the brain (e.g., processing sound in noisy backgrounds or the sequence of sounds or where they come from), a Language Processing Disorder (LPD) relates only to the processing of language. LPD can affect expressive language (what you say) and/or receptive language (how you understand what others say).

Signs and Symptoms

  • Has difficulty gaining meaning from spoken language
  • Demonstrates poor written output
  • Exhibits poor reading comprehension
  • Shows difficulty expressing thoughts in verbal form
  • Has difficulty labeling objects or recognizing labels
  • Is often frustrated by having a lot to say and no way to say it
  • Feels that words are “right on the tip of my tongue”
  • Can describe an object and draw it, but can’t think of the word for it
  • May be depressed or having feelings of sadness
  • Has difficulty getting jokes

Strategies

  • Speak slowly and clearly and use simple sentences to convey information
  • Refer to a speech pathologist
  • Allow tape recorder for note taking
  • Write main concepts on board
  • Provide support person or peer tutor
  • Use visualization techniques to enhance listening and comprehension
  • Use of graphic organizers for note taking from lectures or books
  • Use story starters for creative writing assignments
  • Practice story mapping
  • Draw out details with questions and visualization strategies

Excerpted from the LDA of California and UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute “Q.U.I.L.T.S.” Calendar 2001-2002

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities

Young boy sitting alone holding his kneesHas trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language and may have poor coordination.

Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVD or NVLD), is a disorder which is usually characterized by a significant discrepancy between higher verbal skills and weaker motor, visual-spatial and social skills.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Has trouble recognizing nonverbal cues such as facial expression or body language
  • Shows poor psycho-motor coordination; clumsy; seems to be constantly “getting in the way,” bumping into people and objects
  • Using fine motor skills a challenge: tying shoes, writing, using scissors
  • Needs to verbally label everything that happens to comprehend circumstances, spatial orientation, directional concepts and coordination; often lost or tardy
  • Has difficulty coping with changes in routing and transitions
  • Has difficulty generalizing previously learned information
  • Has difficulty following multi-step instructions
  • Make very literal translations
  • Asks too many questions, may be repetitive and inappropriately interrupt the flow of a lesson
  • Imparts the “illusion of competence” because of the student’s strong verbal skills

Strategies

  • Rehearse getting from place to place
  • Minimize transitions and give several verbal cues before transition
  • Avoid assuming the student will automatically generalize instructions or concepts
  • Verbally point out similarities, differences and connections; number and present instructions in sequence; simplify and break down abstract concepts, explain metaphors, nuances and multiple meanings in reading material
  • Answer the student’s questions when possible, but let them know a specific number (three vs. a few) and that you can answer three more at recess, or after school
  • Allow the child to abstain from participating in activities at signs of overload
  • Thoroughly prepare the child in advance for field trips, or other changes, regardless of how minimal
  • Implement a modified schedule or creative programming
  • Never assume child understands something because he or she can “parrot back” what you’ve just said
  • Offer added verbal explanations when the child seems lost or registers confusion

Excerpted from the LDA of California and UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute “Q.U.I.L.T.S.” Calendar 2001-2002

Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit

Young girl having difficulty painting displaying symptoms of Visual Perception/Visual Motor Deficit disorder.Affects the understanding of information that a person sees, or the ability to draw or copy.

A characteristic seen in people with learning disabilities such as Dysgraphia or Non-verbal LD, it can result in missing subtle differences in shapes or printed letters, losing place frequently, struggles with cutting, holding pencil too tightly, or poor eye/hand coordination.

Signs and Symptoms

  • May have reversals: b for d, p for q or inversions: u for n, w for m
  • Has difficulty negotiating around campus
  • Complains eyes hurt and itch, rubs eyes, complains print blurs while reading
  • Turns head when reading across page or holds paper at odd angles
  • Closes one eye while working, may yawn while reading
  • Cannot copy accurately
  • Loses place frequently
  • Does not recognize an object/word if only part of it is shown
  • Holds pencil too tightly; often breaks pencil point/crayons
  • Struggles to cut or paste
  • Misaligns letters; may have messy papers, which can include letters colliding, irregular spacing, letters not on line

Strategies

  • Avoid grading handwriting
  • Allow students to dictate creative stories
  • Provide alternative for written assignments
  • Suggest use of pencil grips and specially designed pencils and pens
  • Allow use of computer or word processor
  • Restrict copying tasks
  • Provide tracking tools: ruler, text windows
  • Use large print books
  • Plan to order or check out books on tape
  • Experiment with different paper types: pastels, graph, embossed raised line paper

Excerpted from the LDA of California and UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute “Q.U.I.L.T.S.” Calendar 2001-2002