Learning Disabilities

Children with learning disabilities, or LD, have problems reading, spelling, and writing. They can have trouble in school. Speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, can help.

by The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) 

About LD

A child with LD has problems with reading, spelling, and writing. These are language problems. Early speech and language problems can lead to later reading and writing problems. A child with LD may also have problems with math or social skills. LD has nothing to do with how smart your child is. Most people with LD have normal to above-average intelligence.

You may hear people say they have dyslexia. People with dyslexia have problems reading. Many children with reading problems have other language problems. This makes LD a better term to use. Other terms you may hear are language-based learning disabilities or specific learning disorder.

Causes of LD

Learning disabilities are a brain disorder. Most children have LD from birth. They may have family members with LD.

Signs of LD

A child with LD may have problems:

  • Talking about his ideas. It may seem like the words he needs are on the tip of the tongue but won't come out. He might use vague words like "thing" or "stuff" and may pause to remember words.
  • Learning new words that she hears in class or sees in books.
  • Understanding questions and following directions.
  • Remembering numbers in order, like in a phone number.
  • Remembering the details of a story plot or what the teacher says.
  • Understanding what he reads.
  • Learning words to songs and rhymes.
  • Telling left from right. This can make it hard to read and write.
  • Learning the alphabet and numbers.
  • Matching sounds to letters. This makes it hard to learn to read.
  • Writing. She may mix up the order of letters in words while writing.
  • Spelling.
  • Doing math. He may mix up the order of numbers.
  • Memorizing times tables.
  • Telling time.

Testing for LD

Your child will have testing done at school to see why she has trouble learning. An SLP can test how well your child listens, speaks, reads, and writes. The SLP may test different skills with younger and older children.

For preschool children, the SLP may do any of the following:

  • Talk to you about reading and writing at home. For example, do you have books and magazines around the house? Does your child see others writing letters, notes, or lists? Do you read stories to your child?
  • Watch your child in the preschool classroom.
  • Test how well your child understands directions he hears or sees in writing. The SLP will test how well he pays attention to writing around the room.
  • See if your child notices printed letters and numbers.
  • See if your child recognizes common signs and logos.
  • Watch to see if your child holds a book the right way and turns the pages.
  • See if your child knows what her name looks like and writes her name.
  • See if your child can point to or write letters.
  • Have your child tap or clap out the syllables in words.
  • See if your child can tell if two words rhyme or say words that rhyme with a word.

For older children, the SLP may do any of the following:

  • Watch to see if your child can read and understand handouts and books.
  • Test how well your child hears and “plays with” sounds in words.
  • Have your child put syllables and sounds together to make words.
  • See if your child can break a word into syllables or sounds. For example, does he know that the word “cat” has one syllable but three sounds?
  • Test how well your child can repeat strings of words, numbers, letters, and sounds

The SLP will also test your child’s speech, language skills, and thinking skills. Thinking skills include planning, organizing, and paying attention to details.

Treatment Intervention for LD

Treatment will depend on what your child needs. The SLP will work on what your child learns in class. The SLP may work with your child alone or in the classroom. Some examples of what your child may work on include:

  • Talking about how books work. This includes how to turn pages and how to follow words on a page.
  • Matching sounds to letters.
  • Saying and writing answers to questions after listening to a story. She may retell the story and then write a summary.
  • Using written words to help him learn other skills. For example, a child who has trouble saying sounds can read words with those sounds from a list.

The SLP will work with your child’s teacher to help your child in class. This may include changing lessons to help your child understand them. The SLP can help your child find ways to organize and focus on her work.

Your child should get help with LD as early as possible. Talk to your child’s teacher if you have concerns. See an SLP if you think your child has speech and language problems.

Other Resources

This list does not include every website on this topic. ASHA does not endorse the information on these sites.