Does your child have a learning disability? | Featured Columnists

Jennifer E. Engen

Most children experience academic difficulties in school at one time or another. Some may struggle with a specific subject while others may have difficulty adjusting to a certain style of teaching. However, if your child has significant, ongoing academic and/or social problems at school, then he may have a learning disability, a neurobiological disorder that affects the way a child receives, processes, or expresses information.

According to the National Institutes of Health, learning disabilities affect one in seven people. In school, children with learning disabilities experience ongoing problems in the following areas, despite having average or above-average intelligence: spoken language: delays and deviations in listening and speaking; written language: difficulties with reading, writing and spelling; mathematics: difficulty in performing arithmetic operations or in understanding basic concepts; reasoning: difficulty in organizing and integrating thoughts; and memory: difficulty in remembering information and instructions. It may also impair a child’s ability to build social relationships, since these rely on accurate communication. Parents, therefore, need to be familiar with the common signs of a learning disability in order to get the right help for their child as soon as possible.

Some of the common learning disabilities include:

• Dyslexia, a reading disability typified by problems in receptive or expressive, oral or written language. Children experience difficulty in reading, spelling, writing, speaking, or listening.

• Dyscalculia, problems doing arithmetic, and grasping mathematical concepts.

• Dysgraphia, a writing disorder that causes children to have difficulty forming letters or writing within a defined space.

• Auditory, Memory and Processing Disability, difficulty understanding or remembering words or sounds because their brains fail to understand language correctly. This can often be mistaken by parents and doctors as a hearing problem but, in fact, an individual with this disability is not able to process or memorize information.

Children with learning disabilities commonly exhibit difficulties in a number of the following areas:

Spoken or written language

• pronouncing words and learning new vocabulary

• following directions and instructions – get confused easily

• understanding requests and responding to questions

• discriminating among sounds

• understanding concepts

• reading comprehension

• spelling

• writing stories and essays

• reading and writing – exhibit reversals

• completing work – usually require extra time

Attention and concentration

• completing tasks

• acting before thinking

• poor organization

• restlessness

• daydreaming

• distractibility


• remembering directions, names, or events

• learning math facts, new procedures, or the alphabet

• spelling

• studying for tests

• short-term and long-term memory


• managing time

• completing assignments

• organizing thoughts

• locating belongings

• carrying out a plan

• making decisions

• setting priorities

• discriminating size, shape, color

• temporal (time) concepts such as: knowing the time, date, year

• poor organizational skills

• abstract reasoning and/or problem-solving

• thinking – frequently disorganized


• impulsive or hyperactive behavior

• difficulty making and keeping friends

• exhibiting behavior often inappropriate for the situation

• failing to see consequences for his actions

• adjusting to environmental changes such as changes in daily routines

• poor judgment when making decisions

• interpreting non-verbal cues

• working cooperatively

• lags in developmental milestones – fine motor skills, language, etc.

If your child experiences any of the above consistently, contact your child’s teacher or school counselor to discuss your concerns. The earlier a learning disability is diagnosed, the better chance your child will have of succeeding in school and in life.

Elizabeth Hamilton, M.E., MA, is a teacher with 31 years of professional experience. You can write to her at [email protected] with your questions or comments.

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