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Quick Facts

Learning Disorders

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

What are learning disorders?

Learning disorders are problems with your brain’s ability to get, remember, or use information. These problems make it hard to focus and do well in school.

  • Children with learning disorders often have normal or high intelligence but have problems with a specific skill

  • Learning disorders are different from intellectual disability (when you are born with lower than normal intelligence that makes it hard to carry out daily activities)

  • Doctors will send your child for a series of tests to see if your child has a learning disorder

  • Certain school programs can help your child with subjects they have trouble with

Common learning disorders are:

  • Reading disorders, such as dyslexia

  • Writing disorders

  • Math disorders

Children who aren't learning at the level appropriate to their age and ability should have testing for learning disorders.

What are the symptoms of learning disorders?

Young children with learning disorders may take longer than usual to learn:

  • Names of colors, letters, or objects

  • How to count

  • How to read and write

Children may also have:

  • Short attention span

  • Trouble paying attention

  • Speech or language problems

  • Trouble understanding spoken directions

  • Trouble remembering things that happened recently

  • Trouble with hand and finger use such as printing and copying

Some children with learning disorders may become frustrated at school, causing behavioral problems, such as being hyperactive, shy, or aggressive.

Children with dyslexia, one type of reading disorder, have symptoms like:

  • Slow to start talking and name letters and pictures

  • Trouble making sounds for words or putting sounds in the right order

  • Trouble seeing single words in a group or parts of one word

  • Slow to read out loud

  • More spelling and writing errors than usual, such as reversing letters in words

How can doctors tell if my child has a learning disorder?

Doctors will test your child’s hearing and eyesight to make sure they aren't the cause of your child’s learning problems (hearing and vision problems aren't learning disorders). Doctors will check for other medical problems.

To tell for sure, they’ll send your child to a learning specialist (often at the child’s school) who will do a series of intelligence tests and ask your child reading, writing, and math questions.

How are learning disorders treated?

Learning disorders are treated through educational programs that help your child learn. For example, dyslexia is treated with programs that teach your child to identify words by paying attention to the sounds, and by using audio books, computer screen readers, and other tools.

Some children with learning disorders also have ADHD. If your child does, doctors may suggest:

  • Medicine to help your child concentrate and pay attention

In the United States, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to test children for learning disorders and provide free and appropriate education to children and adolescents with learning disorders.