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Types of Learning Disabilities

Student reading a book in classrom

Learning disabilities are due to genetic and/or neurobiological factors that alter brain functioning in a manner which affects one or more cognitive processes related to learning. 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.

Types of Learning Disabilities

  • Dyscalculia
    A specific learning disability that affects a person’s ability to understand numbers and learn math facts.
  • Dysgraphia
    A specific learning disability that affects a person’s handwriting ability and fine motor skills.
  • Dyslexia
    A specific learning disability that affects reading and related language-based processing skills.
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities
    Has trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language and may have poor coordination.
  • Oral / Written Language Disorder and Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit
    Learning disabilities that affect an individual’s understanding of what they read or of spoken language. The ability to express one’s self with oral language may also be impacted.

Related Disorders

  • ADHD
    A disorder that includes difficulty staying focused and paying attention, controlling behavior and hyperactivity.
  • Dyspraxia
    A disorder which causes problems with movement and coordination, language and speech.
  • Executive Functioning
    Affects, planning, organization, strategizing, attention to details and managing time and space.