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Does My Child Have a Learning Disability?

As children start learning to read, write and do math, it’s not uncommon for them to struggle at some point or another. Many children face learning challenges throughout their education, but recurring challenges in the same areas could be signs of a learning disability.

Learning disabilities are common conditions that can significantly impact your child's academic performance and overall development. 

As a parent, it’s essential to understand what different learning disabilities look like and what to do if you suspect your child may have one. Understanding, recognizing and planning are the first steps in ensuring a positive outlook for your child.

Read on to understand more about learning disabilities and how to know if your child needs an evaluation and support.

What is a learning disability?

A child who has a learning disability does not process information in the same way as a child of the same age and grade level. 

A learning disability can affect how the brain takes in, uses, stores and sends information. It doesn’t mean that your child is less intelligent or lazy. It just means that their brain is wired differently.

“A learning disability is an umbrella term that encompasses many types of specific learning disorders, including dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia,” said Kathleen Bree, PsyD, a pediatric neuropsychologist with Banner Children’s. “It applies specifically to difficulties with reading, writing and math.”

Learning disabilities may also occur with other conditions like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and broader executive function deficits. 

“This does not mean that if a child has dyslexia, that the child also has ADHD or autism, but that children with ADHD and autism tend to experience learning disabilities at a higher rate than the general population,” Dr. Bree said.

Common learning disabilities

Some of the most common learning disabilities are dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia. 


Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting 1 in every 5 people in the United States.

Children with dyslexia often struggle with decoding words, recognizing letters and their sounds and comprehending written text. They may experience difficulties with spelling and writing skills and exhibit slower reading speeds compared to their peers. 

“Although dyslexia is unrelated to mathematical processes, like addition and subtraction, it can also negatively impact a child’s ability to read, understand and complete word problems,” Dr. Bree said.

Signs of dyslexia to watch out for

“All children exhibit some amount of difficulty in learning the alphabet, letter sounds and how to read,” Dr. Bree said. “Much like learning to walk, it takes time and we stumble intermittently until we’ve practiced enough.”

That being said, persistent difficulty with any of the following skills may indicate the need for evaluation, either by your child’s school or by a psychologist or neuropsychologist in private practice:

  • Learning and automating the alphabet, including saying the alphabet from start to finish, identifying the next letter in the alphabet when presented with one (knowing F comes after E) and recognizing and naming letters based on sight.
  • Learning and remembering letter sounds.
  • Learning and remembering simple sight words.
  • Learning how to sound out unfamiliar words.


Like dyslexia, dysgraphia is a learning disability that impacts a variety of potential difficulties with writing, including spelling, grammar and punctuation. 

“Symptoms of dysgraphia include difficulties with visual motor skills (eye-hand coordination) necessary for writing, difficulty recalling how to spell sight words and difficulty accurately sounding out and spelling unfamiliar words,” Dr. Bree said.

Signs of dysgraphia to watch out for

Children with dysgraphia may find it challenging to produce clear, legible handwriting, organize their thoughts in writing and demonstrate proper grammar and punctuation. They might struggle with copying from the board or taking notes quickly. 

Persistent difficulty with any of the following skills may indicate the need to have your child evaluated:

  • Spelling (unfinished words or missing words or letters).
  • Holding and controlling a writing tool (fine motor skills).
  • Properly spacing words, letters and punctuation on paper or within margins.
  • Thinking and writing at the same time.
  • Writing without getting a sore hand or hand cramp.


Dyscalculia is a learning disability related to math skills. 

“Much like dyslexia and dysgraphia, dyscalculia describes an impairment in aspects of the brain-based processes necessary for math,” Dr. Bree said. 

Children with dyscalculia may struggle with number sense, which involves understanding quantities and numerical relationships. They might struggle with basic arithmetic operations, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. 

Concepts like time, money and measurement can also pose challenges for individuals with dyscalculia. 

Signs of dyscalculia to watch out for

Persistent difficulty with any of the following skills may indicate the need to have your child evaluated:

  • Learning to count, add, subtract, multiply and divide.
  • Recognizing numbers and patterns and placing things in order.
  • Memorizing math facts.
  • Keeping track when counting.
  • Aligning numbers in a column.
  • Understanding size, location, orientation and rotation.
  • Writing numbers they hear and stating numbers they see.

The importance of early intervention

You or your child’s teacher often are the first to notice potential signs of a learning disability. Keep your eye out for persistent reading, writing and/or math struggles.

“It’s essential for parents to understand learning disabilities because they can use their understanding to better advocate for their child’s educational needs,” Dr. Bree said. “Parents can use their understanding of their child’s neurocognitive functioning and its impact on their child’s behaviors to adjust their parenting approach and provide their child with optimal support.”

If concerns arise, it is important to contact your child’s teacher, school counselor or health care provider. They can provide guidance and refer you to a specialist, such as a developmental pediatrician, psychologist, occupational therapist or educational specialist.

How learning disabilities are diagnosed

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a learning disability can’t be diagnosed with just one test result. The importance of IDEA law allows children with disabilities to have the appropriate resources and help to improve their education and way of living.

The evaluation process typically involves a comprehensive assessment of your child’s academic abilities, cognitive functioning and emotional well-being. It may include standardized tests, observation, interviews and a review of your child’s educational history.

The type of tests that are used to diagnose include:

  • Intelligence tests: evaluate cognitive strengths, weaknesses and problem-solving skills.
  • Achievement tests: look at how well academic information is retained and applied after a period of learning.
  • Visual-motor integration tests: determine how well your child can incorporate motor and visual skills.
  • Language tests: look at how well your child understands what they’ve heard and their ability to form sentences and put words together.

What to do if your child is diagnosed with a learning disability

As a parent, it’s natural to feel concerned and overwhelmed when your child faces learning challenges. Remember, you are not alone in this journey. 

Reach out to support networks, such as parent groups and online communities focused on learning disabilities. These platforms can provide you with valuable resources, strategies and emotional support.

In addition, there are several things you can do to support your child. Dr. Bree shared the following tips:

Encourage effort rather than the outcome. No matter the grade your child receives, if they try, it is important to praise and reward their efforts.

Normalize and validate difficulty. It can be challenging to allow your child to struggle. Foster a supportive environment at home where your child can feel safe expressing their concerns and asking for help when needed. Normalize and validate your child’s difficulty.

Learn about your child’s educational rights. Learn how schools work, the language schools use and how to advocate for your child. With the right Individualized Education Program (IEP), or 504 accommodation plan, your child can learn at their level and improve in school. 

Recognize that schools may also have a limited number of resources available. If it seems like your child isn’t getting their needs met, despite advocating, staying in contact and trying to work with the school, it is also acceptable to look into other educational programs.


Recognizing and addressing learning disabilities in children is a shared responsibility between parents, educators and health care professionals. By understanding the characteristics of dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, parents can proactively seek appropriate evaluations and interventions. 

Early intervention is vital in supporting children with learning disabilities, enabling them to overcome challenges, develop their potential and lead fulfilling lives. Remember, as parents, you have the power to make a significant difference in your child's journey to success.

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