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What Are Learning Disabilities?

What Are Learning Disabilities - Learning DifficultiesLearning disabilities (LDs) are real. They affect the brain's ability to receive, process, store, respond to and communicate information. LDs are actually a group of disorders, not a single disorder.

Learning disabilities are not the same as intellectual disabilities (formerly known as mental retardation), sensory impairments (vision or hearing) or autism spectrum disorders. People with LD are of average or above-average intelligence but still struggle to acquireskills that impact their performance in school, at home, in the community and in the workplace. Learning disabilities are lifelong, and the sooner they are recognized and identified, the sooner steps can be taken to circumvent or overcome the challenges they present.

How Can You Tell If Someone Has a Learning Disability?

The hallmark sign of a learning disability is a distinct and unexplained gap between a person's level of expected achievement and their performance. Learning disabilities affect every person differentlyand they present differently at various stages of development. LDs can range from mild to severe and it is not uncommon for people to have more than one learning disability. In addition, about one-third of individuals with LD also have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While LD and ADHD can share common features, such as difficulties with concentration, memory, and organizational skills, they are not the same types of disorder. Unfortunately, LD is often confused with ADHD and is frequently mistaken as laziness or associated with disorders of emotion and behavior. A careful and thorough review of concerns, with input from multiple sources (including parents, educators, physicians, psychologists, speech-language providers and, of course, the person themselves) is the only way to rule in or rule out a learning disability.

Learning disabilities can affect a person’s ability in the areas of

  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Spelling
  • Reasoning
  • Mathematics

See the chart below for specific types of learning disabilities and related disorders.

LD Terminology


Area of difficulty

Symptoms include trouble with



Processing language

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Spelling

Confusing letter names and sounds, difficulties blending sounds into words, slow rate of reading, trouble remembering after reading text


Math skills

  • Computation
  • Remembering math facts
  • Concepts of time and money

Difficulty learning to count by 2s, 3s, 4s, poor mental math skills, problems with spatial directions


Written expression

  • Handwriting
  • Spelling
  • Composition

Illegible handwriting, difficulty organizing ideas for writing


Fine motor skills

  • Coordination
  • Manual dexterity

Trouble with scissors, buttons, drawing

Information Processing Disorders

Auditory Processing Disorder

Interpreting auditory information

  • Language development
  • Reading

Difficulty anticipating how a speaker will end a sentence

Visual Processing Disorder

Interpreting visual information

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Math

Difficulty distinguishing letters like “h” and “n”

Other Related Disorders

Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Concentration and focus

  • Over-activity
  • Distractibility
  • Impulsivity

Can't sit still, loses interest quickly, daydreams