Learning Disabilities: What Parents Need to Know

Learning disabilities are not disorders of intelligence, but rather, disorders affecting the way information is processed. Continue reading for information about learning disabilities and for tips on supporting your learning-disabled child inside and outside of the classroom.

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What Are Learning Disabilities?

A learning disability is a neurobiological condition that can make it difficult to sufficiently complete learning tasks in a traditional school setting. Kids with learning disorders display differences in neural structure and brain function that may affect their use of spoken or written language. Thus, they may struggle with listening, speaking, reading, writing, thinking or performing calculations. Some learning-disabled children also have motor-coordination problems that can make activities like cutting, zipping or tying shoelaces taxing. Finally, some students may have problems that affect higher-level functions, such as abstract thinking, time-management and the capacity to organize materials.

Though learning disabilities are not caused by emotional disturbance, physical disability or mental retardation, learning-disabled students sometimes suffer from emotional issues as a result of experiencing failure inside and outside the classroom. For this reason, early diagnosis and special education support can be key to helping these students succeed. Learning disabilities remain a lifelong challenge; getting your child the support she needs, however, can noticeably ease her developmental process.

Common Learning Disabilities


Students with dyslexia have trouble identifying separate phonemes, or word sounds, in complex words. For this reason, they often struggle with reading, writing and spelling. Because it's hard for them to recall the images they perceive, dyslexics also commonly struggle with forming letters and numbers in the correct sequence to write sentences and perform mathematical calculations.


Dyspraxia affects fine-motor movement. Students with dyspraxia may have poor balance, faulty hand-eye coordination, a sensitivity to touch and an inability to complete tasks like drawing, doing puzzles and writing. If a student has verbal dyspraxia, he or she may also stammer or need extra time to verbally respond to questions.


Children with dysgraphia struggle with writing letters and words legibly on paper. They tend to omit words, letters and sentences when they're writing; it's also common for them to mix printing and cursive letters together. These students may show an inability to logically plan where to space words on paper and have difficulty with creative writing, where they must think and write simultaneously.

Language Disorders

Kids with language disorders, often called aphasia or dysphasia, struggle to express their thoughts verbally. They often have the feeling of knowing what they want to say without being able to find the right words. They may also struggle with recognizing objects and have trouble understanding aspects of spoken language.

Visual Motor Deficit Disorders

Visual motor deficit disorders tend to cause children to have painful or itchy eyes. Common school issues include a tendency to invert letters (as in writing w instead of m) and an inability to accurately cut or paste, copy words or space letters correctly.

Tips to Use Outside the Classroom

If your child has a learning disability, it's useful to maintain a positive attitude and focus on your child's strengths rather than emphasize his learning issues. Providing him with a study space that is free of distraction can also encourage his learning development. Still, your child may need help doing class assignments. If you have time, you can sit with him while he completes assignments and support him with non-traditional teaching activities, such as repeating words and sentences aloud or discussing math problems verbally. You might also consider hiring a tutor with special education experience to help your child practice non-traditional learning methods.

School Advocacy Tips

Discuss your child's issues with her teacher and if appropriate, set up a meeting between you, her teacher and the school's education support team. Team members will vary depending on the school and your child's disability. You can expect, however, to find at least a few of the following people present: a school nurse, a school administrator, a child psychiatrist or school psychologist, a speech therapist or a physical therapist. At this meeting, make sure to address all of the available options.

Your son or daughter may qualify for a Section 504 or for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) services. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ensures a suitable education to every child, regardless of disability (www.2ed.gov). Section 504 adjustments differ from child to child, but a common feature is increased parent-teacher collaboration, daily time spent with a special education professional, reduced workloads and homework tasks that emphasize specific activities.

If your child qualifies for IDEA services, the education support team will create an individualized education plan with measurable yearly results (www.2ed.gov). Any changes to this plan require your consent.

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