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What is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability means having one or more related problems that affect specific areas of learning and behavior. Some people may have many overlapping learning disabilities; others may have a single, isolated learning disability that has little impact on other aspects of their lives.

Learning disabilities may affect many areas of a person's life: school, work, family life and even friendships. A child with a learning disability may have difficulty with written or spoken language such as reading, writing, spelling and math; with skills such as speaking clearly, putting thoughts down on paper or remembering; and with such abilities as coordination, paying attention and sitting still.


Diagnosing a Learning Disability

A child suspected of having a learning disability will need:

Indications of Learning Disabilities

Causes of Learning Disabilities

Although the cause of learning disabilities remains unknown, the following are considered possible contributors:

Academic skills disorders

Students with academic skills disorders are often years behind their classmates in developing reading, writing or arithmetic skills. These disorders are quite common; in fact, reading disabilities affect 2 to 8 percent of elementary school children. Diagnoses include developmental reading disorder (dyslexia), writing disorder and arithmetic disorder.


This category includes certain coordination disorders and motor skills disorders that involve delays in acquiring language, academic or motor skills that affect learning ability, but do not meet the criteria for a specific learning disability.

Attention Disorders

Some 20 percent of the nearly four million school-aged children with learning disabilities have a type of disorder that leaves them unable to focus their attention. Hyperactivity accompanies attention deficit disorders in a large portion of children, mostly boys. This may cause serious problems at school, and often accompanies academic skills disorders, but according to the National Institute of Mental Health, attention disorders are not considered learning disabilities.


Learning disabilities cannot be cured, but given the right kind of educational experiences, people have a remarkable ability to learn. Since the brain's flexibility to learn new skills is greatest in young children, early detection and intervention are key. With proper remediation and support from caring and informed parents and teachers, a lot can be done to help children with learning disabilities identify the best way for them to learn.

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