Signs That You or a Loved One May Have a Learning Disability


By: Michaela Patoilo


Is every night a battle to finish homework? Do reading assignments end in tears? Do you feel like every project is a landmine for frustration? If these sound familiar, there is a chance your child may have a learning disorder, also referred to as a learning disability. Without a doubt, most children will experience aggravation at some point when it comes to doing their homework. Moving from one grade to another, struggling with challenging new material is common. However, if their difficulties are persistent and overwhelming, they may be a sign of something bigger – a learning disability. The same applies for adults who struggle in their every day lives and/or in the workplace. While the presentation of a learning disability can be very different from one person to the next, below are some common signs to watch for if you suspect you or your child has a learning disability.

In children, learning disabilities are often diagnosed when they begin to have substantial troubles in school. If diagnosed while a child is still in school, accommodations can be made including individualized education programs, additional testing time, one-on-one redirection, and reminders of assignments, depending on the school’s accommodation policy. Some signs to look for in children include:

  • Significant difficulties within a particular subject area (math, reading, writing)
  • Problems with understanding and following directions
  • Academic struggles that don’t go away or get better over time
  • Having trouble remembering oral instructions and other information
  • “Acting out” in school settings or while doing homework/assignments

Learning disabilities are not exclusive to children, however. Often adults find themselves struggling in the workplace or during their college years as more is expected of them and the work becomes more complex. In some cases, testing reveals learning disabilities are contributing to their frustration, despite never being previously diagnosed. If you suspect you or an adult you know has a learning disability, some signs to look for include:

  • Misunderstanding or miscopying information
  • Confusion when similar letters or numbers are present in a telephone number or address
  • Difficulties expressing themselves in writing and/or orally
  • Errors within written work, including organization, grammar, structure, and spelling
  • Problems with completing forms or documents with small print

The only way to formally diagnose a learning disability is through professionally-administered testing. This testing may take place in several settings, including in a school or psychologist’s office, and generally represents a broad assessment of academic strengths and weaknesses.  Some commonly diagnosed learning disabilities are explained below, with the current DSM-5 formal diagnostic terms in parentheses:

  1. Dyslexia (Specific learning disorder with impairment in reading) – A difficulty with spelling, connecting letters and sounds, recognizing words, and reading often characterized by a slow rate of reading, difficulties with comprehension, letter and directional confusion, and struggling with verbal and written self-expression.


  1. Dyscalculia (Specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics) – A difficulty with arithmetic and mathematics that may be accompanied by difficulties with making monetary change, struggling to understand and organize word problems, and trouble understanding mathematics concepts including fractions, percentages, and basic operations.


  1. Dysgraphia (Specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression) – A persistent difficulty with handwriting and written skills that may present with awkward and tense pen/pencil holding, pervasive trouble writing logically or in a grammatically correct way, and a strong dislike of written assignments.

If you or your child are easily frustrated by completing tasks or trying to understand directions, an underlying learning disability might be a factor. While the above indicators are not definitive, they can help guide you in seeking a professional opinion. The only way to confirm or rule out a learning disability is through a formal evaluation, so if you have any suspicions, they should be addressed with a professional to determine which resources and support services are best for you.

We’re here to help. We’re mental health therapists located in Chester, NJ and specialize in using evidence-based strategies to help children, teens, and adults succeed. Call us (908) 914-2624 or email us at to learn more.

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