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Signs Your Child Might Have a Learning Disability

5 Early Signs Your Child Might Have a Learning Disability

You know your child is bright, so why is he having so much trouble learning? The National Center for Learning Disabilities estimates that one in five children has some sort of learning disability, but signs of learning disabilities are often mistaken for other issues. The signals don't just show up at school; there are things to watch out for at home, too.

What Is a Learning Disability?

There are a number of different types of learning disabilities, so your child's struggles may look different than another's, but moms say it's important to pay attention to your instincts. Circle of Moms member Deborah D. wasn't comfortable with people telling her that the things she thought her 3-year-old son should already know would come with age.

She says he's "smart as a whip" but can't seem to learn certain basic skills. Another mom, Theresa, who has a child with a learning disability, says Deborah's son might just learn in a different way than other kids.


Use a "Disability Perspective" to Look at Your Child's Skills

That's a good way of describing what a learning disability is: learning in a different way. A learning disability is a neurological difference in the way your child processes, uses, holds onto, or recalls the information that comes at him. puts it more simply, saying it's a difference in how your child's brain is "wired."

As mom Kristin G. points out, preschoolers can be "obstinate," so it's sometimes hard to tell if what you're seeing is an inability to do something or an unwillingness to do it. That's where what Circle of Moms member Eva calls a "disability perspective" comes in handy, remembering that kids want to do things well and will if they can.

Early Warning Signs Your Child May Have a Learning Disability

Among other things, learning disabilities can affect the way your child uses and understands language and the way he organizes information. In your preschooler or young school-age child, early warning signs to look for include: 

  1. Your child doesn't speak as early or as clearly as other kids. He may also have a small vocabulary and have trouble finding the right word for things when talking, almost as though it's right on the tip of the tongue.
  2. Your child has trouble learning ideas about relationships between things. Ideas like up and down, before and after, or first and last are hard to learn, but a child with a learning disability may have more trouble than usual getting those connections. Children with learning disabilities may also be impulsive because they don't see the connection between what they do and what happens next.
  3. Your child doesn't seem able to learn and recognize letters. Mom Linda S., whose son was diagnosed with a learning disability, explains one possible reason: "My son sees letters as objects, where b, d, p, or q could be the same thing just turned in a different direction."
  4. Your child is restless, easily distracted, and has trouble following directions. A number of moms said that this comes across as though their child just isn't listening to them or won't focus.
  5. Your child is physically awkward or clumsy. Your child might have trouble running, skipping, jumping, catching, or throwing or bump into things and fall down more often than other kids her age. She may also have a lot of trouble with things like using scissors or zipping, buttoning, or snapping clothing.

If you're concerned your child might have a learning disability, the best thing to do is to speak with your pediatrician about your concerns. The earlier you intervene, the easier it will be to find ways to support your child's learning needs.

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Join The Conversation
AprilV30057 AprilV30057 3 years
@ DanaWeeks-- Our son is also 13 and as I read your posts it was like reading about our son. The only difference being that this past year our son reached a point that he wanted to commit suicide. By the grace of God, I found the note before he tried anything and we were able to get him counseling. While he was in counseling his counselor told me we should take him to a psychologist and have them perform an Inelegance Test on him. He said that it would show any delays/disabilities he may have. Our son has ADD, he is mildly dyslexic, he has an emotional delay and he has a form of stuttering. The emotional delay is his biggest problem because he can't process his emotions properly. He gets embarrassed by things easily and when he does, he either gets mad or very sad or completely shuts down. He also gets tired of things quickly, such as doing homework, and requires frequent breaks; which is also, in part, attributed to his ADD. His second 'biggest' problem is his form of stuttering. It isn't like the normal stuttering you would think of when hearing the word. It's a form where he will occasionally repeat the same few words or phrase two or three times, or totally stop what he's saying for a moment (called pausing), before being able to gather his thoughts and complete his sentence. They described it as, "his brain and his mouth are working at different speeds and the one has to try to catch up to the other". He has also had other speech problems since he was young and was in speech therapy at the public school when he was in 1st and 2nd grade. I'm not saying your son has any of these particular issues, but it is definitely worth having him tested. Once we took our son's test results to the school last year, and threatened to sue them for their prior incompetence if they didn't help him, they began jumping through hoops doing everything they could to help him. Apparently you get a lot farther if you have a medical doctor standing behind you... On another note, our son is also in football. He is also a very big boy, the slowest on his team and is very clumsy, but he makes an awesome Defensive Tackle & Offensive Guard. He hates running the daily laps during training, but he loves playing the game. It has also helped with his self esteem because even though he's the slowest kid on the team, and has problems with his asthma, he doesn't quit. His teammates have grown to respect him for not giving up and they now cheer him on and some will even go back and finish running beside him. I know you have had issues with transportation so you had to pull your son out of football but, since he liked playing, I would suggest you try to find a way to get him back involved in it. Team sports are a good way to help build his self esteem and his social skills at the same time. I haven't been able to drive for the past few years and I've found that there has been a lot of people willing to help us out once I swallowed my pride and started asking. It was embarrassing for me to do, but I have made several good friends from it. I started by asking other parents from my son's team and then also asked people from our church. Between the two sets of people we've been able to get him to all his practices and games. Just a suggestion for you... Good luck and I hope at least some of this is helpful.
DanaWeeks DanaWeeks 3 years
@Katie43682, thank you very much for that suggestion. I don't know what an occupational therapist is, but I'll certainly find out. I've heard of processing disorders before, but never could apply that to his situation. Just not that familiar with it. And @Demedoll, things have been tough all over for us, and we live 20 minutes from anywhere and only have one car, which my husband uses to go to work. He has not been able to participate in anything for that reason. We've both been homebound for months and months, except in the evenings a couple times a week, we'll go to town for groceries or something. Money's really tight, and just seems like it's getting tighter unfortunately. He's actually been in karate, and with his body size (he's a big boy) and his lack of coordination, he really hated it. He begged us to take him out, and it was obvious that karate just wasn't going to be his thing. He played football for a year, and although he was the slowest on the team, he still liked it and wanted to keep playing, but our second vehicle broke down, and I couldn't find anybody who could help us get him back & forth (the geography in my area of horrendous - we go 20 miles to get anywhere, but it's one way to shop, one way to the other small town where my husband works, then the same distance to another town where the public school is). Until about 3 years ago, we lived right outside of Memphis, and he played football there too, but he also had neighborhood friends at least sometimes. There's so many issues! This isn't even the half of it. But I so appreciate the tips and suggestions, because I am truly out of answers at this point. Thanks to you both!
Katie43682 Katie43682 3 years
I think it would be a good idea to try to find a good occupational therapist and a speech therapist. I'm not an expert by any means but it sounds like your son may have a processing disorder. There are different types such as auditory and visual and can be a combination of both. There also sounds like there could be sensory issues as well. Perhaps he is on the spectrum such as Aspergers but it's hard to pinpoint one thing when there are several issues and they could all be masking an underlying issue. Again, I would start with an occupational therapist with a neurological background as well as a speech therapist to see if any processing issues need to be addressed. Good luck and my heart goes out to you.
Demedoll Demedoll 3 years
To DanaWeeks- I am not sure how small your town is but I would suggest enrolling him in a martial arts class (Tae Kwon Do, Karate, etc). This will help tremendously with self confidence and get the social interaction he needs. You can even enroll with him (great excersise). My good friend also was challenged with her son (as far as social issues and desperately wanting friends). I recommended that outlet and his self confidence grew signifigantly. It's not about fighting, it's about self discipline and respect. I also took Tae Kwon Do when I was in high school (I was socially awkward and a wall flower). I loved it. As far as schooling, I don't have any suggestions (I'm sorry), but an outlet for your son is VERY beneficial. My heart goes out to you and you are doing a great job Mom! :)
DanaWeeks DanaWeeks 3 years
@CarlaCharter ~ I've given some thought to whether that was the problem or not, but it doesn't seem like an adequate fit. I'm sure he has ADD and some kind of specific spelling disorder, because his father and his sister both were the same way. I went to high school with his father, but when I married him, I was shocked to find out he couldn't spell! We were the best of friends, and I didn't know that! He's since self-taught himself to spell for the most part, but he still misspells. His sister could never spell either, but now she's 22, and spells much better finally. But neither one could spell all through school. So, my son seems to have it more prominent than either one of them! He just cannot put together the phonics with the pronounciation and spelling of words to save our lives! There's gap there, and I don't know how to make it connect, although I was an excellent reader and speller from kindergarten. I never thought I would have this kind of trouble educating one of my kids. I've got a college degree and graduated with honors, can write like nobody's business, but my son hates school because of the way his inabilities affect his school life. And I feel helpless at this point! I know he needs a private evaluation, but I live in Alabama, and I cannot find anyone who does it. I've looked towards Tuscaloosa and Birmingham even, and Jackson, MS (we're from Mississippi and close to the state line), but I can find noone. His doctor nor the school system, nor the local mental health agency, none of them know anything about this, nor can they refer me to anybody. I cannot find anybody doing searches on the internet. Does anybody have any suggestions for me? We do not have much money at all, but we would scrap and save to get this done for our son. Nothing is more important to us! Thank you all ~ I'm so glad I found this article. I knew when I read it that there might be some guidance for us :)
DamianDriskillglenk DamianDriskillglenk 3 years
I notice my son having a difficult time starting in 1st grade, he was fine at home(at least normal to me because I knew no different) but he would have migraines every day and beg me to stay home saying the teacher was mean...but I told him just to not make the teacher mad. Well when he was in 2nd grade his teacher said he seemed to be having problems sitting still and seeing things.. Well I went the Dr. and to find out he had a lot of problems with one of his eyes and he was color blind.. after we got the glasses I watched him at school. he never sat still, wandering from class mate to class mate. I thought that he was a social butterfly like me, but it hurt his school work and he almost failed 2nd grade. That's when I took him to a learning specialist, they tested him and he had a processing disorder, he could see and read but it would not process in his brain, it was like missing a step in understanding what he was reading. I refused any ADD or ADHD medication saying I did not want to drug my kid.. And that is my Worst decision ever!!!!!! I finally gave in as I watched him struggle with homework, getting angry and then get depressed, I could see him going in a very bad direction. Before he started 4th grade I researched all the ADHD drugs and asked the Dr. if we could try Concerta, after a week he was already showing progress. I did not give it to him on the weekends or holidays because this drug was only to help him in school.. He was fine otherwise. He did very well until he hit puberty (12-13) and then it did no good.. the grades dropped so I took him off of it, and the teacher and I worked with him to get him though school. When he turned 15 he was really becoming depressed and he had already failed almost every class his freshman year, The worst thing was that no one at the school informed me every on how bad he was doing. He started hanging around with people who did not make good choices, and was depressed and angry at him self, sometimes talking about suicide. I took him to counseling and started keeping up with his school work and teachers. The counselor recommended that I put him on ADHD medication again, so I researched many different ADHD medications, and read reviews from users. I found Vyvanse, I chose this one because the other medications had side effects that a teen age boy wants to go through during class. His grades went back up and he became a B student again and his whole attitude changed, once he saw that he was not stupid(like he thought) his self esteem grew. His senior year He wanted to join the military and has to be able to continue school with good grades for one year without the medication before they will take him. we waited till second semester to stop the medication so that he would be guaranteed to graduate. He finished with B's. and now will start college this fall. If he does not to well this semester and changes his mind about military I will put him back on the medication. The medication for us, was the best thing I could have done for him, and realizing that I look back at my child hood and wished that someone would have made the same decision for me.
CarlaCharter1366254060 CarlaCharter1366254060 3 years
To Danaweeks: Has your son been tested to see if he's autism Spectrum or Aspergers. I have three spectrum kids one of which Also has Aspergers. All three had a hard time with coordination and making friends. These kids also can be the target of teasing because they can't read social cues. Another thought when you mentioned spelling is there a possibility he could be Dyslexic? Maybe none of this will help but I'm just tossing some ideas out there based on my personal experience.
KellyKatsafanas KellyKatsafanas 3 years
As an elementary teacher with a Masters in Literacy, I strongly agree that if your child has a learning difference, getting help early is key. However, there are many children that exhibit some of these signs to differing degrees that do not have learning differences. For example, mixing up letters like b, d, p, and q both in writing and reading is developmentally appropriate for a long time (generally around the start of second grade this should disappear - but children are different). Because children do develop at such varying rates, teachers do not want to/are not allowed to alarm parents without sufficient cause. Also, most counties will not pay to evaluate students unless they are performing at a certain percentage rate behind their peers. As a parent, you are your child's best advocate. Also, you always have the right to seek a private evaluation. While these are pricey, some insurance companies will help pay for them. They are very thorough and will teach you a lot about your child's learning style. I wish I could afford to have one for each of my children even though I do not suspect that they have a learning difference. They tell you a lot. I have tutored and worked with many, many children that have different learning difficulties. Respectfully be your child's advocate, stay after the teacher's and work with your child at home. Reading with you child, even when they are in the higher elementary grades has amazing benefits for both of you. Have them read a page and you read a page. It takes time and effort - but that is the greatest gift you can give your child.
DanaWeeks DanaWeeks 3 years
My son is now 13, and he had was always slow and clumsy, never could really ride a bike, could never skate, was always the last boy in when he played football. He was also a "slow learner" in that he could pass (barely) if him, the teacher, and myself all worked together all year, but me and him had to usually work on homework till bedtime, and he would often cry, and still go to school with it all not done, and he'd be scared to go. I've cried many days after dropping him off at school. He's failed twice regardless of our best efforts, and two years he had terrible teachers, which also undermined his progress. He took the test for special services at the end of 4th grade (when I had asked for an evaluation at the beginning of the year, entering a new school district) and he passed by one point. I cried, because I knew he'd be at the bottom of the pack academically at the beginning of 5th grade, and the rules say he couldn't re-test for another year. I ended up taking him home to homeschool him, because he was started to close up again and become depressed, after having dealt with that for years after his first grade year. I also had to be sure to help him get dressed most of those years, which included tying his shoes and zipping or buttoning him up, because he had a hard time doing it himself, was slow, and would get frustrated. He cannot seem to learn to spell, no matter what I do. I have went over phonics a thousand times at this point, and he still misspells even basic words. Nobody seems to care enough about him to see that he is learning disabled, but I am certain of it. He has always been quiet, but he wants friendship so badly. But I can't send him back to school until he can catch up. He's got the body of a teenager now, and they just cannot put him in a class full of prepubescent kids! Especially when all the boys he played football with will 7th graders. How humiliating! He's always been made fun of, and he's so kind-hearted, my mama's heart just can't take anymore watching him suffer humiliation, day in day out, and watching him hang his head, stoop his shoulders, and refuse eye contact anytime we go into a public place. That's not good for him either! At least now, he'll lift his head high and he smiles all the time. Maturity seems to be his friend at least, but I'm still extremely concerned about his education. I've really got off on the wrong foot with the man at the local (small town) education department, and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say I detest the man. For reasons I won't list here, I don't think he could care less about my son, and because he doesn't know my family, he's not willing to do anything for our situation, so my son falls through cracks in the educational system. And I don't see any clear-cut learning disability NAME I can give to what's going on with him, other than we know he has ADHD/ADD (I think it's more ADD). Does anybody have any suggestions for me? I'm such a worried, broken-hearted mom!
Amanda-Morin Amanda-Morin 3 years
All of the items on this list can be the early signs of learning disabilities, but can also be related to other issues as well, so you're correct that #1 is about speech. There are, however, learning disabilities, such as Dyspraxia and Non-Verbal Lsarning Disabilites, which affect speech and language processing and production. Certainly, this list should not be used to diagnose your child with a learning disability (or any other disability for that matter); it's for informational purposes only.
FionaRyan FionaRyan 3 years
While I believe your article is both pretty well researched and extremely well intentioned I would have to point out that No.1 on your list is about speech development. There can be many factors that determine when a child speaks, many of which have no underlying medical cause. I have a 19 month old bright little girl who isnt talking as much as my 6 year old was at the same age. She will get there when she's ready. Children learn at different rates and develop physically and mentally in the same manner.
DebbieMcCormick1368068469 DebbieMcCormick1368068469 3 years
My first grader was recently diagnosed with Double Deficit Dyslexia. It is important to have your child tested because you need that clinical diagnoses on paper so you can advocate for your child within the school system. Not all schools provide the tools these kids need and, as in my case, will fail your child instead of providing the instruction needed for their learning style. With a diagnoses, the schools are legally required to accommodate it in the classroom. I was able to advocate for my son and he WILL go on to second grade with the tools he needs to do the work.
belindahinchliffe belindahinchliffe 3 years
I agree with Yvonne my 8 year old showed these signs and only now are they listening to me after 7 years of telling me I'm wrong, happily my son is now 3 and I knew the signs and I am more confident this time around. Mums know best!
YvonneHughes YvonneHughes 3 years
I wish we found this out long ago, My daughter who is now 9 has a learning disability and every single sign stated above is her. We've lost time to being told oh she'll catch up etc etc etc.. if your child isnt talking by 3 Get them looked at ASAP don't wait and don't take NO! Time is of the essence..
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