Behavioral Disorders Associated with Learning Disabilities

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you work with students who have learning disabilities, there is benefit in understanding the relationship between their learning issues and their behaviors. This lesson discusses common behavioral disorders associated with learning disabilities.

Learning Disabilities and Behavior

Maricela is a special education teacher who works in an inclusive setting, one where students with disabilities are in class together with typically-developing peers.

Over the years, Maricela has taught many different students with learning disabilities. She understands that a learning disability is usually understood as a pervasive struggle assimilating new information in one or more specific domains, even in the face of strong overall cognitive capacity.

Though Maricela has thought a lot about how to help students with learning disabilities grow academically, she has also observed that many of these students also seem to have behavioral issues. Maricela learns that there are two different possibilities to think about when students with learning disabilities also have behavioral problems:

  • Some students with learning disabilities struggle behaviorally because of having a learning disability. In these cases, treating the learning disability properly can really help the student recover from the behavioral issues.
  • Other students with learning disabilities have separate behavioral disorders that are comorbid, or exist alongside, the learning disabilities. In these students, the behavioral disorder might require a separate treatment and intervention plan from the learning disability.


Maricela learns that it is common for students with learning disabilities to suffer from anxiety disorder, or a mood disorder that might make them have trouble sleeping, prone to easily panicking, and struggle with social situations.

When students with learning disabilities have anxiety disorders, they often benefit from behavioral therapy so that they can learn to identify their symptoms and stop their more troubling and anxious thoughts. In some cases, medication can also be helpful to these students. Often, when the anxiety is treated, students with learning disabilities become more available to learning and cognitive growth.


Maricela also discovers that students with learning disabilities can be prone to mild or severe depression. She understands that clinical depression is different from circumstantially-induced sadness. Students who are depressed may alter their sleeping and eating habits.

They may fantasize about hurting themselves or others, and they might seem socially withdrawn. These students often exhibit little enjoyment, even for things that they used to really get pleasure from. Maricela learns that students with learning disabilities and depression often benefit from play therapy or art and music therapy.

In extreme cases, medication can also be helpful. Getting families involved in their treatment is crucial.


Maricela has taught many students with learning disabilities who are prone to impulsive behavior, which means they act without really thinking or planning their behavior first. Maricela knows that impulsivity can get in the way of students' learning and social functioning.

Sometimes, impulsivity is part of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (or ADHD), but not necessarily. When students with learning disabilities exhibit frequent impulsivity that gets in the way of their social and academic functioning, then Maricela keeps a chart that allows her to track when the impulsivity occurs and what triggers it.

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