Coping with Learning Disabilities

Concerned you or your child might be affected by a learning disability? Learn how to identify signs of common learning disabilities and how to access special education opportunities.

learning disabilities

Did you know that roughly 5-10% of schoolchildren between the ages of 6 and 17 are affected by a learning disability (LD)? Because these disorders are lifelong, the challenges that go along with LD may continue through adult life.

Early Detection

Detecting LD early can be crucial for a child's success in school. Learning disabilities that are not addressed can cause academic failure and frustration, which in turn can lead to low self-esteem, acting out and further troubles with schoolwork. Parents and teachers can stop this domino effect by identifying a disability and implementing instructional techniques appropriate for the child.

Common disorders and their warning signs include:


Very young children with dyslexia may struggle to hold books or fail to tell the difference between squiggles and letters. As dyslexic kids enter school, they may have trouble naming common objects or remembering the names and sounds of letters. Older schoolchildren often struggle with pronunciation, report being behind in class and resist or avoid reading.


Very young children suffering from dyscalculia tend to have trouble learning to count or connecting the concept of a number (2) to its existence in the real world (two apples). Schoolchildren often have difficulty learning math facts, struggle with math-related problem solving skills, fail to develop a math vocabulary and tend to avoid strategy games. Because this disorder often gets mistaken for simply being 'bad' at math, many teenagers and adults continue to struggle; these individuals may have difficulty estimating daily costs (such as grocery bills) or experience trouble with time concepts.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Although ADHD isn't technically a learning disability, it does tend to cause significant challenges in school when unaddressed. There are three main symptoms of ADHD, which typically can't be definitively diagnosed until children reach school age: Hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattention (many students with ADHD are affected by some combination of the three).

learning disorders

After the Diagnosis

If you suspect you or your child may have a learning disability, seek out a professional diagnosis. You have the right to ask your school for a no-cost written evaluation of your child to determine why he or she isn't meeting key developmental milestones. You can also consult with a private therapist.

If your child is diagnosed with an LD, it's important to seek out appropriate services that can ensure academic success. K-12 schools are required by law to provide an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that includes academic goals and accommodations for the classroom. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) strictly regulates special education in K-12 schools.

learning disability treatments

Success in College

Having an LD should not be a barrier to getting a great education. While IDEA does not apply in college, most institutions will go the extra mile to ensure that students with learning disabilities have equal and fair access to education.

For example, most standardized college entrance exams - including the SAT and the MCAT - offer extra time to test takers who can document learning disabilities. Additionally, many colleges have disability resource centers that specifically assist students who have documented learning challenges or disabilities.

Here are a few tips for college students with learning disabilities:

Establish your disability. Show necessary records or complete required LD testing before classes begin. Properly documenting your disability makes it easier for college administrators to accommodate your needs.

Seek out support. Find the academic support center, learn where to get tutoring and get to know your academic advisor. These resources will be there for you if you find yourself falling behind.

Talk to your professors. If they know you have a learning disability, professors will be able to give you the accommodations necessary for success in the class. This may include extra time on tests or assignments, or scheduled office hours in which you can get additional guidance.

Self-advocacy. It is important to understand the nature of your disability and how your disability affects your learning. Be able to explain what accommodations you may need in class. Advocating for yourself includes accessing resources at your school and understanding the law as it relates to your disability.

Learn more about learning disabilities.

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