Does My Child Have a Learning Disability?


Although the term “learning disability” sounds quite scary, the reality is that millions of students in America are diagnosed with some form of it. Sometimes even the best student in school has a diagnosed learning disability. So how do you know if your child has one?

First we must understand exactly what a learning disability is. It can be summed up as:

A significant difference between a student’s expected achievement level and his actual performance.

So what does that mean? Let’s look at the different types of learning disabilities.

Common Types of Learning Disabilities

  • Reading (dyslexia)
  • Writing (dysgraphia)
  • Math
  • Auditory processing (understanding auditory cues)
  • Visual processing (understanding visual cues)

Now how do you determine if your child is suffering from one or more of these? It all comes down his baseline achievement level vs. his actual performance level.

Let’s look at 2 examples:

1) A 9th grade student is taking geometry and having a difficult time understanding the information. He did really well in Algebra I during 8th grade, but his scores on his geometry exams are very low. You, as a parent, are confused because he has typically done well in math. But not he is struggling.

Geometry deals with shapes, figures, and spatial relationships. This particular student may indeed have a high ability in math (as evidenced by his excellent grades in Algebra), but he may be having a hard time with the visual component of the subject. Consequently, a learning disability in visual processing may be an underlying cause of his troubles.

2) A 4th grade student is reading at a 6th grade rate. She is able to tell you details about a story she reads, summarize the main plots, and identify important themes. However, when she tries to write a simple essay about the main character, she cannot seem to organize her thoughts and struggles to write logical sentences on paper.  Her essay may not even relate to the prompt.

This student has a very high reading comprehension rate, but when it comes time to write down her thoughts, her hand simply won’t listen to her brain. This is a common sign of a learning disability in writing, often times diagnosed as dysgraphia.  Dysgraphia makes writing coherent and logical essays very difficult.

Many students who are diagnosed with specific learning disabilities are smart, hard-working students. Their brains are just wired differently, so it adds an extra hurdle to accomplishing a task. Remember, a learning disability may be present when there is a significant difference between your student’s ability and his actual performance.

When considering whether your student is struggling with a learning disability, consider the following:

  • Does it take a long time to get through assigned reading?
  • Is it difficult to begin writing an essay?
  • Do you see consistently low grades in math?
  • Does your student have a hard time following steps/directions?
  • Are your student’s notes incomplete or scattered?
  • Does your student struggle understanding charts, graphs, and outlines?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then your student may be struggling with a learning disability. If this is the case, you should talk to your pediatrician, family doctor, or guidance counselor. Obtaining an official diagnosis is the first step to helping your child overcome this obstacle.

Learning disabilities are by no means an impossible obstacle to overcome. Appropriate study strategies accompanied by academic accommodations can level the playing field for these students.