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While most people have heard the term ‘learning disability, (LD)’ its true meaning is still wrapped in mystery and misconception. The term ‘learning disability’ can cover any of several different problems that affect a child or adults ability to learn. Depending on the nature and degree of the disability, the effect on the learning process can be minimal, major or somewhere in between. The information below can help you understand what a learning disability is, what it isn’t, and its most common forms.

Possible Causes of Common Learning Disabilities

There are many different theories on what events or factors cause common learning disabilities. These theories range from genetic causes to brain injuries. Due to the different kinds of learning disabilities, it is difficult to pinpoint one definitive cause. What we do know about common learning disabilities is that they are not caused by ‘laziness’, low IQ or poor teaching.

Facts on Common Learning Disabilities

  • People with learning disabilities usually have average or above average intelligence
  • Symptoms of learning disabilities range from very mild to very severe
  • Early developmental difficulties will not necessarily affect the child’s ultimate academic success, provided support is available and challenges are caught early
  • Most people with common learning disabilities have a combination of symptoms within one of the following categories:


  • Symptoms that may indicate dyslexia include:
  • The tendency to transpose sounds and letters. This “letter to sound” connection is called phonological awareness
  • Difficulty learning the sounds of the alphabet
  • Trouble blending sounds of letters into a word or “sounding out words” when learning to read
  • Confusion or problems understanding what is heard (i.e. auditory processing difficulties)


  • A learning disability marked by:
  • Fascination with letters, numbers and characters
  • Early and gifted reading ability
  • Underdeveloped language and communication skills

Writing disabilities can exist with reading disabilities or independently of them.

Some signs that may point to a writing disability are:

  • Difficulty with hand-eye co-ordination
  • Impairment of memory for the visual shapes and strokes of letters
  • Underdeveloped fine motor skills
  • Slow writing and/or an awkward pencil grip
  • Trouble copying from a blackboard

Math disabilities may also coexist with a reading and/or writing disability.

  • Signals that can indicate a math disability include:
  • Problems processing mathematical language
  • Visual/spatial confusion
  • Difficulty remembering math facts, rules or procedures for solving problems
  • Trouble understanding basic concepts or choosing the right approach to solve a problem

Many people with NLDs—which make up about 10 percent of all learning disabilities, have exceptional verbal skills.

The difficulties below may suggest a Nonverbal Learning Disability:

  • Trouble with spatial awareness: perceiving distance, depth and location of body or objects in space
    • Poor recognition of visual patterns
    • Poor coordination of visual information with motor processes (visual-motor integration)
    • Poor coordination in gross and fine motor skills
    • Problems understanding strategy, planning skills and sequencing objects and/or actions are known as organizational deficits
  • Social Skills
    • Misreading body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and other social behaviours
    • Difficulty understanding the motives or perspectives of others
    • Problems interacting with peers
  • Motor Skills
    • People with learning disabilities frequently have difficulties with fine and gross motor skills. Difficulties with fine motor skills, or skills of the hands, can include:
    • Trouble using scissors, holding pencils and paint brushes, tying shoelaces, using a fork, spoon or knife, holding a book, etc.
    • Problems with gross motor skills, or skills of the larger muscle groups, include:
    • Difficulties balancing, learning to walk or ride a bike, throwing and catching, etc.
    • Problems with cross body movements, or the ability of the left side of the body to work with the right side
    • Trouble understanding the order and sequencing of movements or motor planning


If you suspect that your child may have a learning disability, it’s vital that you seek a professional assessment immediately. The earlier a learning disability is diagnosed and expert support provided, the better your child’s chances of learning strategies to cope with and triumph over any barriers.

The above material is not a substitute for the advice of a physician or medical expert.
Please consult a specialized health professional for additional information on this topic.

Research for this article was collected from a variety of sources. Primary sources include:

Learning Disabilities Resource Centre

Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC)

Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (LDAO)


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