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A Guide To the 7 Types of Learning Disabilities

“Children with learning and attention issues are as smart as their peers and with the right support can achieve at high levels, but a lack of early or effective interventions leads too many kids on a downward spiral.” ~ Mimi Corcoran, President and CEO of National Center for Learning Disabilities

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, one in five children in the United States have learning or attention disabilities. It is important to understanding the nuances and challenges posed by each unique learning disability so that parents, educators, policy makers, and society as a whole can strive towards creating environments that enable all students to thrive. This infographic by aims to raise awareness on 7 primary types of learning disabilities:

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A Guide To the 7 Types of Learning Disabilities - - Infographic

What are the 7 main types of learning disabilities?

The seven main types of learning disabilities as classified by the Learning Disabilities Association of America and other mental health practitioners are as follows:

  1. Dyslexia – A language processing disorder that impacts writing, reading, and reading comprehension.
  2. Dysgraphia – A learning disability characterized by difficulties with writing and other fine motor skills. Handwriting and spelling are often affected.
  3. Dyscalculia – A learning disability that causes trouble with math at many levels. For example, those with dyscalculia may struggle with understanding key concepts like greater than versus less than.
  4. Auditory processing disorder – A learning disability that causes difficulty with processing sounds. The brain misinterprets the information received by the ears.
  5. Language processing disorder – A subset of auditory processing disorder. Individuals with LPD have specific challenges with processing spoken language, and is defined by the Learning Disabilities Association of America as “difficulty attaching meaning to sound groups that form words, sentences, and stories.”
  6. Nonverbal learning disabilities – The name may indicate the inability to speak, but it actually refers to difficulties in understanding nonverbal behaviors and social cues from others such as body language, facial expression, tone, etc.
  7. Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit – This learning disorder often manifests as poor hand-eye coordination, difficulty handling small instruments like pencils and scissors, losing one’s place when reading, trouble navigating surroundings, and unusual eye activity when trying to follow words or motions. has created a wonderful resource to help us experience these learning disabilities through the eyes of children.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disability in reading. People with dyslexia often have trouble reading at a reasonable pace and may make mistakes. They may also struggle with spelling, writing, and reading comprehension. Contrary to popular myth, it does not mean reading or writing letters backwards, as many young children do this as they learn and develop. It is important to note that these issues do not correlate with intelligence.  How many people have dyslexia? Some experts estimate that 5 to 10 percent of people have dyslexia. Here are some common symptoms of dyslexia:

  • Trouble decoding words (the ability to match letters to sounds)
  • Trouble with phonemic awareness (being able to hear distinct units of sound, such as the “sh” in shack)
  • Learning to talk later than peers
  • Problems forming words coherently, such as reversing sounds or mixing up words that sound familiar
  • Struggles with memorizing the names of letters, numbers, or colors
  • Poor spelling
  • Avoidance of reading and writing activities

If you are concerned about having adult dyslexia, this dyslexia test may be able to help provide answers.

What is dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing. It can cause difficulty in all aspects of writing and fine motor skills, such as spelling, word spacing and sizing, legibility, and handling writing instruments. It is estimated that 5 to 20 percent of children have a writing deficit such as dysgraphia. Here are some common symptoms of dysgraphia:

  • Trouble forming the shapes of letters
  • Tight, uncomfortable, or awkward grip on writing instruments
  • Difficulty writing in a straight line and staying in margins
  • Trouble with sentence structure and grammar when writing, but not when speaking
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts and ideas through writing

Here is a dysgraphia test for children and a dysgraphia test for adults if these symptoms seem familiar.

What is dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects math. Dyscalculia may also be referred to as “number dyslexia” or “math dyslexia”. It impairs an individual’s ability to learn mathematical concepts, even fundamentals such as “greater than” and “less than”. It is believed that around 5 to 10 percent of people may have dyscalculia. Here are some common symptoms of dyscalculia:

  • Early trouble (such as in preschool) with counting or remembering the order of numbers
  • Difficulty associating numbers with the written number word (such as how 5 is the same thing as five, and understanding that means five items)
  • Inability to recall basic math facts such as 2 + 4 = 6
  • Money issues such as figuring out total cost, keeping track “virtual” money such as in an account, and tallying change
  • Concepts such a speed, distance, and direction are hard to grasp (making it more likely to get lost)

If you are concerned your child might have dyscalculia, here is an excellent resource on what to do next.

What is auditory processing disorder?

People with auditory processing disorder struggle with hearing subtle differences in words, which affects comprehension. This is due to the ears and the brain not properly coordinating and communicating with each other. Noisy environments such as classrooms are especially challenging as the child cannot distinguish the teacher’s words from all other noise. Around 3%-5% of school-aged children are affected by auditory processing disorder. Here are some common symptoms of auditory processing disorder:

  • Difficulty hearing speech in loud environments
  • Difficulty paying attention and following directions
  • Problems finding the source of a sound
  • Inability to recall information that was heard orally, either short-term or long-term
  • Difficulty learning to read because sound distinction is important for the development of reading skills

An auditory processing disorder test for adults and an auditory processing disorder test for children is available if you have concerns. Keep in mind that none of these tests are a diagnosis – only a health professional can provide a clinical evaluation.

What is language processing disorder?

Language processing disorder is a subset of auditory processing disorder which affects an individual’s ability to process spoken language. There are two types of LPD – expressive language disorder causes trouble with expressing thoughts clearly, and receptive language disorder affects understanding the words of others. Here are some symptoms of language processing disorder:

  • Struggles with coming up with the right word to express oneself or describe something
  • Losing attention in the middle of a conversation due to lack of understanding the other person
  • Children with LPD may be mislabeled as “shy”, “quiet”, “careless” or “distracted”
  • Social withdrawal due to feeling dissociated from conversations
  • Late talking
  • Often have above average intelligence but struggle to express it due to language impairment
  • Mixing verb tenses, using filler words like “um” and “stuff”, limited vocabulary

What is nonverbal learning disorder?

Nonverbal learning disorder is a learning disability that causes trouble with visual-spatial, motor, and social skills. Children with NVLD may be articulate verbally and excel at writing, but struggle with interpreting social cues, body language, and abstract concepts. 1 in 100 children in the U.S. may have NVLD. Here are some common symptoms of nonverbal learning disorder:

  • Difficulty understanding social cues such as facial expression and tone of voice, which may make it hard to make and keep friends
  • Clumsiness and poor spatial awareness
  • May be strictly literal; metaphors, stories, and abstract concepts are hard to understand
  • Good memorization of information but no concept of why it’s important and how it associates with the bigger picture
  • Attention to detail but misses the “big picture”
  • Disregards personal space and signals of discomfort in others
  • Often misunderstood by peers; older children may realize they are different but don’t know what to do about it, which may cause anxiety and isolation

What is visual perceptual/visual motor deficit?

Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit is a disorder that affects an individual’s ability to comprehend visual information. Vision is so much more than having 20/20 eyesight; the way the eye moves is also crucial for properly interpreting visual information. So even if a child does not need glasses, visual perceptual/visual motor deficit can cause them to perceive the world differently. Here are some common symptoms of visual perceptual/visual motor deficit:

  • Difficulty navigating their surroundings, especially large areas such as school grounds
  • Complaints of eye pain or itchiness
  • Reading or writing at odd angles
  • Closes one eye while reading or doing close-up activities like writing
  • Poor page organization with irregular spacing, illegible words, and misalignment
  • Unusual eye movements while reading
  • Distinguishing objects when only part of it is showing, such as a car blocked by the edge of a building

It is important to note that learning disabilities are not a reflection of intelligence or a prediction of success and happiness. By spreading awareness about the various learning disabilities affecting both children and adults, we can strive to create learning environments that help everyone thrive.

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