Learn to spot the signs

Written on the 6 November 2015

The first signs of a possible learning disability are often there long before you notice them often misplacing homework, regular skipping words in text, or arguing with classmates. On their own, they're easy to overlook.


It's often easier to address what a learning disability isn't. A learning disability isn't a problem with the intelligence or motivation. These kids aren't dumb or lazy. The only difference between kids with learning disabilities and their peers is that their brains are simply wired differently, which affects how they receive and process information. It's worth noting that learning disabilities also tend to run in families.


Learning disabilities or disorders fall into one of two categories: a "general" learning disability, where a child's cognitive capacity is reduced (this is also known as a general intellectual impairment), or the more common "specific learning disability", which means the child will more than likely be experiencing significant difficulty in one academic area, such as reading, writing, math, while coping, or even excelling in other areas. The most common specific learning disabilities children have are:

Auditory processing disorder

A condition that affects how sound is processed or interpreted by the brain, sufferers of APD find it difficult to recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, make sense of the order of the sounds, follow spoken directions, or block out competing background noise. There is also a specific type of APD language processing disorder where the sufferer finds it difficult to attach meaning to sound groups that form words, sentences and stories.


A disorder that affects a person's ability to understand math, comprehend symbols and memorise numbers. A person who has Dyscalculia often has difficulty telling the time, which can be the first sign something is amiss.


Affects a person's handwriting ability and fine motor skills. Not only is Dysgraphia linked with poor handwriting, spatial planning on paper and spelling, sufferers also find it difficult to think and write at the same time.


A common learning disability that affects language- based processing skills, such as reading, writing, spelling and recall.

Non-verbal learning disabilities

A disorder characterised by a significant discrepancy between high verbal skills and poor motor and social skills. This means the sufferer not only tends to have poor co-ordination, they also often have difficulty reading and interpreting non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions.

Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit

Visual perceptual disorder often affects those with dysgraphia or non- verbal learning disabilities. Sufferers tend to miss subtle differences in shapes or printed letters, which affects how they process the information they do see. Kids with VP/ VMD often lose their place when reading and experience difficulty drawing.

Symptoms to look out for :
  • Although the first major signs of a possible learning disorder are related to reading, spelling and math, keep your eyes peeled for the following:
  • Physical issues such as poor coordination
  • Poor concentration and "fidgety" behavior
  • Strong emotional highs and lows
  • Poor handwriting
  • Rarely finished work in set periods
  • Tendency to "switch off" during difficult times
  • Trouble following oral instructions
  • Behavioral problems
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Poor short term or long term memory
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Failure to see consequences
  • Excessive, often inappropriate displays of affection.


If you have noticed your child struggling with school work, and/ or displaying concerning behavior, the first step is to book a meeting with the child's teacher. It's advisable to take your child to a GP to rule out any other possible cause, such as a visual or hearing impairment, emotional disturbance, or even an environmental factor, such as bullying. Once these are ruled out, you may want to consider having your child formally assessed. Standardised  tests  which can be conducted either free of charge through your child's school or privately through a child psychologist, educational psychologist or organisation such as Learning Links (Llearninglinks.org.au) compare a child's level of ability to normal development for that age and intelligence.

Moving Forward...

If your child is formally diagnosed as having a specific learning disability, their school has an obligation to set up a learning support program. Parents can find further support through professional private tutoring which can also help with individual assistance at home and will provide parents with in- home support strategies to assist with the road ahead.


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