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There are many different types of learning disabilities out there. There are also a lot of other disorders that aren’t learning disorders but do make learning difficult. How can you tell the difference?

A learning disorder is when someone has a hard time learning over a longer-than-normal period of time. To be a true learning disorder, neither intelligence nor motivation are to blame. Kids with learning disabilities are frequently very smart, driven children. It’s only a problem when these kids are faced with specific academic tasks that their brain just can’t seem to process.

Types of learning disabilities & what a diagnosis means for your child.

Three different types of learning disabilities

The American Psychiatric Association’s gigantic manual, the “DSM-5,” only lists one kind of learning disability. That overarching label, Specific Learning Disability, is also what you’d see listed on a child’s Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. The manual then breaks down Specific Learning Disabilities into three different types of learning disabilities based on subject. Let’s look at each one separately. 


Understanding different kinds of learning disabilities

This is by far the most well-known and frequently diagnosed learning disability. As you probably already know, dyslexia is a reading-focused learning disability. Kids and adults often struggle with decoding words and mixing up letters. As a result, they have a hard time reading quickly, accurately, and then understanding what they just read.

Children with dyslexia often benefit from classroom learning accommodations, different choices of text, and alternate reading programs


This is a learning disability focused on writing. Children struggle with grammar and spelling more than average. They also grapple with expressing themselves or organizing their thoughts in writing. Finally, someone with dysgraphia often have poor handwriting (improper spacing, no legibility, etc).  


As you might have guessed, someone with dyscalculia struggles with math. Some people call it the “dyslexia of math” to explain to others, but that’s not really correct. Someone with dyscalculia struggles with math reasoning and facts. They also have a hard time memorizing and understanding rules, formulas, and even the whole concept of numbers.

Furthermore, dyscalculia also makes everyday tasks like reading clocks, judging distance, and keeping a budget difficult. 

But what about…?

Many people think of a learning disability and the first thing that jumps to mind is a disorder like ADHD or Autism. Other people think about things like hearing disorders or speech impediments. Then there are also disorders like Down’s Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Those people aren’t totally wrong. There are many similarities between these examples and specific learning disabilities. First, they all impact someone’s education. They usually require an IEP, homeschooling, or other way to help them learn differently. They’re all lifelong disorders without “cures,” too.  Finally, all share many common symptoms, such as poor performance in school and sometimes at work. 

To make matters even more complicated, many people with specific learning disabilities often have multiple diagnoses at once!

The difference between the three learning disabilities and all those other disorders is this: learning disabilities only affect academic-based skills. All the others, from ADHD to Autism to Down’s Syndrome, involve problems in other areas, too.

Understanding different kinds of learning disabilities

How are different types of learning disabilities treated?

Children are usually the ones diagnosed with learning disabilities. They’re also most challenging to a child studying in school. Therefore, most treatments focus on finding new ways for children to learn the same information as their peers. 

Schools offer IEPs to students with learning disabilities, just like they would to a kid with any other disabilit. These IEPs usually include accommodations, like requiring instructions written in a dyslexic-friendly font. Another option is to give the child a calculator during math class, when others aren’t allowed. A writing accommodation might be getting a copy of handwritten notes from a classmate. Technology, posters, and other classroom changes are also common accommodations.

Kids with learning disabilities also do better when diagnosed early. If a four-year-old can start getting help in preschool, they generally have an easier time in school and higher self-esteem. Compare this to teenagers who finally get diagnosed, and often have years of frustration behind them. The sooner a kid can get diagnosed, the better!

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