Written by Dr. Nicole M. Vienna

October 24, 2021

Does Your Child Have One of These 4 Common Learning Disabilities?

The four common learning disabilities are classified as reading disabilities, mathematical learning disability, writing disability, and nonverbal learning disability. According to Alfonso & Flanagan (2018), they mention that the earliest recorded definitions of learning disabilities were developed by clinicians based on their observations of individuals who experienced considerable difficulties with the acquisition of basic academic skills (p. 6). Therefore, learning disabilities are detected through the ability of a student in a school setting. These academic skills include writing skills, reading skills, mathematical skills, motor skills, or language comprehension. The following information below will discuss the types of learning disorders.

(1) Reading Disabilities

A reading disability is also known as dyslexia, a type of learning disability in which a person has challenges learning how to read. According to Berninger et al. (2015), many children with developmental dyslexia have considerable difficulty learning to pronounce real words and pseudowords without meaning and spell written words (p.4). This addresses how a person with dyslexia would have trouble decoding words because of an impairment in their visual and auditory processes.

Furthermore, the DSM-5 elucidates how dyslexia is an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding, and poor spelling abilities (Alfonso & Flanagan, 2018, p. 36). This definition highlights how those with a reading disability have trouble identifying the sounds (phonemes) in the English language. People with dyslexia have deficiencies in naming speed and phonological processing.

According to Fallon and Katz (2020), they have suggested learning interventions to improve literacy skills for students with a learning disability like dyslexia. Activities may include learning more in-depth on the linguistics of the content they read and connecting morphological knowledge with phonology, orthography, syntax, and semantics (p. 341). These types of interventions for dyslexia can help students learn how to read effectively and should be designed to match their abilities.

(2) Mathematical Learning Disability

As mentioned by Üstün et al. (2021), dyscalculia is known as a mathematical learning disability that affects the acquisition of arithmetical skills in children with normal intelligence and age-appropriate education (p. 1). This points out that someone with this learning disability would have difficulty in learning mathematical concepts. For example, a student may have a hard time learning how to count numbers, recall mathematical concepts, and understand numeric symbols needed to solve an equation or problem. The cognitive abilities related to a mathematic learning disability consist of memory and semantic memory, processing speed and problem solving, and executive functioning skills. In addition, as an intervention for dyscalculia, “children with dyscalculia resort to different strategies to process symbols and that using memory mechanisms could be one of these strategies” (Üstün et al., 2021, p. 10). Therefore, memory-based strategies are suggested to be the best methods in helping students process number symbols when solving mathematical problems.

(3) Writing Disability

A writing disability relates to how someone might have difficulty in learning how to write. Symptoms of a writing disability may include “an impairment in written expression, difficulties with spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and clarity and organization of written expression” (Alfonso & Flanagan, 2018, p. 107). Henceforth, someone with a writing disability may have poor writing skills and can be identified in a school setting or a psychologist’s practice.

Dysgraphia is a specific subtype of a writing disability, and it is defined as “a developmental disorder in learning handwriting, but agraphia refers to loss of handwriting skill previously acquired” (Berninger et al., 2015, p. 4). This implicates that someone with dysgraphia would have difficulty in writing legibly and is considered as a learning disability related to the subject of writing. The motor skills of a student are affected as the student’s handwriting becomes challenging to read. According to Alfonso and Flanagan (2018), early identification should focus on the development of motor coordination, handwriting, and spelling.

A student with a writing disability would “have been shown to have specific difficulty in sequential finger movements, which are needed for writing with pen and paper and keyboard” (Berninger et al., 2015, p.3). This information elucidates how students would have difficulty holding their pen or pencil; thus, their handwriting would be difficult to read or comprehend. In addition, students with dysgraphia may have improvements if they use computers as an accommodation.

(4) Non-Verbal Learning Disability

As stated by Mammarella (2021), a Non-Verbal Learning Disability refers to children who struggle with visual organization and visuospatial skills (p.1). This definition addresses how someone with a Non-Verbal Learning Disability may have issues with the motor skills, visuospatial, and social skills of a student. “Children with NLD are consistently found to have difficulties with visual-spatial skills, mathematics, reading comprehension of abstract passages, fine-motor ability, a significant split between verbal and perceptual skills on an IQ measure, and visual-constructive skills with social skills being impaired” (Alfonso & Flanagan, 2018, p.200).

Dyspraxia can be considered an NLD, and it is depicted as a learning disorder that affects the motor coordination of a person. According to the DSM-5 and Pedro et al. (2019), symptoms of dyspraxia include some or all of the following: poor balance and coordination; visual and perceptual problems; poor spatial awareness, posture, and short-term memory; difficulty with planning motor tasks, reading, writing, and speech; emotional and behavioral problems; and poor social skills (p. 87). These types of symptoms elucidate that students with dyspraxia may have problems with coordination and balance.


Learning disabilities affect a student’s skills when learning in an academic environment. For example, a student may have difficulty in reading, writing, or solving mathematical problems. The four common learning disorders that should be addressed include reading disabilities, mathematical learning disability, writing disability, and nonverbal learning disability. A reading disorder is also known as dyslexia which is when a student has trouble reading words. A mathematical learning disability known as dyscalculia is when a student has difficulty processing numerical concepts and applying them to actual math problems. A writing disability is when a student cannot write properly and may have illegible handwriting, and a subtype known as dysgraphia affects the motor skills of a student. A non-verbal learning disability is centered on skills beyond language, such as social skills, motor skills, and visual-spatial skills. Dyspraxia can be considered a non-verbal learning disorder that affects the motor coordination of a student. Consequently, these common learning disorders can interfere with the development process of a student and subsequently impact other areas of functioning like their mental health. However, a thorough evaluation by a trained clinical psychologist or neuropsychologist can help with proper diagnosis and early intervention strategies to improve outcomes.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Vienna, contact our office at (626) 709-3494.


  • Alfonso, V. C., & Flanagan, D. P. (2018). Essentials of Specific Learning Disability Identification (2nd ed.).
  • Berninger, V. W., Nagy, W., Tanimoto, S., Thompson, R., & Abbott, R. D. (2015). Computer instruction in handwriting, spelling, and composing for students with specific learning disabilities in grades 4–9. Computers & Education, 81, 154–168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2014.10.005
  • Fallon, K. A., & Katz, L. A. (2020). Structured literacy intervention for students with dyslexia: Focus on growing morphological skills. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 51(2), 336–344. https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_LSHSS-19-00019
  • Mammarella, I. C. (2021). Editorial: Time to Recognize Nonverbal Learning Disability to Foster Advances in Its Research. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2021.05.015
  • Pedro, A., Goldschmidt, T., & Daniels, L. (2019). Parent-carer awareness and understanding of dyspraxia: Implications for child development support practices. Journal of Psychology in Africa, 29, 87–91. https://doi.org/10.1080/14330237.2019.1568092
  • Üstün, S., Ayyıldız, N., Kale, E. H., Mançe Çalışır, Ö., Uran, P., Öner, Ö., Olkun, S., & Çiçek, M. (2021). Children With Dyscalculia Show Hippocampal Hyperactivity During Symbolic Number Perception. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 15, 408. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2021.687476
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