Written by Dr. Nicole M. Vienna

December 7, 2021

A learning disability is characterized as a disorder that affects an individual’s cognitive processes, such as reading, writing, math, and motor skills. The early signs of learning disabilities are identifiable or diagnosed typically in a school environment, particularly during an individual’s development from childhood to adulthood.

The DSM-5 describes learning disabilities as:

  • Inaccurate or slow and effortful reading
  • Difficulty understanding the meaning of what is read
  • Difficulty in spelling and written expression
  • Difficulty in mastering numerical concepts or mathematical reasoning

If these symptoms persist for at least six months, then noticing a child’s academic performance and the way they learn are important to consider when finding symptoms of learning disabilities. The signs in determining a learning disability can be noticed in intelligence, arithmetic, linguistic, or memory skills. To identify these signs, below are a list of symptoms to recognize a learning disability.

Reading / Language Symptoms

  • Reads slowly
  • Limited vocabulary
  • Frequently mispronounce words
  • Confuses words with others that sound similar
  • Substitutes or leaves our words while reading
  • Lose concentration when reading
  • Poor grammar or misuse of words in conversation
  • Deficit in phonological awareness
  • Incorrect sequence of words / Reverses letter order in words
  • Not knowing how to read from left to right

The reading and language symptoms of a learning disability can relate to dyslexia, which is a learning disorder common in affecting an individual’s ability to read and comprehend language. For example, 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. In addition, someone with a reading disability could not pronounce the words they are reading properly or lose concentration as they are tasked to read independently or aloud. There is a lack of phonological awareness when someone has a reading or language disability. This implicates that the individual has difficulty recognizing or manipulating syllables and phonemes within a spoken language. The way they sequence words or read in reverse are other symptoms to consider in order to determine whether or not an individual may have a learning disability in reading or writing.

Writing Symptoms

  • Writing is messy and incomplete
  • Uses uneven spacing between letters and words
  • Cannot hold the pencil properly
  • Slow in writing copying words
  • Difficulty in spelling
  • Difficulty with written expression
  • Poor handwriting skills
  • Avoidance of writing and drawing tasks
  • Hard time organizing thoughts in writing

Dysgraphia is a learning disability where someone would have difficulty writing legibly. It could also affect the motor skills, such as the way they hold a pencil improperly to the point their writing is unreadable. Students who have a writing disability may display symptoms of slowing down when they copy or write down words on paper or may have difficulty spelling. Noticeably, these students may have a hard time organizing their own thoughts as they write. In addition, someone with a writing disability might have a hard time visualizing and producing a shape or letter they must write.

Mathematical Symptoms

  • Difficulty mastering number knowledge
  • Has trouble telling time
  • Difficulty counting rapidly or making mathematical calculations
  • Poor understanding of place value numbers
  • Difficulty in processing numbers and quantities

Poor performance in all areas of mathematics, including:

  • Processing numbers and quantities
  • Basic arithmetic operations
  • Solving of word problems

Dyscalculia is known as a learning disability that affects the mathematical or arithmetical ability of a student. For example, you may notice a student who might have trouble mastering number knowledge or difficulty in counting. Noticing these mathematical disability symptoms is common in the classroom setting. The cognitive abilities that are related to a mathematic learning disability consist of memory and semantic memory, processing speed and problem solving, and executive functioning skills. They might have hard time-solving word problems or basic arithmetic operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division.

Nonverbal / Motor Skills / Physical Symptoms

  • Unsatisfactory coordination
  • Not very good memory
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Short attention span
  • Lack of social skill and communication between peers and teachers
  • Sensory Difficulties
  • Distracted, irritated, or restless

Nonverbal Learning Disorders affect the motor skills, the physical body, and visuospatial skills. Therefore, someone with a nonverbal learning disability focuses on the perception and how their body reacts when faced with completing academic tasks. The lack of social skills and communication between peers and teachers relates to how students may feel overwhelmed with the school environment and their overall academic performance. In the classroom, the student may feel distracted from their work to the point they may have a short attention span, irritated and frustrated by their performance, or restless. In addition, they may not have very good memory or recall what they have done at school.

Dyspraxia is described as a learning disorder that affects a person’s motor coordination. The 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.


Most likely, these signs in identifying a learning disability are recognizable during the developmental stages of childhood and beyond. Common signs to consider when someone you know may have a learning disorder include symptoms such as short-term memory, a hard time paying attention, or slow growth in mathematical, writing, or reading skills, or trouble. The signs of learning disabilities are important to classify in order to incorporate any interventions or treatments to help the student improve in their academic performance.

If you would like more information, contact our office at (626) 709-3494.

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