Learning Disabilities: What Parents Need to Know

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Your child will learn many things in life—how to listen, speak, read, write, and do math. Some skills may be harder to learn than others. If your child is trying his best to learn certain skills but is not able to keep up with his peers, it's important to find out why. Your child may have a learning disability (also known as LD). If your child has an LD, the sooner you know, the sooner you can get your child help. Your child can succeed in school, work, and relationships. Read on for more information from the American Academy of Pediatrics about LDs.

What is an LD?

Learning disability is a term used to describe a range of learning problems. These problems have to do with the way the brain gets, uses, stores, and sends out information. As many as 15% of children have an LD. Children with LDs may have trouble with one or more of the following skills: reading, writing, listening, speaking, reasoning, and math. The most common type of LD is a reading disorder.

A child is not considered to have an LD if the learning problems are due to another cause, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intellectual disability (formerly called mental retardation), lack of instruction, or a hearing, vision, or motor problem. It's important to understand, though, that some children may have an LD and one or more other conditions that can affect learning. Many children also have more than one LD.

What causes LDs?

There can be many possible causes. The causes aren't always known, but in many cases children with LDs have a parent or relative with the same or similar learning difficulties. Other risk factors include low birth weight and prematurity, or an injury or illness during childhood (for example, head injury, lead poisoning, a childhood illness like meningitis).

How do I know if my child has an LD?

Learning disabilities aren't always obvious. However, there are some signs that could mean your child needs help. Keep in mind that children develop and learn at different rates. Let your child's doctor know if your child shows any of the following signs:

Preschool children (who may later have LDs) may have

School-aged children and teens with LDs may find it difficult to

What are common LDs?

The following are some common LDs. Keep in mind that not every child with an LD fits neatly within one of these types. Careful evaluation is important.

Reading disorder

Children with a reading disorder (also called dyslexia, reading disability, and specific reading disability) may have difficulties with

Writing disorder

Children with a writing disorder may have difficulties with

Math disorder

Children with a math disorder may have difficulties with

Other learning problems

Some children with learning problems may not exactly fit the types of LDs previously mentioned. These learning problems may include the following:

Nonverbal learning skills

Children who have trouble with nonverbal learning skills (often called nonverbal LD) may have

Speech and language delays

Children with speech and language delays may have


Children with ADHD may have

Is there a cure?

There is no single cure for LDs, but there are many things that can be done to help children overcome their LD and live successful lives. Be cautious of people and groups who claim to have simple answers or solutions. You may hear about eye exercises, body movements, special diets, vitamins, and nutritional supplements. There's no good evidence that these work. If in doubt, talk with your child's doctor. Also, you can contact trusted resources like the ones listed at the end of this publication for more information.

Who can help?

If you're concerned about your child's problems with learning or think your child may have an LD, talk with your child's teacher and doctor. Teachers and other education specialists can perform screening or evaluation tests to determine if there's a problem. Your child's doctor may want to test your child's vision and hearing to rule out other possible problems. You may also want to see a pediatrician who specializes in neurodevelopmental disabilities, developmental and behavioral pediatrics, or child neurology. Other professionals who can help are psychologists and private educational specialists.

Most children who have problems learning can reach their goals by developing different ways of learning. Special educational services to help children with LDs may be available in your area. These may include specialized instruction, non-timed tests, or sometimes changes in the classroom that are geared toward your child's specific learning style. One way to ensure that your child is being helped is for teachers and parents (and sometimes your child's doctor) to meet and develop a written plan that clearly describes the services your child needs. This plan is called an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Once an IEP is in place, it should be reviewed regularly to make sure your child's needs are being met.

Ways you can help your child


Children with LDs can learn and succeed if they get the right help and support. The sooner you know, the sooner you can get your child help. Talk with your child's doctor if you have any concerns about your child's learning.

Where can I find more information?

If you have any questions about LDs, contact your child's doctor or any of the following resources:

American Academy of Pediatrics National Center for Medical Home Implementation


Council for Exceptional Children


LD OnLine (information about LDs)


Learning Disabilities Association of America


Learning Disabilities Worldwide


National Center for Learning Disabilities


Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services


Wrightslaw (information about special education law)


Listing of resources does not imply an endorsement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is not responsible for the content of external resources. Information was current at the time of publication.