Does My Child Have a Learning Disability?

October 28, 2015
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Does My Child Have a Learning Disability?

By Jennifer Cappel, Elementary Resource Teacher


Determining whether a child can be struggling with a learning disability is never an easy task. It usually entails frustration for the student and a range of emotions for the student and family. The fact is that 1 out of every 5 children have attention or learning issues. Children in Iowa are not labeled with a learning disability. A child's learning disability must impact their academic performance to look at formal documents such as a 504 or an IEP. It is possible that a child could have a learning disability and still keep up with their peers in the classroom.

The website has a comprehensive list of symptoms of learning disabilities. If you recognize that your child has multiple symptoms over a period of time, he may be dealing with a learning disability.  I also like using which was designed to provide parents and educators with information on learning and attention issues.

  • Speaks later than most children
  • Pronunciation problems
  • Slow vocabulary growth, often unable to find the right word
  • Difficulty rhyming words
  • Trouble learning numbers, alphabet, days of the week, colors, shapes
  • Extremely restless and easily distracted
  • Trouble interacting with peers
  • Difficulty following directions or routines
  • Fine motor skills slow to develop

Grades K-4
  • Slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds
  • Confuses basic words (run, eat, want)
  • Makes consistent reading and spelling errors including letter reversals (b/d), inversions (m/w), transpositions (felt/left), and substitutions (house/home)
  • Transposes number sequences and confuses arithmetic signs (+, -, x, /, =)
  • Slow to remember facts
  • Slow to learn new skills, relies heavily on memorization
  • Impulsive, difficulty planning
  • Unstable pencil grip
  • Trouble learning about time
  • Reads slowly or inaccurately
Grades 5-8
  • Reverses letter sequences (soiled/solid, left/felt)
  • Slow to learn prefixes, suffixes, root words, and other spelling strategies
  • Avoids reading aloud
  • Trouble with word problems
  • Difficulty with handwriting
  • Awkward, fist-like, or tight pencil grip
  • Avoids writing assignments
  • Slow or poor recall of facts
  • Reads slowly or inaccurately
High School Students and Adults
  • Continues to spell incorrectly, frequently spells the same word differently in a single piece of writing
  • Avoids reading and writing tasks
  • Trouble summarizing
  • Trouble with open-ended questions on tests
  • Weak memory skills
  • Difficulty adjusting to new settings
  • Works slowly
  • Poor grasp of abstract concepts
  • Either pays too little attention to details or focuses on them too much
  • Misreads information
Facts about learning disabilities
  • Fifteen percent of the U.S. population, or one in seven Americans, has some type of learning disability, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Difficulty with basic reading and language skills are the most common learning disabilities. As many as 80% of students with learning disabilities have reading problems.
  • Learning disabilities often run in families.
  • Learning disabilities should not be confused with other disabilities such as autism, intellectual disability, deafness, blindness, and behavioral disorders. None of these conditions are learning disabilities. In addition, they should not be confused with lack of educational opportunities like frequent changes of schools or attendance problems. Also, children who are learning English do not necessarily have a learning disability.
  • Attention disorders, such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities often occur at the same time, but the two disorders are not the same.
  • Common learning disabilities
  • Dyslexia - a language-based disability in which a person has trouble understanding written words. It may also be referred to as reading disability or reading disorder.
  • Dyscalculia - a mathematical disability in which a person has a difficult time solving arithmetic problems and grasping math concepts.
  • Dysgraphia - a writing disability in which a person finds it hard to form letters or write within a defined space.
  • Auditory and Visual Processing Disorders - sensory disabilities in which a person has difficulty understanding language despite normal hearing and vision.
  • Nonverbal Learning Disabilities - a neurological disorder, which originates in the right hemisphere of the brain, causing problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative and holistic processing functions.
The State of Iowa criteria for a Specific Learning Disability as described by the Department of Education is as follows:

The response-to-intervention process in the Special Education Eligibility Standards allows IEP teams to identify a child as eligible for and in need of special education services if data from a variety of sources demonstrate the following: (a) summary of educational progress over time, (b) discrepancy from peers or other appropriate standards, and (c) the instruction needed for the child to reach age- or grade-level standards (or to positively impact the child's learning trajectory toward such standards) cannot be sustained without special education services. When following a response-to-intervention process, IEP teams most often identify eligible students as having a disability using the non-categorical designation of Eligible Individual.  

If you suspect your child may have a learning disability,  you may want to seek an outside evaluation to help you define your child's strengths and weaknesses.  Then, you can work with your child's teacher to use their strengths when possible and work on building-up the areas of weakness.  Mrs. Cappel, Mrs. Kelly, and Mrs. Prewitt have contact info for various outside resources in the Des Moines area.