Nearly one in 10 American children under the age of 18 has some type of learning disability — a disorder that affects a child’s ability to understand or use language, make mathematical calculations, maintain attention, and even coordinate body movements. Learning disabilities arise from neurological differences in brain structure and function. These differences, which often run in families, affect a person’s ability to receive, store, process, retrieve, or communicate information.

Two-thirds of students identified with a learning disability are boys (66 percent), an overrepresentation that occurs across all racial and ethnic groups. “Statistically, more boys than girls are diagnosed with a learning disability, but I believe the numbers are the same for both, it’s just girls are not as disruptive so they don’t get diagnosed as often,” Dr. Ned Hallowell, an author and psychiatrist, told Medical Daily.

In most cases, learning disabilities are not recognized until children enter school. All too quickly, it seems, they fall behind their peers. Shockingly, half of all school administrators incorrectly link learning disabilities with either mental retardation or autism. If the professionals appear confused, how do parents know whether their child is affected?

According to the National Institutes of Health, the eight most common warning signs include:

  • Difficulty with reading and/or writing
  • Problems with math skills
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Problems paying attention
  • Trouble following directions
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty with concepts related to time
  • Problems staying organized

Children also may show nine other less direct signs of a learning disability, such as:

  • Impetuous behavior
  • Inappropriate responses in school or social situations
  • Difficulty staying on task (easily distracted)
  • Difficulty finding the right way to say something
  • Inconsistent school performance
  • Immature way of speaking
  • Difficulty listening well
  • Problems dealing with new things in life
  • Problems understanding words or concepts, a free online resource for parents, offers a series of quizzes to help parents define, more precisely, what is troubling their child. focuses not only on learning disabilities but also attention issues. Their website encompasses a whole variety of possible difficulties, including dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, ADHD, dyspraxia, expressive language disorder, visual processing issues, dysgraphia, social communication disorder, dyscalculia, and nonverbal learning disability.

Just reading these labels is frightening to most parents. They are overly-technical, overly medical terms for simple and common areas of struggle. Remember: Once diagnosed, your child can begin treatment.


The most common treatment for learning disabilities is special education, which is very effective for many children. Additional tools commonly used by teachers include special computer programs, auditory books, and more individual lessons or attention. Early intervention is always best for one very simple reason. Children with learning disabilities may become discouraged when they don't do well in school, so instead of absorbing math and reading skills, they learn to hate school.

Knowledge about learning disabilities has expanded over time, and with it, special education techniques have become more focused and more successful. Overall, the drop-out rate for students with disabilities has fallen steadily over the past decade: 68 percent received a regular high school diploma in 2011 versus 57 percent a decade ago. However, drop-out rates vary widely across states, ranging from a high of 48 percent in South Carolina to a low of just seven percent in Hawaii. Parents can click here to learn more about what resources are offered by their individual state.