What Are the Symptoms of a Learning Disability?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2018
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There are many different types of learning disabilities, and symptoms can vary significantly. In a child, teachers and parents may observe that he appears to be of normal intelligence, perhaps even quite bright, but has difficulty paying attention, completing school work, or sitting still in class. Adults with learning disabilities may notice that they have difficulty getting work done, resist engaging in activities that require sustained attention or lots of reading, or staying focused on the job. Children and adults may also have difficulty with handwriting and communication. In addition, both children and adults may also suffer from depression or low self-esteem or may express hostility toward authority figures as a result of their frustration in coping with a learning disability.


In children, symptoms of a learning disability may emerge early but may not be acknowledged by parents or preschool teachers. As children often develop very differently early in life, what may appear to be a developmental delay or gap may simply be ignored or put down to immaturity. When the child begins school, however, the symptoms of a learning disability may become much more apparent if a child is unable to perform academically. For example, a teacher may notice that the child has extreme difficulty with writing, learning to read, or understanding mathematical concepts. In other cases, the child may present a discipline problem by refusing to sit quietly in his seat or engaging in constructive play with his classmates, even if he is regularly punished for such behavior.

Other typical symptoms of a learning disability include problems with coordination and spatial concepts. Poor handwriting is often a common symptom of a learning disability, and a child with poor handwriting may also show symptoms of poor hand-eye coordination or being able to effectively participate in sports and physical education activities. These symptoms may be less obvious in adults, who will typically simply choose not to participate in physical activities.

The symptoms of a learning disability in adults may be more difficult to detect, particularly if the adult has learned various coping mechanisms for hiding or working around her disability. In some cases, the symptoms of a learning disability may not emerge until the adult is asked to perform a specific task. For example, a well-spoken adult who has dyslexia may surprise a supervisor or coworker by her inability to write a coherent e-mail or report. These adults may also appear to be disengaged in meetings or may have difficulty following through on long-term, work-related projects.



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