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What is a Learning Disability?

Blog What is a Learning Disability
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Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Learning disabilities (LD) can pose unique challenges for children as it impacts their academic and social development. As parents, it's crucial to comprehend what this condition is and how to support your child effectively. But what is a learning disability? 

In my over 30 years of clinical experience, I’ve seen lots of children with learning disability coming to me for help. So, we will learn what this condition is and provide parents with practical strategies to navigate this journey.

Defining Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities refer to a range of neurological conditions that affect a person's ability to acquire, process, store, and produce information. These conditions can impact skills such as reading, writing, math, and comprehension, which hinder academic and everyday functioning.

Individuals with learning disabilities may have average to above-average intelligence, but they face challenges in specific areas of learning. It's essential to recognize that this type of learning problem in children is a lifelong condition that manifests differently for each individual. Adults with learning disabilities are just as common as kids who have them. 

Learning Disabilities vs Learning Disorders

The terms “learning disabilities” and “learning disorders” are often used interchangeably, as there are subtle differences between them. Learning disabilities are a broad umbrella encompassing various conditions that affect learning. It includes challenges like dyslexia, dyscalculia, and auditory processing disorders. The disabilities are often specific to certain academic or cognitive tasks.

Learning disorders are more clinical and are typically used in the context of formal diagnoses outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Learning disorders include conditions like specific learning disorders with impairment in reading or dyslexia, and specific learning disorders with impairment in mathematics or dyscalculia (Bonifacci et al., 2016).

Common Myths and Misconceptions on Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities often affect children. Understanding learning disabilities involves recognizing the diverse nature of these conditions, differentiating them from disorders, and dispelling these common myths with facts about learning disabilities:

Myth 1: Learning Disabilities Indicate Low Intelligence

Fact: Learning disabilities are not indicative of intelligence. Many children with learning disabilities have average to above-average intelligence but may struggle with specific academic tasks. Intelligence and learning abilities are distinct.

Myth 2: Learning Disabilities Can Be Outgrown

Fact: Learning disabilities are lifelong conditions. However, with proper support and interventions, children can develop strategies to manage challenges effectively. Early identification and intervention are key factors in improving outcomes.

Myth 3: All Learning Disabilities Look the Same

Fact: Learning disabilities manifest uniquely in each individual. While someone may have a reading deficiency, another may face challenges in mathematics. Recognizing and addressing these specific challenges is crucial for tailored support.

Myth 4: Learning Disabilities Are a Result of Laziness or Lack of Motivation

Fact: Learning disabilities are neurobiological and have no connection to a person's work ethic or motivation. Children with learning disabilities often exert significant effort to overcome challenges.

Myth 5: Accommodations Equal Unfair Advantage

Reality: Accommodations and support level the playing field for individuals with learning disabilities, providing them with equal opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. These accommodations aim to address the specific challenges the individual faces.

Identifying Early Signs of Learning Disability

Learning disabilities can manifest in various ways, with delayed speech and language development being an early indicator. The most common learning disabilities symptoms include challenges in expressing thoughts, limited vocabulary, or difficulties in understanding and following instructions. 

Soon, parents will notice their children's learning difficulties in recognizing letters, forming words, or comprehending written material. As for math challenges, they have persistent struggles with basic mathematical concepts like counting or understanding symbols.

Poor memory and organization skills are also red flags of a learning disability. They can’t remember instructions and assignments or organize tasks due to challenges in memory and cognitive organization. The signs of learning disabilities can extend to social and behavioral aspects, affecting a child's interactions and conduct. 

Children with learning disabilities may encounter difficulties in making friends, exhibit frustration, or become disengaged in the classroom. Recognizing these signs early on is crucial for prompt intervention and support tailored to address the specific learning challenges an individual may be facing.

Identifying Early Signs of Learning Disability

What are the Causes of a Learning Disability?

The causes of learning disabilities are complex and often multifactorial. While the exact origin may vary among individuals, several factors can contribute to the development of learning disabilities. Here are what causes learning difficulties:

1. Genetic Factors

There is a significant genetic component to learning disabilities. Individuals with a family history of learning disabilities are at a higher risk. Specific genes related to brain development and function may influence a person's susceptibility to learning challenges.

2. Neurobiological Factors

Differences in brain structure and function can contribute to learning disabilities. Neurobiological factors, such as abnormalities in brain development, neurotransmitter imbalances, or disruptions in neural pathways, may affect cognitive processes related to learning.

3. Prenatal and Perinatal Factors

Exposure to certain prenatal and perinatal risk factors can increase the likelihood of learning disabilities. These factors include maternal substance abuse, exposure to toxins, complications during pregnancy or birth, and premature birth.

4. Environmental Factors

Early childhood experiences and environmental factors play a role in the development of learning disabilities. Lack of early stimulation, exposure to environmental toxins, and inadequate educational opportunities can contribute to learning challenges.

5. Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions, such as lead poisoning, traumatic brain injuries, and chronic ear infections, can impact cognitive development and contribute to learning problems. These conditions may interfere with the normal functioning of the brain.

How to Address Learning Disabilities in the Classroom

Education is a collaborative journey involving teachers, parents, and professionals. Implementing effective strategies at school and home plays a pivotal role in shaping a child's learning experience. 

It’s important to collaborate with teachers and implement learning strategies at home. The role of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 plans in fostering academic success is essential. All schools for kids with learning disabilities have these.

Collaborating with teachers and educational professionals entails open communication. Establishing open lines of communication with them is crucial. Regular meetings, emails, or virtual conferences allow parents to stay informed about their child's progress, challenges, and achievements.

Parents should also attend parent-teacher conferences. Participating in conferences provides an opportunity to discuss a child's strengths and areas that may need additional support. It fosters a collaborative approach to effectively address a student’s educational disability and their special needs.

Consulting with professionals, such as school counselors or learning specialists, can offer valuable insights into tailored strategies that support a child's unique learning style. IEPs are personalized plans designed to address a child's specific learning needs. Collaborate with the school to create an IEP that outlines goals, accommodations, and support services. 

Section 504 plans ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to education. These plans outline specific accommodations, modifications, and support services tailored to a child's needs. Periodic reviews of IEPs and 504 plans are needed to assess progress and make any necessary adjustments. 

Behavioral Aspects of Learning Disabilities

The connection between learning disabilities and behavior is intricate and multifaceted. It integrates various aspects of an individual's cognitive, emotional, and social functioning. Understanding this relationship is crucial for providing effective support and interventions. 

Individuals with learning disabilities often experience frustration and stress due to challenges in academic tasks. A learning difficulty, particularly in understanding, processing, or expressing information, may lead to feelings of inadequacy, which can manifest in behavioral issues. Frustration may be expressed through outbursts, withdrawal, or avoidance.

Behavioral learning disabilities can significantly affect self-esteem. Struggling with learning and other academic tasks may lead to a negative self-image and feelings of incompetence. As a result, individuals may exhibit behaviors like defiance, reluctance to participate, or a general disinterest in learning activities.

How to Overcome Learning Disabilities at Home

Implementing these strategies helps with mild to severe learning disorders in children. They can enhance your child's educational experience and contribute to their overall academic success even though they have trouble learning certain skills. 

1. Create a Supportive Learning Environment

Establishing a structured and organized home environment can greatly benefit childhood learning disorders. Designate specific areas for study, minimize distractions, and maintain a consistent routine. Providing a clear and predictable setting can enhance focus while managing anxiety and learning disorders.

2. Follow Consistent Daily Routines

When it comes to learning deficiency, consistency is key. Set up a consistent homework routine that aligns with your child's optimal learning times. Ensure a quiet and dedicated space for homework, and be available to offer guidance and support. Consistency helps create a sense of predictability, which can be reassuring for children with learning disabilities.

3. Utilize Educational Apps and Resources

Leverage educational technology tools and apps that cater to different learning styles. Many interactive and adaptive programs can support kids with learning disabilities in various subjects. Explore assistive technology options that align with your child's specific needs and preferences. 

4. Encourage Active Learning

Incorporating hands-on activities and interactive learning exercises at home supports a child's understanding of concepts and enhances retention.

Treatment for Learning Disabilities

The treatment for learning disabilities typically involves a multidisciplinary approach tailored to the specific needs of the child. Educational interventions, such as specialized teaching methods and individualized education plans, play a crucial role in addressing academic challenges. 

Speech therapy and occupational therapy for learning disabilities may be employed to target specific difficulties, such as language processing or motor skills. Additionally, psychological support, counseling, and assistive technologies can contribute to enhancing coping strategies, building self-esteem, and fostering overall well-being for individuals with learning disabilities. 

It's essential to collaborate with educators, healthcare professionals, and specialists to create a comprehensive and personalized treatment plan. We use the BrainBehaviorResetTM Program to address learning disabilities in children, with a focus on natural solutions such as neurofeedback, PEMF therapy, and magnesium supplements

Learning disabilities are diverse and affect individuals in various ways. By fostering understanding and awareness, we can create an inclusive environment that empowers those with learning disabilities to reach their full potential. As we navigate this condition, let's strive to build a society that embraces diversity in learning and recognizes the unique strengths each child brings to the table.

Treatment for Learning Disabilities

What defines a learning disability?

A learning disability is a neurological condition that affects an individual's ability to acquire, process, store, or produce information in a typical manner. These conditions can impact various cognitive processes, leading to difficulties in areas such as reading, writing, spelling, math, or organizational skills.

What are learning disabilities?

Childhood learning disabilities are neurological conditions affecting specific areas of learning, such as reading, writing, or mathematics while leaving other cognitive functions intact. 

What is learning disabled?

Learning-disabled kids have a neurological condition that affects the way they process, retain, or communicate information. However, learning disabilities in kids does not imply a lack of intelligence. 

Is ADHD a learning disability?

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is not technically classified as a learning disability. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. However, ADHD can also impact academic performance and learning.

How do you know if you have a learning disorder?

When it comes to how to diagnose learning disability in children, specialists use tools to identify persistent challenges in specific areas such as reading, writing, mathematics, attention, or memory. Signs may include difficulties with tasks like reading comprehension, spelling, or maintaining attention, which hinder academic success.

Why do I have a learning disability?

It's important to note that learning disabilities are not caused by factors such as laziness or lack of intelligence. They are neurological conditions that affect the way the brain processes information, and the causes of learning disabilities are complex and multifactorial.

Is dyspraxia a learning disability?

Yes, dyspraxia is considered a learning disability. Dyspraxia is a neurological condition that affects motor coordination and planning. Children with dyspraxia may experience difficulties in activities that require coordination and fine motor skills, such as writing, tying shoelaces, or participating in sports. 

Is Learning Disability a Mental Disorder?

Even a severe learning disability is not classified as a mental disability. Rather, it is a neurological condition affecting specific cognitive processes related to learning. Unlike mental disabilities that encompass conditions affecting mental health, learning disabilities specifically impact areas such as reading, writing, or mathematics, independent of overall intellectual abilities.

What is developmental disability vs learning disability?

Developmental disabilities refer to a diverse group of conditions affecting cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development. It typically manifests early in life and impacts various life domains. Examples include autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy. In contrast, learning disabilities are neurobiological conditions specifically affecting academic skills such as reading, writing, and mathematics, without necessarily impacting overall intelligence.

How do you get tested for a learning disability?

To get tested for a learning disability, children usually undergo an initial screening conducted by teachers, parents, or healthcare professionals to identify potential areas of concern. Diagnosing learning disorders involves a comprehensive assessment carried out by educational psychologists or specialists. It includes various learning disability tests, observations, and interviews to evaluate specific cognitive processes related to learning.

How do learning disabilities affect students?

Learning disabilities affect students by creating academic challenges in areas, leading to potential setbacks in overall performance. These challenges can also contribute to emotional stress, low self-esteem, and anxiety as students with learning disabilities grapple persistently with schoolwork.

How many students have learning disabilities?

The prevalence of learning disorders in the United States is estimated at around 14% of children aged 3 to 17. This statistic is based on data from the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the National Center for Education Statistics (Zill & Schoenborn, 1990).

Can a pediatrician diagnose dyslexia in kids?

While pediatricians can observe and identify developmental concerns, they typically do not diagnose specific learning disabilities like dyslexia. Diagnosis of dyslexia is often conducted by specialists, such as educational psychologists, neuropsychologists, or specialized educators, through a comprehensive assessment that includes testing reading and language skills, cognitive abilities, and other relevant factors.

What are the most common learning disabilities?

A list of learning disabilities includes dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, auditory processing disorder, visual processing disorder, non-verbal learning disability, language processing disorder, executive functioning disorder, and memory-related disorders.

What is the most commonly diagnosed learning disability?

While there are different types of learning disability, the most commonly diagnosed learning disorder is dyslexia. Other learning disabilities include dysgraphia, dyscalculia, ADHD, auditory processing disorder, visual processing disorder, non-verbal learning disability, language processing disorder, executive functioning disorder, and memory-related disorders.

What is Specific Learning Disorder?

Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) is a neurodevelopmental learning impairment that affects the acquisition and use of academic skills. It is characterized by persistent difficulties in learning and using specific academic skills despite having average to above-average intelligence and adequate learning opportunities. 

Does dyslexia affect left and right orientation?

Yes, dyslexia can affect left and right orientation. Individuals with dyslexia may experience challenges in spatial orientation. This difficulty is linked to the way dyslexia impacts visual processing and spatial awareness in the brain.

What are the symptoms of dyslexia in teenagers?

Teens with dyslexia often exhibit challenges in reading, spelling, and writing, struggling with decoding words and organizing written assignments. Dyslexic individuals may also face difficulties with phonological awareness, processing speed, and working memory, impacting various aspects of their learning experience.

What conditions may have a learning disability as a symptom?

Conditions that may have learning disability as a symptom are ADHD, ADD, Autism, AuDHD, and executive functioning disorders, among others. Of all these conditions, ADHD and learning disability are closely related. 

Do learning disabilities go away?

Learning disabilities are typically lifelong conditions. However, with appropriate interventions, support, and strategies, children with learning disabilities can develop coping mechanisms and improve their skills.


Bonifacci, P., Storti, M., Tobia, V., & Suardi, A. (2016). Specific Learning Disorders. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 49(5), 532–545.

Learning Disability Association of America:

Miller, B., Vaughn, S., & Freund, L. (2014). Learning Disabilities Research Studies: Findings from NICHD funded Projects. Journal of research on educational effectiveness, 7(3), 225–231.

Zill, N., & Schoenborn, C. A. (1990). Developmental, Learning, and Emotional Problems.

Dr. Roseann is a mental health expert in Learning Disorders who frequently is in the media:

  • Money  The Best Laptop, Headphones and Other Remote Learning Gadgets for Your Student's At-Home Workstation
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  • Business Insider Your kids could get the coronavirus when they go back to school. These are the risks and benefits to weigh before sending them.

CBS (Video) Learning From Home During Quarantine

Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.

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Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Licensed Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of media outlets including The Mel Robbins Show, CBS, NBC, PIX11 NYC, Today, FORBES, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider, Women’s Day, Healthline, CNET, Parade Magazine and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.

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She coined the terms, “Re-entry panic syndrome” and “eco-anxiety” and is a frequent contributor to media on mental health. 

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge has three decades of experience in working with children, teens and their families with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, concussion, dyslexia and learning disability, anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), depression and mood disorder, Lyme Disease, and PANS/PANDAS using science-backed natural mental health solutions such as supplements, magnesium, nutrition, QEEG Brain maps, neurofeedback, PEMF, psychotherapy and other non-medication approaches. 

She is the author of three bestselling books, It’s Gonna Be OK!: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child's Mental Health, The Teletherapy Toolkit, and Brain Under Attack. Dr. Roseann is known for offering a message of hope through science-endorsed methods that promote a calm brain. 

Her trademarked BrainBehaviorResetⓇ Program and It’s Gonna be OK!Ⓡ Podcast has been a cornerstone for thousands of parents facing mental health, behavioral or neurodevelopmental challenges.

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health, Neurotastic™Brain Formulas and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Mental Health Professional (CIMHP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF).

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