Learning disabilities come in all different styles. Understanding the common learning disabilities can help you begin to understand the broad spectrum of disabilities that LD students possess. It may also alert you to additional learning disabilities in children or adults you come into contact with or serve as a starting point for interacting with LD students in general.


Dyslexia, also known as developmental reading disorder, keeps an individual from reading fluently and comprehending a text. The person’s ability to recognize and process symbols is impaired.

Auditory Processing Disorder

When an individual has an auditory processing disorder, it is difficult to process information gained through hearing because the ears and brain have trouble connecting.  With APD, it is hard to recognize differences in words.


Dysgraphia refers to difficulty writing. Individuals with dysgraphia may have trouble with handwriting and/or with basic spelling and grammar skills, including writing the wrong words or writing incorrect letters.


Similar to dyslexia, dyscalculia involves difficulty recognizing and processing symbols. However, unlike dyslexia, dyscalculia directly relates to how a person manipulates numbers. A person with dyscalculia may also have trouble understanding patterns, following steps in operations or solving word problems.

Non-verbal Learning Disability

Individuals with a non-verbal learning disability may not appear to have a learning disability on the surface because their basic academic ability is not impaired. With a non-verbal learning disability the non-verbal domains, such as abstract thinking, social skills, body language and adjusting to change, are impaired.


Getting a diagnosis:

The DSM Scale

The DSM Scale, professionally known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is frequently used to classify learning disabilities and other mental disorders.  The edition of the DSM most people refer to when talking about the DSM in general is DSM-IV, published in 1994 and slightly revised in 2000.  Individuals are assessed according to the DSM scale to learn how their learning disability may be affected by psychological stressors, medical issues and general functioning. There are 5 axes included in the scale. Being evaluated in relation to the axes can help a person better understand a learning disability and understand additional triggers or complications to the general disability.

Axis I The general learning disability diagnosis (ADHD, dyslexia, etc.) or symptoms
Axis II Any personality disorder or mental condition that further affects the general disability
Axis III Medical issues or conditions adding to the disability
Axis IV Major psychosocial stressors that can affect the disability, including major life changes such as losing a loved one or losing a job.
Axis V A score explaining how well a person functions with the disability. Knowing an LD students score on this scale may help understand the general level of functioning and determine an individual’s specific learning needs.

91-100 Functions extremely well, almost perfectly
81-90 Functions well with slight difficulty performing everyday tasks
71-80 Lower ability to function is directly related to stressful life events
61-70 Functions well, but has overall difficulty functioning either socially, with school tasks or on the job
51-60 Not considered functioning well because of moderate difficulty interacting socially or performing school and job-related tasks
41-50 Has serious difficulty socially or performing school and job-related functions
31-40 Serious functioning issues in multiple areas, including speech, communication, interpersonal relationships, thinking processes and mood
21-30 Cannot communicate much, has severe issues in judgment or is generally unable to function
11-20 Cannot or does not attempt to communicate and/or may cause self-harm or harm to others
0-10 Attempts to harm self or others, including attempts at suicide and/or a general disregard for personal hygiene

In order to receive accommodations in the classroom, most schools will require a diagnosis form a psychologist with a psychological evaluation or an IEP from the student’s school. The evaluations need to be current and the standard is that the evaluation is good for 3 years from the date of testing. 

Additionally the following can impact a student’s ability to learn, but are not considered learning disabilities. Learning and attention disorders frequently co-occur and are lifelong conditions that have varying degrees of impact.


While not a true learning disorder, having ADHD can affect a child’s ability to learn. Also known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD is often characterized by an inability to pay attention, acting on impulse and general hyperactivity.

Executive Function Disorder

Executive Function Disorder is often confused with ADD and ADHD. An individual with an executive function disorder has a difficult time when it comes to performing basic tasks. This includes having trouble staying organized, following a sequence or schedule and difficulty multi-tasking

Sensory Processing Disorder

a neurological disorder causing difficulties with taking in, processing, and responding to sensory information about the environment as well as the student’s body. This can include stimulus body  that is visual, auditory, tactilevestibular, and proprioception. Much research has shown that if the student is overwhelmed with the senses it can impede their learning.

The above article is to give readers a broad description of LD. Please see your doctor or educational consultant for more information.