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What Do Learning Disabilities Look Like?

written by: Janelle Martel • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 10/1/2012

Do you have a student who struggle in the classroom? He or she may have a learning disability. Read on to learn more about the characteristics of learning disabilities.

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    Learning Disability Characteristics

    Teachers must be on the lookout for characteristics of learning disabilities in their students. Of course, not not every student will present with the same characteristics, but there are some commonalities. Let’s take a look at the major characteristics of general learning disorders.

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    When students with learning disabilities read, they may have trouble pronouncing words and will tend to avoid reading aloud. You may notice that they get common words mixed up like “bad" and “dad". They may also have extreme difficulty with comprehending what they read. When you see that, you should assess the student to discover his current level of reading functioning. If the results show him to be several grade levels behind, or even just one year behind, he is demonstrating a learning disability in the area of reading.

    There may also be a disability exhibited in the area of writing. Students may have trouble expressing themselves in the written form. They can have trouble with the structure and mechanics of writing as well as spelling. Students struggling in this area may frequently transpose words and letters and get common words mixed up. You may notice that they will misspell the same word, but in a different way, many times in a single piece of writing.

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    In mathematics, students with learning disabilities typically struggle with understanding the symbols of math. This is usually due to transposing math symbols. For example, they may confuse the addition symbol with the multiplication symbol. Students may also transpose numbers, which can lead to incorrect answers even if they were performing the correct mechanics. They may also struggle with telling time.

    In general, math can be a difficult subject for someone who has a learning disability because new topics are taught so frequently, and this is often an overly quick pace for someone with a learning disability. Students with learning disabilities in the area of math will particularly struggle with abstract concepts and word problems.

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    Recognizing the General Characteristics

    Students with learning disabilities typically struggle adapting to change. They may also have difficulty paying attention and may have trouble attending to task. Students with learning disabilities also work at a much slower pace than other students. They require extra time to compete certain tasks like tests and homework. They may also frequently forget to do their homework and have difficulty with planning. They may have a hard time remembering information - memorizing is very difficult for them. This can lead to poor recall of facts, as well.

    Some students with learning disabilities also have trouble with social skills, such as making friends and identifying with their peers. Reading facial expressions and understanding body language can be difficult for them. Also, students with learning disabilities, especially those left untreated, will often begin to present some behavior issues.

    A learning disability traditionally marks a severe discrepancy between the student’s ability and his actual achievement. This discrepancy should be seen over a period of time. If you notice that a student is really struggling in a particular area, typically in math and reading, then you will want to closely monitor that student.

    We know that students have their good days and bad days, but if a student is struggling on a day-to-day basis for a long period of time, then he may be in need of more support. Try some one-on-one intervention with the student. If that doesn’t work, then you may want to refer him to be evaluated by the special ed staff.


  • LDOnline: Common Signs of Learning Disabilities ( Characteristics of Learning Disabilities in Students (