Understanding the Learning Disabilities Most Commonly Found in the Classroom


Dyslexia is a neurologically based learning disability that affects a person's ability to process language in one or more of the following

Troubles in the Classroom

areas: reading, writing, spelling or speech. Besides a deficiency in language processing abilities, people with dyslexia have normal intelligence levels. Dyslexia can be inherited or acquired through a brain injury during fetal development or later in life.

There is no cure for dyslexia, only treatment through modified teaching methods. When dyslexia is diagnosed and treated early, the prognosis is good that the person will succeed in overcoming language difficulties.


Dyscalculia is learning disorder that affects the person's mathematical abilities. People with dyscalculia have trouble recognizing numbers, counting, reading time, doing mathematical problems and using money.

Dyscalculia is a developmental brain-based disorder that can occur singularly with no other learning, developmental or intellectual problems present. It can also occur in premature born children, children born at a low birth weight and children with other disorders such as ADHD, language disorders like dyslexia, epilepsy and fragile x syndrome. There is some evidence that suggests dyscalculia may also occur due to "poor teaching and environmental deprivation", according to a 2004 study published in the "Journal of Child Neurology".

Dyscalculia occurs equally in both girls and boys, effecting approximately five to six percent of children in schools [J Child Neurol. 2004 Oct; 19(10):765-71]. The long-term consequences of dyscalculia are unknown at this time. Treatment consists of specialized teaching methods including rote learning and problem solving arithmetic activities.


Dysgraphia is yet another neurological-based learning disorder which affects writing abilities. People with dysgraphia may have difficulty forming letters correctly and spacing letters appropriately apart. Their writing may appear messy and illegible. Poor spelling and incorrect usage of words may also occur. Dysgraphia can occur as a single learning disorder or can co-exist with the other disorders in this list of learning disabilities. Normally, children with dysgraphia exhibit normal emotional and intellectual abilities. The cause of dysgraphia in children is unknown. When it is acquired in adulthood however, it is usually a result of brain trauma.

Treatment for dysgraphia includes games to improve fine motor skills, larger pencils and wide-ruled paper to make writing easier and alternative forms of note taking and writing in the classroom such as the use of computers or tape recorders. Occupational therapy may also be useful in helping the person gain fine-motor skills.

With treatment some people will improve their writing skills, while others will not.


Dyspraxia is more obvious to the teacher because the student exhibits coordination problems. The person's ability to carry out sensory and motor tasks is impaired. The degree of impairment varies. Some people have a minor impairment, while others have great difficulties performing common tasks. People with dyspraxia have difficulty getting their bodies to do what they want them to do. They may be clumsy, lack coordination, have bad balance, bad posture, poor perception skills, have poor hand-eye coordination, problems with short-term memory, poor reading, or writing and speaking skills, as well as emotional and behavioral problems.

There is no cure for dyspraxia, only treatment. Treatment involves occupational and speech therapy to help the person learn to improve their sensory and motor skills. Some people improve greatly with therapy, while others receive do not. In the classroom, teachers often need to accommodate the student and think creatively to make the classroom environment safe and easy for the child to maneuver.

Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory processing disorder causes a person to have difficulty deciphering differences between sounds. The brain processes and perceives sounds incorrectly, making it difficult for the person to differentiate between similar sounds and words. Background noise often compounds speech perception difficulties. People with auditory processing disorder are not deaf nor hard of hearing. Their hearing is normal; it is their brains that do not interpret the sounds correctly.

The exact cause of auditory processing disorder is unknown. It is believed to be neurologically based. Auditory processing disorder can occur in the absence of other problems or it can co-exist with other conditions such as sensory processing disorder, autism, attention deficit disorder or developmental delay.

Possible treatments for auditory processing disorder provided by audiologists or therapists include auditory integration training (a therapy which retrains the auditory system to process sound correctly), auditory memory enhancement (a therapy that helps enhance auditory recall) and auditory trainers (electronic devices that reduce background noise and help the person focus on the speech). Teachers can help students with auditory processing disorder in the classroom by seating the student in a quiet area of the classroom with minimal background noise, where the student can easily hear the teacher. Classroom modifications to improve the acoustics in the room is also helpful. The student's therapists and audiologists may offer additional suggestions for the teacher to use in the classroom setting.

Visual Processing Disorder

People with visual processing disorder have difficulty processing visual information. The eyes see correctly, but the brain does not interpret the information properly. People with visual processing disorder may have difficulty recognizing letters, numbers, shapes, symbols and pictures; they may have difficulty judging distances and sizes and confuse left from right.

The cause of visual processing disorder is unknown, but it is likely neurologically based. While it can occur alone, it commonly co-exists with sensory processing disorder, language processing disorders, dyslexia, autism and ADHD.

There is no cure for visual processing disorder, but treatment may help the person to function better. Treatment for visual processing disorder consists of occupational therapy. During occupational therapy, the therapist uses various games to help the person learn to accommodate for visual difficulties. In the classroom, teachers can help students with visual processing disorder by incorporating plenty of verbal instruction, allowing the student to tape record class instruction instead of taking written notes, breaking written and art assignments into small steps, allowing the student to use a ruler as a reading and writing guide, and by doing visual activities such as putting together simple puzzles and shape matching games.


Center on Disability Studies: Hidden / Invisible Disabilities

Shaley RS. Developmental Discalculia. J Child Neurol. 2004 Oct;19(10):765-71

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:NINDS Dysgraphia Information Page