How to Know if You Have a Learning Disability

Three Methods:Recognizing the Symptoms of a Learning DisorderObtaining a Professional Diagnosis (adult)Obtaining a Professional Diagnosis for Your Child

Learning disabilities are neurological-based problems that affect how the brain processes information, making it quite difficult or impossible to learn certain skills, i.e., reading, writing, arithmetic.[1] While many people are diagnosed during their childhood and begin to receive therapy while attending school, a great deal of others, unfortunately, slip through the cracks and are never diagnosed. This guide will help you determine if either you or your child have a learning disability (LD). It will also provide information on the screening and diagnostic process.[2]

Method 1
Recognizing the Symptoms of a Learning Disorder

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    Understand that there are many types of learning disabilities. Each of these disabilities affects an individual in different ways and can produce different types of symptoms. LDs can affect the way the brain processes audio, visual, or speech-related information or stimuli.
    • LDs are the result of neurological-based problems that affect the way that the brain receives, processes, stores, and responds to information: the brain's cognitive functioning.
    • LDs are not curable, they are lifelong. But, they can be managed with the proper help.
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    Know the most common LDs. One in every five Americans is diagnosed with a LD. Unfortunately, because each LD affects the cognitive area of the brain, symptoms tend to over-lap, making it quite difficult for even the trained professional to identify. For example, poor-handwriting skills can be the result of difficulties processing symbols (dyslexia); or from poor spatial organization skills (dysgraphia). The most common LDs are:
    1. Dyslexia is a reading disability that affects how one interprets sounds, letters and words.[3] It can affect general vocabulary skills as well as one's reading speed and efficiency. Symptoms of dyslexia include late speech, difficulty with handwriting, and difficulty rhyming words.
    2. Dyscalculia affects an individual's ability to process numbers, and can manifest itself as a problem with memorization skills, as well as a difficulty sequencing patterns or numbers.[4] Symptoms of dyscalculia include difficulty counting and memorizing arithmetic concepts.
    3. Dysgraphia is a LD of writing, and can be the result of either a physical motor in-efficiency, or a mental difficulty in understanding and processing certain forms of information.[5] Individuals with dysgraphia tend to demonstrate poor handwriting skills, illegible and/or irregular writing, and have difficulties communicating through the written form.
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    Familiarize yourself with the general symptoms of a learning disability. Although each LD affects the brain in a different way, there are, however, general symptoms that can help indicate whether-or-not an individual has a disability of either the audio, visual, or speech type. These symptoms include:[6]
    • Trouble spelling.
    • Avoidance of reading and writing.
    • Difficulty summarizing.
    • Trouble with open-ended questions.
    • Poor memory.
    • Difficulty with abstract concepts.
    • Trouble expressing ideas.
    • Mispronunciation.
    • Easily distracted.
    • Mix up right/left or poor sense of direction.
    • Trouble following directions or completing tasks.[7]
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    Observe daily patterns and routines. Take well-detailed notes if necessary, and look for the most obvious symptoms of a LD--poor memorization, bad social skills, frustration with reading and/or writing.
    • Do you or your child perform daily tasks in a different way each time? This can be an indicator of a LD.[8]
    • Do this over an extended period of time.
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    Consider the alternative causes. These symptoms may not necessarily be the result of a LD, but may be caused by other conditions affecting you or your child. In many cases, individuals demonstrate the symptoms of a LD but do not actually have any disorder. Instead, these individuals are being affected by social, financial, personal, or general living conditions that make it difficult to learn or remain focused.[9]
    • These "learning problems" are not considered disorders.[10]
    • It is very difficult to distinguish between learning disorders and learning problems.
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    Take a quiz. If you do not believe that the symptoms are being caused by any outside or social conditions, then the next step is to take a quiz or questionnaire. Many are available online. These tests will help you assess whether-or-not you should seek any further screening.
    • Here is a test that you can take at home.
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    Understand that having a LD does not mean that a person is in any way unintelligent or incapable. On the contrary, individuals with LDs typically demonstrate an average to above average intelligence.[11] Charles Schwab and Whoopi Goldberg have been diagnosed with LDs, and many suspect that Albert Einstein may have had one as well.
    • Celebrities Tom Cruise, Danny Glover and Jay Leno all have dyslexia, and have actively campaigned to raise awareness for the disability.[12]
    • Historians and researchers suspect that these historical figures may have also had some form of learning disability: George Patton, Walt Disney, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte. [13]

Method 2
Obtaining a Professional Diagnosis (adult)

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    Consult your personal medical physician. If you demonstrate symptoms or suspect that you may have a LD, the first step toward seeking help is to contact your personal doctor. Your physician will discuss your options with you, and more specifically, look for any further symptoms.[14] If necessary, your physician can point you in the proper direction for further screening.
    • This is not a diagnosis, but rather, only the first step of several that are required to be properly diagnosed.
    • Being properly diagnosed includes initial consultation, screening, and then final diagnosis.
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    Get screened for a LD. Screening is an informal process that takes place between you and a LD advocate. After you have been screened, your advocate will inform you whether-or-not you should pursue further diagnosis.
    • Screening is relatively inexpensive.
    • It consists of observation, an interview, and brief testing.[15]
    • Mental health clinics and state rehabilitation agencies can provide initial consultation.[16]
    • Mental health clinics and local universities often times provide assessments that are priced on a sliding scale.[17]
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    Be formally evaluated by a qualified professional. This does not necessarily mean your medical physician--most general practitioners are not licensed to diagnose LDs--but instead, a clinical or neurological psychologist.[18]
    • After your advocate is finished evaluating all of the information, you will need to meet with him or her again in order to discuss the results.
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    Return for consultation. During this meeting your advocate will diagnose and provide you with a written report that details your specific LD. This report will provide learning specialists with the information that they need to provide you with any further help.
    • This report can also be used to make a request for special accommodations at school or work.
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    Ask questions. When you return to discuss the results of your evaluation, be sure to ask your advocate about anything that is unclear to you. [19]
    • Are there any terms that you do not understand?
    • Are you unclear as to what to do next? Or what your advocate expects?

Method 3
Obtaining a Professional Diagnosis for Your Child

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    Contact your son or daughter's teacher. Let them know about your concerns. The teacher, or another professional, will begin collecting information about your child's scholastic performance.[20]
    • Once enough information has been collected, the teacher or learning specialist will provide your son or daughter with a series of learning strategies or supplemental learning activities.
    • A school cannot collect information about your son or daughter without your written consent.[21]
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    Review the learning strategies and activities provided by your learning specialist. Make sure that your son or daughter's weaknesses are actually being addressed in the supplemental learning plan that has been provided by the specialist.
    • Do the expectations of the learning plan accurately address your son or daughter's needs?
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    Follow the routine provided by your learning specialist. These routines are designed to help your son or daughter become a more-effective student. Furthermore, this routine will help learning specialist more accurately diagnose a specific type or kind of LD. Like any exercise, however, these activities will only work if they are followed exactly as planned.
    • No further action is usually taken if these learning plans produce positive results.[22]
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    Seek formal evaluation. The "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act" ensures free-screening for your child. So, if your son or daughter does not show any significant improvement from the activities that have been provided by your learning specialist, then you should have your son or daughter formally evaluated.
    • Your son or daughter's teacher will be able to provide you with more information regarding the process.
    • Formal screening will include a series of tests and interviews.
    • The committee may suggest special education.
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    Obtain an "Individualized Education Program." After the committee has finished evaluating all of the information, you will meet with them to create an "Individualized Education Program" for your son or daughter. This program will outline the learning objectives for your child, and will also provide you with information regarding the services that your school or school district offers.[23]
    • You have the right to be part of this process!
    • If you have specific learning goals for your child, they should be discussed at the post-evaluation meeting.
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    Follow the "Individualized Education Program." Depending on the specific learning goals and LD, it may take quite some time to see any significant improvement from your child.
    • The "Individualized Education Program" may have a timeline of development. This is only a guide, not an exact rule.
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    Contact the school district if you believe that the program is not working. You have the right to have your son or daughter re-evaluated if the "Individualized Education Program" that you received is not producing significant results.[24]
    • LDs are very difficult to diagnose, which means that re-evaluations are not uncommon.
    • Because symptoms tend to over-lap, even highly-trained experts can misdiagnose a specific type or kind of LD.


  • Know that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can impact learning, but is not considered a LD. Although 30-50 percent of individuals affected with ADHD also have a diagnosed LD, the two are not the same condition.[25]
  • ADHD refers to a condition where it is extremely difficult for an individual to remain focused and engaged.
  • LDs are characterized by difficulties processing symbols and ideas.

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Categories: Learning Styles | Disability Issues