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Education

Learning Disabilities

Signs of Learning Disabilities

stumped Are there early signs of learning disabilities? What should I do if I think I notice something wrong? Consider this advice from our experts if you feel concerned about your child.


Candace Cortiella:
There are most definitely signs, and parents should be encouraged to heed these early warning signs and investigate quickly. While the development of each and every child takes a slightly different route, observation of some or all of the following signs in the preschool years could indicate that a child is at high risk for later learning disabilities:

  • Late speech, pronunciation problems, difficulty with rhyming
  • Trouble learning numbers, letters, days of the week, colors and shapes
  • Difficulty learning and understanding left-right, up-down, before-after, first-last, yesterday-tomorrow
  • Extreme restlessness, lack of ability to concentrate, impulsive behavior
  • Difficulty following directions or learning routines
  • Awkwardness when running, jumping, skipping; may bump into objects, fall frequently
  • Difficulty with buttoning, zipping, using scissors, catching or hitting a ball


  • Gail Grodzinsky, Ph.D.:
    If your child has any of these characteristics, ask yourself, “Is my child’s behavior making things so hard for her that she is not progressing compared to other children her age?”

  • Is she slow to learn nursery rhymes, the alphabet, color names?
  • Does she have a short attention span, is restless or hyperactive, and does not complete tasks?
  • Does she have trouble following directions?
  • Does she have speech problems, difficulty making clear speech sounds, stuttering, does she have a unusually loud, soft, high, or low voice?
  • To determine if your child has a learning disability, watch for delays in developmental milestones. Learning disabilities may be informally flagged by observing significant delays in the child’s skill development. A one to two year delay in the primary grades usually requires investigation.



    David Urion, M.D.:
    Early signs of learning disabilities can include developmental delay in language, motor, or visual-spatial coordination areas. Children with delayed language acquisition often have later reading or writing troubles, and such children should be followed closely in their early school years. A boy who was late to talk and is having trouble learning to read in first grade should not be dismissed as a normal variation in reading acquisition (although this may be the case) but should be investigated.



    Cheryl Weinstein, Ph.D.:
    First, one should ask if the child has risk factors for learning disabilities such as premature or difficult birth, serious illnesses or injuries in childhood, frequent ear infections and drainage tube placement or sleep disorders. Second, looking at school performance may shed light on a child’s learning abilities. Does a child experience difficulties at the start of kindergarten or first grade? Is it harder for a child to separate? Does he or she experience increased anxiety? Third, it is helpful to observe how a child progresses through school. Does he have trouble learning to read, write, spell or do math? Is there a change in performance at a time when increased responsibility is needed, such as in the fourth grade or junior high school? Does performance begin to drop as the reading and writing load becomes greater? We find that some very intelligent learning-disabled students begin to experience difficulties at the college level. There is no parent to organize them, cook them meals, or get them to sleep on time. With sleep deprivation and increased work load, reading or writing problems become more apparent. I might point out to some college students that they now have a real problem because “their executive secretary didn’t come to school with them!”

    Problems with socialization are often overlooked. Does the child have trouble making friends? Does the child appear excessively shy and prefer to watch other children? Does the child speak like a little professor and talk on and on about a very specific topic that is uninteresting to other children? Does the child get into trouble acting like the “class clown or have trouble sitting still?” In general, problems with social perception in a child due to visual integration deficits are more likely to be missed, whereas a child with language-based problems is more readily identified. For example, teachers are more likely to focus on a reading problem than a child’s difficulties understanding facial expressions, which is a highly complex visual activity.

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